Jean Harlow Wed Paul Bern When He Was Still Married – Inside His Double Life & Unsolved Death 2 Months After Wedding
Harlow’s second husband married her while still married to his first wife. Bern’s real death cause hasn't been clarified, and he carried most of his secrets to his grave.
The blonde bombshell who served as an inspiration for Marylin Monroe had a tragic death at a very young age.
A few years before she passed away, her second husband, German MGM producer Paul Bern, 22 years her senior, died in 1932, just two months after they tied the knot.
Paul Bern, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer production executive, and Jean Harlow, M.G.M. featured player who has the title role in Red Headed Woman, as they appeared on the day they announced their engagement. No date has been set for the wedding but Miss Harlow said it would be soon. | Source: Getty Images
That was at first glance, at least. He, a serious and hard-working man in his forties; she, one of the sexiest women of her time, young and at the beginning of her career.
Yet, they got married against all odds. According to the book “More of Hollywood’s Unsolved Mysteries,” authored by John Austin, Bern couldn’t consummate his marriage with his new wife because he had an ailment in his organ that left him impotent.
Paul Bern, noted producer, scenario writer and studio executive, whose suicide has shocked the country, and his bride, Jean Harlow, famous for her platinum hair. This picture was taken shortly after their marriage. | Source: Getty Images
The man, in despair, asked Harlow to work her “screen magic” at him as she was a “sex goddess,” and maybe she could help him to get an erection — something he’d never had before.
The blonde star got furious because he should’ve told her that before their wedding, and she thought he loved her not because of her image. In a fit of rage caused by alcohol, points the author, they ranted at each other, and Bern bit her until she started bleeding.
Jean Harlow at marriage to Paul Bern, film executive, 1932 with stepfather Count Bello and best man, John Gilbert. | Source: Getty Images
Harlow contacted her agent Arthur Landau, who came to see her and the bloody marks on her body. Landau and other MGM execs decided that this shouldn’t become a scandal in any way.
But that was one of many secrets that the German producer kept from Harlow. Paul Bern was still secretly married to his first wife, Dorothy Millette.
Jean Harlow, platinum blonde star of the movies, with Paul Bern, singing the wedding papers, in Beverly Hills, in July 2, 1932. | Source: Getty Images
Millette, according to Bern’s sister, stayed in New York City when Bern decided to move to California to pursue a career in stage management.
While Bern was building up his career, Millette spent some time in a sanitarium due to health issues, and when she got better, she moved to the Algonquin Hotel.
Bern would send her regular monthly checks of $300 and pay his first wife's expenses during her stay at the nursing home.
Dorothy Millette, actress, is shown, whose name had been mentioned in connection with the suicide of Paul Bern, husband of Jean Harlow, the motion picture star. | Source: Getty Images
When Millette moved to the hotel, she finally learned about her husband being remarried to the bombshell Jean Harlow and was now living on the west coast. In the book, Austin said that Bern was aware of that:
“Bern was aware of this and wrote her [Millette] at the Palace as evidenced by a letter uncovered following his death.”
Nonetheless, Jean Harlow was furious. This all added up to the hatred she felt towards Bern, but MGM insisted that she stays with him and keeps her mouth shut.
Jean Harlow And Paul Bern To Be Newly Wed. 1932. | Source: Getty Images
Among the letters that Millette and Bern exchanged, he recommended his first wife to stay at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, and he mentioned that he would financially support her during her trip.
When Dorothy Millette heard on the radio that her husband was dead, she checked out of the Palace Hotel and booked a stateroom on the Delta King riverboat.
Dorothy never disembarked from that boat, and her body was found a week later by fishermen. When Paul Bern died, the MGM staff had arrived at the crime scene before the police, who appeared a couple of hours later.
This is a facsimile of the suicide note left by Paul Bern to his platinum haired actress wife, Jean Harlow, before he committed suicide in Hollywood. | Source: Getty Images
The studio head Louis Mayer handed a note to the police when they arrived of what looked like a suicidal note. It read:
“Dearest Dear, Unfortunately [sic] this is the only way to make good the frightful wrong I have done you and to wipe out my abject humiliation, I Love [sic] you.”
This whole story left many loose ends and opened up the door for plenty of speculation. The first theory is that Dorothy Millette killed Paul Bern.
American film actress Jean Harlow being assisted from her house by her step-father Mario Bello and a relative Donald Robertson on her way to the funeral of her husband Paul Bern, who was found shot dead at his Beverly Hills home. | Source: Getty Images
Apparently, the first wife had many reasons for doing so—his betrayal, her mental instability, and more importantly, her discovering that Bern had changed his will to make the Hollywood blond bombshell Jean Harlow the beneficiary, a fact that would leave her destitute upon his death.
As for Bern’s suicidal note, it’s worthy of note that the MGM execs were at the crime scene before the police arrived.
People believe that the note could have been forged to protect Harlow’s image. That would make sense as it was better for her image to have her husband taking his own life instead of being murdered by a wife he never divorced.
Producer Paul Bern (Paul Levy) (1889 - 1932), the second husband of MGM star Jean Harlow and Irving Thalberg's right-hand man, waving farewell as he boards a train. The marriage lasted only a few weeks ending in his suicide in September 1932. | Source: Getty Images
The second theory is that Harlow did it—knowing that her husband could never consummate their marriage, then learning that the man was still married to another woman he was also financially supporting provided a perfect motive for the crime.
Many people who knew Harlow, especially when she was still married to Bern, reported that they weren’t entirely happy together. On top of that, MGM told Harlow to stay with Paul despite her hatred towards him.
The latter, however, isn’t a theory much explored as the previous two. This particular theory explores the conjecture that the Hollywood actress asked the MGM executives to cover it up to keep her image, as well as her bankable star life, intact.
American film star Jean Harlow (1911 - 1937), who was engaged to actor William Powell at the time of her early demise. | Source: Getty Images
Jean Harlow got married three times, and she died at the young age of 26 years old. The facts behind her death remain a mystery to this day. The official narrative comes down to the official diagnosis of kidney disease, a condition that cannot be dealt with based on the medical technology at the time.
The second speculation regarding her death is related to the chemical mixture she used to dye her iconic platinum blonde.
The Hollywood star dyed her hair weekly with a harmful and dangerous mixture of Clorox, ammonia, Lux flakes, and peroxide. The actress died during the production of the movie "Saratoga," released in 1937.
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text “help” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741, or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
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