Here are five  influential blondes whose golden tresses have found many imitators and even more admirers.


Jean Harlow

The original platinum blonde, Harlow is recognized as one of the most gifted and beautiful stars of the Thirties. Born Harlean Carpenter in Kansas City, she was the daughter of Jean Harlow Carpenter an ambitious stage-mother and force behind Jean’s rise to fame. When she was only 16, the young Harlow eloped with a businessman and moved to Los Angeles, where she began appearing as an extra in silent films.

In 1930, Harlow got her first real break from Howard Hughes, who cast her in his World War I drama Hell’s Angels after he found the film’s original star Greta Nissen’s Swedish accent incomprehensibly thick.  Harlow’s wise-cracking presence in the film soon attracted much attention, and Hughes sent her out on a publicity tour and loaned her to other studios. While her performances were often panned by critics and audiences were initially shocked by her almost lurid onscreen sexuality, she gradually began to develop a following.

She achieved real fame in 1932 when MGM bought her contract and decided to give her more substantial parts. Unfortunately, as her professional career flourished, her personal life began to deteriorate, beginning with the alleged suicide of her second husband Paul Bern.  Later, she ended up briefly married to cinematographer Harold Rosson, and then had a long engagement with MGM star William Powell.

While filming Saratoga in 1937, Harlow suddenly fell ill; ten days later, on June 7, she died at age 26. During her life, Harlow had starred in less than twenty films. At the time of her death, no details as to why she died were released, but several years later it was revealed that Harlow had suffered from kidney disease most of her life, and that she died of acute uremic poisoning.

Etta James
Born Jamesetta Hawkins on January 25, 1938, in Los Angeles, as a child, Etta was a gospel prodigy, singing in her church choir and on the radio at the age of 5. When she turned 12, she moved north to San Francisco where she formed a trio and was soon working for bandleader Johnny Otis.

In 1954, she moved to Los Angeles to record “The Wallflower” (a tamer title for the then-risqué “Roll with Me Henry”) with the Otis band. It was that year that the young singer became Etta James (an shortened version of her first name) and her vocal group was dubbed The Peaches (also Etta’s nickname). Soon after, James launched her solo career with such hits as “Good Rockin’ Daddy” in 1955.

After signing with Chicago’s Chess Records in 1960, James’ career began to soar. Chart toppers included duets with then-boyfriend Harvey Fuqua, the heart-breaking ballad “All I Could Do Was Cry,” “At Last” and “Trust in Me.” But James’ talents weren’t reserved for powerful ballads. She knew how to rock a house, and did so with such gospel-charged tunes as “Something’s Got a Hold On Me” in 1962 and “In The Basement” in 1966. Sadly, heroin addiction affected both her personal and professional life, but despite her continued drug problems she persisted in making new albums.

With suggestive stage antics and a sassy attitude, James continued to perform and record well into the 1990s. She died earlier this year.

Jayne Mansfield
Born Vera Jayne Palmer, Mansfield won her first beauty contest as a child and decided to become an actress. Her plans had to be put on hold, however, when she became pregnant at sixteen by Paul Mansfield, who she married in May 1950.Mansfield worked, cared for her daughter, and studied acting at the University of Texas in Austin. She also won several beauty contests, and decided to go to Hollywood to study at UCLA and to act.

After some work in television, her first film was 1955’s Blues followed by The Female Jungle. Although she was a talented actress, her career was much helped by her ample physical attributes and resemblance to Marilyn Monroe.

Her breakout role came in 1957 with a featured part in The Burglar. Her Hollywood career was however short lived; her most notable films were The Girl Can’t Help It (1956), Too Hot to Handle (1960) and her last film Single Room Unfurnished (1968).

Jayne gradually became more famous for her love of life and talent for self-promoting stunts as well as her lavish Hollywood mansion, known as “the pink palace”.

Jayne divorced Mansfield in 1956 and married Mickey Hargitay, a former Mr. Universe, two years later in a public ceremony at which Mansfield wore a transparent wedding dress, however the marriage ended in divorce. So did her next one to Italian-born director Matt Cimber.

Tragically, in June 1967, Mansfield was killed at the age of 34, when the car in which she was travelling crashed into the back of a truck in Louisiana. She had been travelling to New Orleans for an early morning TV interview, with her lover Sam Brody and their driver Ronnie Harrison, as well as three of her children.

The three adults were killed, with an urban legend emerging that Mansfield was decapitated, while the children escaped with minor injuries. Mansfield’s funeral was held on 3 July in Pennsylvania. Her gravestone is shaped as a heart and has the engraving “We Live to Love You More Each Day”.

Mia Farrow
Mia Farrow was born to film star Maureen O’Sullivan and director John Farrow. She fell victim to polio at the age of nine, but recovered. Educated in an English convent school, she returned to California with plans to take up acting.

With little experience, Farrow debuted on Broadway in a 1963 revival of ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’. The following year, she was cast in TV soap opera ‘Peyton Place’, which made her an idol of the American teen set.

When she became the third wife of singer Frank Sinatra, 30 years her senior, the marriage caused a great deal of newspaper gossip, but didn’t last long. Farrow’s first important movie appearance was in Rosemary’s Baby, as the unwitting mother of Satan’s offspring.

Farrow received almost as much recognition for the pixie crop haircut she sported in the film as she did for her acting, for which she was awarded a Golden Globe.

She married Andre Previn and started a family but, by the early Eighties, a newly divorced Farrow had taken up with comedian-director Woody Allen, for whom she did some of her best work in such films as Zelig, Radio Days, and Husbands and Wives.

In 1992 she discovered that Allen had been having an affair with her adopted daughter, Soon-Yi Previn, and Farrow and Allen engaged in a long and well-publicised court battle for custody of their adopted and biological children.

She continues to appear sporadically on the screen and acts as a high profile advocate for children’s rights, working to raise funds and awareness for children in conflict affected regions, predominantly in Africa.

 

Debbie Harry

Adopted at about three months of age by Richard and Catherine Harry, Debbie Harry was raised in New Jersey.

She spent most of her twenties working odd jobs as a secretary, cocktail waitress and Playboy bunny, while rubbing shoulders with the Warhol set.

In October 1973, Harry began both a musical and personal relationship with Chris Stein. Together, Deborah and Chris formed Blondie. Blondie battled for success for many years but, late in 1977, ‘Denis’ reached number two in the British charts. ‘Heart of Glass’ was Blondie’s first worldwide hit, reaching number one in both America and Britain.

Harry’s glamorous platinum blonde looks, keen wit and creative musical style propelled Blondie to mega stardom, and the group had several number one hits, including ‘Call Me’, ‘The Tide is High’, and ‘Rapture’.

However, tensions caused the group to split in 1984, and Harry’s solo career would never live up to the success of Blondie.

Harry is also an actress, appearing in Union City (1979), Videodrome (1983) and Hairspray (1986), amongst others. Since 1998, much of her time has been taken up touring and recording with the reformed Blondie.

 

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