Below is an Amazon review that I just received from a book reviewer in Australia:

4.0 out of 5 stars Hollywood’s three-ring circus goes into overdrive over “Harlow”,January 12, 2012
Byron Kolln (the corner where Broadway meets Hollywood)
This review is from: Dueling Harlows: Race to the Silver Screen (Paperback)

DUELING HARLOWS is the engrossing tale of what happened in 1965 when two Hollywood producers decided to race into production their competing screen versions of the Jean Harlow story. Jean Harlow had been the trailblazing “platinum blonde” screen sex goddess of the 1930’s, paving the way for the likes of Marilyn Monroe. Her private life was as eventful as any of her films, including the bizarre suicide death of Paul Bern, one of her husbands (MGM publicity agents weren’t newcomers when it involved keeping their top stars out of potentially career-destroying scandals). Harlow lived hard and fast, dying of uremic poisoning at the age of 26.

Jean Harlow’s story was later recounted in Irving Shulman’s 1964 book “Jean Harlow: An Intimate Biography”, written with the assistance of Harlow’s agent Arthur Landau. The bile-filled novel enraged Harlow’s closest friends who were convinced that it was nothing short of a character assassination. Shulman asserted that Harlow had been viciously beaten with a cane on her wedding night to Paul Bern and that her death was triggered by damage caused to her kidneys during this fight. Shulman also recounted remarkably clear “first person” conversations to events that he would never have been privy to. Despite all the new scandals and litigations swirling around the libellous book, Hollywood producer Joseph E. Levene secured the film rights for the Jean Harlow story, to be shot at Paramount. Levene had previously helmed the ripe trash-fests “Where Love Has Gone” and “The Carpetbaggers”.

Not to be outdone, maverick producer Bill Sargent announced his own “Harlow” property, but it wouldn’t be based on the Shulman book. It would however be filmed in Sargent’s specially patented process entitled “Electronovision”. This process involving using multiple cameras which fed into a single editing suite, speeding up the film editing process considerably. The downside was that because the system involved upconverting Kinescope-grade tape into 35mm, the visual quality of the final image was noticeably diminished. Sargent had only ever used the process with stage productions (including Richard Burton in “Hamlet” and “The T.A.M.I. Show”). HARLOW would be the first real movie in the “Electronovision” process.

Then came the actresses who’d play Jean Harlow herself… For the Paramount/Levene version, Carroll Baker (who’d previously starred in “The Carpetbaggers”) was announced. Meanwhile petite blonde Carol Lynley was signed for Sargent’s HARLOW. So now it wasn’t only a battle of the HARLOW’s, but also a battle of the Carol’s! The press couldn’t have been handed a better gift.

Author Tom Lisanti has been able to access the extensive press coverage of the fracas, which documented the running verbal war of words between Levene and Sargent, and also reconstructs the hellish production shoots for each of the HARLOW’s. Thanks to the quick editing facilities of the “Electronovision” process (believe it or not, the whole thing was shot in the span of a few days), Sargent’s HARLOW was–by a several weeks–the first to arrive on the screen, but neither picture earned the critical raves the producers had hoped for, or really captured the true essence of Jean Harlow. Sargent’s HARLOW (a collector’s grail especially for Carol Lynley fans) has never seen the light of day on DVD, but Levene’s HARLOW came to DVD a couple of years ago in all it’s trashy glory.

Lovers of classic movies will be the ones who’ll most appreciate this effortlessly read-able tome, which I happily devoured in a single sitting. Recommended.


Comments: 2

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  • John Black

    Someday, I’ll get around to reading this.

    I see that Cheryl Crane has a new mystery out in hardback in which the female protagonist is the daughter of a famous Hollywood actress. That might be a fun read.

  • Nick

    Both films were dismal failures. Judy Garland was right to bolt from playing Mama Jean. Ginger Rogers should have also, but she was in the middle of a sort of comeback., and she looked better than Carol Lynley who played her daughter Jean Harlow. Both actresses Carroll Baker, and Lynley were lovely of face which the real Harlow was not so much, but lacked the bodies to be a convincing sex symbol, something the real Harlow did have – sex appeal.

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