Genre: Memoir, Historical Fiction
Publisher: MIRA Books
First Published: January 26, 2016
First Line: "April, 1928 - "Slow down, Chuck, or you'll get us both killed!"
Book Description from GoodReads: Set against the dazzling backdrop of Golden Age Hollywood, novelist Anne Girard tells the enchanting story of Jean Harlow, one of the most iconic stars in the history of film.
It's the Roaring Twenties and seventeen-year-old Harlean Carpenter McGrew has run off to Beverly Hills. She's chasing a dream;to escape her small, Midwestern life and see her name in lights. In California, Harlean has everything a girl could want; a rich husband, glamorous parties, socialite friends; except an outlet for her talent. But everything changes when a dare pushes her to embrace her true ambition :to be an actress on the silver screen. With her timeless beauty and striking shade of platinum-blond hair, Harlean becomes Jean Harlow. And as she's thrust into the limelight, Jean learns that this new world of opportunity comes with its own set of burdens. Torn between her family and her passion to perform, Jean is forced to confront the difficult truth; that fame comes at a price, if only she's willing to pay it. Amid a glittering cast of ingénues and Hollywood titans: Clara Bow, Clark Gable, Laurel and Hardy, Howard Hughes, Platinum Doll introduces us to the star who would shine brighter than them all.
My Review: Platinum Doll is an interesting look into the life of the young Hollywood ingénue who took Hollywood and the world by storm. Filled with many references to Hollywood elite like Laurel and Hardy, Clark Gable, Greta Garbo and Carole Lombard this book shows the struggles, both personal and professional, that teenager Harlean Carpenter, who later became Jean Harlow, experienced during her rise to fame.
Underneath it all, Platinum Doll is a coming of age story. Seventeen year old Harlean arrives in California as a very naive and impressionable young bride from Kansas City. Initially she wasn't interested in pursuing a career in Hollywood but soon she changed her name to Jean Harlow, set her sights on Hollywood her rise to fame began. She paid her dues and found that she had to fight to be taken as a serious actress and not a brainless blonde bombshell the studios thought her to be. As her star rose she quickly became one of the most famous actresses of the time but not without many struggles along the way as she tries to take control of her life and career from those around her.
At the heart of the book is Jean's relationships with her family. Readers get an up close look some of these relationships including the very complicated, dysfunctional yet sometimes touching relationship Jean had with her mother. "Mama Jean" was a controlling woman who was living out her former dream to be a Hollywood star through her daughter. She fought hard for her daughter but took just as much (if not more) than she gave. Theirs was a tumultuous relationship as was her rocky marriage to her childhood sweetheart, Chuck McGrew which affected some of her future romantic entanglements.
This book has many references to old Hollywood - the glamour, the limitations for young women and all the dazzle of the Roaring 20's. While I enjoyed this book I think people who know more about Hollywood in the 1920's would love this book even more. There were so many famous names referred to that I sort of recognized but didn't have a good enough grasp on their careers to fully get the reference.
I was eager to read Platinum Doll because I wanted to know more about this infamous actress and Anne Girard gave me a good look at the young woman behind the Hollywood glamour.
My Rating: 3.5/5 stars
Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to author Anne Girard for providing me with a complimentary paperback copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. I'd also like to thank Anne Girard for taking the time to answer my questions in the following interview.
My Interview with Author Anne Girard
I didn’t know much about Jean Harlow before reading this book. What is the most important thing that you’d like people to know about Jean?
That she was far more than the stylized iconic photos we see of her today. Jean, whose real name was Harlean, was a funny, well-educated, and sensitive young woman, one who loved books and animals—who was only 17 years old when she first became a star, and 26 when she passed away.
Why did you specifically choose to write about Jean Harlow instead of another actress/actor of the era?
It intrigued me to learn that Harlow was the first blonde bombshell and that she was an idol to another huge icon—Marilyn Monroe, who had actually planned to play Harlow in a film. That was what initially piqued my interest. When I discovered how young she was, and that she was married to a hot-headed young man who was threatened by her career path—and by her domineering mother, for me, those were the seeds of a book I knew I wanted to pursue.
What was the hardest scene for you to write in the book?
Definitely it was the scene that takes place in the car with Harlow’s mother. Jean Bello was such a dominant force in Harlow’s life, and she trusted her mother absolutely, which made for most of the conflict between Harlow and her husband, who was threatened and entirely out-matched. It was definitely difficult to put myself into the mindset of a panicked young woman being forced to do something she didn’t want to do, but having no unearthly idea of how to get out of it. I thought that was really poignant and sad. I hope I conveyed that.
How rigorously do you adhere to historical accuracy when writing about such a well-known celebrity?
Very rigorously for the exact reason that she is so well known. As I was writing, I learned that there is a large and devoted Harlow fan base alive and well out there. If I strayed too far outside the lines of fact, even though PLATINUM DOLL is a novel, they would let me know about it! Also for them, I really wanted to make certain that I honored Harlow in the way I portrayed her.
Did you fictionalize some encounters to make your plot work?
Obviously there was no tape recorder there so exact exchanges must be imagined, particularly for the car scene, or the speakeasy, so that is where the work of a novelist is involved when writing about true characters from history. We take the outline of known facts, and then we are required to write scenes that flesh those facts out believably and hopefully entertainingly.
Do you think Jean could have made it in Hollywood on her own, without the help of her strong-willed mother?
That’s an interesting question. While she was ‘discovered’ and found work without her mother’s help, Jean Bello most definitely pushed and prodded her daughter forward. If her mother had remained in the Midwest, I think there is a good chance that Harlean would have had a child during that period before her star rose. She could well have stayed married and grown content with that life, which she was before her mother arrived in Hollywood. She was quoted years later as saying that she missed Chuck and still mourned the loss of their child, so it seems to me a definite possibility.
Can you share what your next book will be about?
I would love to but right now it’s still top secret. What I can say is that it is about another super interesting character from history. I’m knee-deep in research and writing at the moment and loving every discovery…. Thanks very much for having me, and letting me talk a bit about PLATINUM DOLL.About the Author
Diane Haeger, who currently writes under the pen name Anne Girard (Madame Picasso), holds a Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology from Pepperdine University, and a Bachelor’s Degree in English Literature from UCLA. A chance meeting with the famed author Irving Stone 25 years ago sharply focused her ambition to tell great stories from history, and write them only after detailed research and extensive travel to the place her character lived. That determination has provided a fascinating journey that has taken her from the halls of Chenonceaux, to a private interview with one of Pablo Picasso's last surviving friends, and most recently an invitation inside Jean Harlow's home.
Since the publication of her acclaimed first novel, Courtesan, in 1993, a novel that remains in print today, her work has been translated into 18 different languages, bringing her international success and award-winning status.
Platinum Doll, a novel about Jean Harlow, is her 15th book. She lives in Southern California with her husband and family.
Twitter: @annegirard1Goodreads: goodreads.com/author/Anne_Girard