Illustration by Peter de Greef
“It was not an auspicious start, and it soon grew worse. Clara read The Saturday Night Kid script, liked it, and then learned that the part she had assumed was hers, a sexy shopgirl who steals her sister’s money and man, actually belonged to second-lead Jean Arthur. Evidently [Ben] Schulberg was willing to cast her in uninteresting roles, but not unsympathetic ones, with the result that “Arthur was so good that we had to cut and cut and cut to keep her from stealing the picture,” said [director Edward] Sutherland. “Not that she was better than Bow, but the part was better.” A typical “star turn” would have called for Clara to terrorize her competitor. Instead she encouraged Arthur to make the most of her role.
Devastated by Roy Pomeroy’s recent pronouncement that her foghorn voice would prove fatal to her talkie career, Arthur was forever grateful for Clara’s support. “I loved her,” she declares in the voice that would soon be considered her best attribute. “She was so generous, no snootiness or anything. She was wonderful to me.”
Next to the petite Arthur, the 132-pound Clara looked heavier than ever, and her weight problem seemed even more apparent when a curvaceous ash-blonde appeared one day on
The Saturday Night Kid set. “The closer she came, the more interesting she became,” explains assistant director Artie Jacobson, “because she was wearing this black-crocheted dress with not a stitch on under it. From where I sat, you couldn’t tell whether she had put it on or painted it on.” It was visibly apparent that the voluptuous stranger was a natural blonde.
While the crew ogled the visitor, Clara summoned Jacobson to her dressing room. “Who the hell is that?” she asked him.
Jacobson checked a casting office memo a messenger had just handed him. “Don’t know, ” he told her. “Says here her name’s Jean Harlow.”
“Well, what’s she doin’ here?” demanded Clara. Jacobson assumed that Harlow, like Clara’s cousin Billy Bow, had been given a minor role in the movie.
“Oh yeah?” snapped Clara. “Well, you tell ‘em t’take her off this goddamn set and never bring her back. I don’t want her in the picture.”
“Why not?” wondered Jacobson disingenuously. “She’s a nobody.”
“Are you kiddin’ me? If she dresses like that for an interview, how’s she gonna dress in a scene? Who’s gonna see me nexta her?”
Jacobson called the casting office and told them to take Jean Harlow off The Saturday Night Kid. To his astonishment, the request was refused. Harlow had a “friend” in the front office with even more clout than Clara, and although Jacobson never discovered who her patron was, few besides Ben Schulberg could overrule the studio’s most important actress.
Within days it didn’t matter, for Clara’s jealousy of Harlow turned to sponsorship. “She was simply fascinated by her,” says costume designer Edith Head. When Head designed a bias-cut dress which Clara was too fat to wear, she not only approved it for Harlow, but asked Teet Carle to have pictures taken of them together. “See if ya can help her out,” Clara urged Carle. “She’s a good kid.” Carle reminded her that stars never posed with bit players. Clara laughed. “She’s gonna go places,” she assured him. “You’ll see.” Reluctantly Carle arranged a photo session.
A picture of Clara with anyone was guaranteed to run in thousands of newspapers. It was Harlow’s biggest break yet.
-Clara Bow: Runnin’ Wild by David Stenn, pages 178-180.
‘Too Marvelous For Words’ - January 1963