By Leslie Lindsay
Jean Harlow didn’t ask to be a star.
At seventeen years old and a love-struck newlywed from Kansas City, Missouri, Harlean Carpenter and her husband, trust-fund orphan Chuck McGrew move west to the promising neighborhood of Beverly Hills, California, with dreams of doing nothing more than lunching at the country club, taking up tennis and living in a cute stucco house in the hills. But it’s only a matter of time—and the result of a dare that turns Harlean Carpenter McGrew into the ravishing Jean Harlow.
Gorgeously written and fabulously drawn from the life of young Harlean Harlow Carpenter, Anne Girard returns with PLATINUM DOLL (previous historical fiction MADAME PICASSO), and pulls readers into the enchanting fairy-tale world of the Golden Age of Hollywood.
Today, I am super honored to have Anne Girard pop over and chat about her glowing, page-turning historical fiction, PLATINUM DOLL.
Leslie Lindsay: Welcome Anne! It’s such a pleasure to have you on the blog couch today. I just devoured PLATINUM DOLL, felt seduced by the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, and even felt compelled to do some of my own research on Jean Harlow—I wanted to know more. That is what I call darn good historical fiction! What sparked your interest in writing this particular story?
Anne Girard: Hi Leslie, thanks very much. It’s my pleasure, and I’m so thrilled that you enjoyed the book! I’ve always been drawn to writing about real characters from history—the more complicated or misunderstood, the better. What sparked my interest about Jean Harlow’s story were two things. I loved exploring what it took to become a star in early Hollywood, that was really fun, and I was equally pulled into the portrait of a young, fragile marriage dying as her star is rising. Biographers have not been kind to Chuck McGrew, so I also wanted to try to represent what that whole thing must have been like, not just for Harlean, but for her him, knowing he was outmatched by his domineering mother-in-law, as well as by the fateful pull of Hollywood. I actually felt a lot of compassion not just for Harlow but for them both.
L.L.: And so your research is evident in this novel. You clearly did your homework. I think it would have been easy to become overwhelmed with the vast amount of information out there on Jean Harlow. Yet, you deliver such a well-rounded, yet compact slice of her life. How did you decide what to include, and what not?
Anne Girard: With this book it was a little easier than it often is. My publisher wanted only that slice of her story, kind of “A Star Is Born” theme, so that simplified things. Knowing that before I began, I really committed to putting as many details—and characters—into the book as possible to hopefully make that period which I was given really live for readers. There really wasn’t much I left out, or wanted to!
“A fascinating, page-turning, behind-the-scenes look at what it took to be a celebrity in early Hollywood.”
~Lynn Cullen, bestselling author of Poe and Twain’s End
L.L.: Was there anything that surprised you about Jean Harlow?
Anne Girard: Learning how smart and well educated she was surprised me, considering the stereotype of a platinum blonde movie star. It was also great learning how much she loved to read, and that she even wrote a novel. I wouldn’t have guessed any of that.
L.L.: I have to say, Jean seemed like a girl I would like—she loves animals, reading, and writing. I think, for me, I enjoyed learning she was just a sweet, tenderhearted girl from Missouri who stumbled upon fame. In your opinion, is this how things “work,” that luck is elusive, or carefully cultivated?
Anne Girard: I think it’s probably a little of both. In Jean’s case, she really didn’t seek out fame or, initially, even a career, while her friend Rosalie did pursue it and had nowhere near the same luck. Once she had tasted a bit of that success though, I do believe Jean (and her mother!) worked very hard at cultivating the opportunity fate had given her—and cultivate they both did! Harlow was an inspiration to Marilyn Monroe and countless other girls afterward.
L.L.: There are sections of the novel that are hard to read. Namely, the tumultuous relationship she had with her mother. Gosh, their relationship was oddly complex. Can you speak to that, please?
Anne Girard: Wasn’t she something?! Jean Bello certainly was the quintessential, cliché controlling stage mother, my goodness! Hard to read and certainly difficult to write about when needing to present an accurate representation! They were very enmeshed, stemming from Harlow’s having been an only child, and her mother’s sole companion on their first trip to Hollywood where they very much depended on each other. The first Jean Harlow also saw possibility in her daughter, things that she was never able to achieve on her own. Their nicknames for each other, “Mommie” and “The Baby,” say a lot I think.
L.L.: Were there other disturbing scenes for you to write? (There were sure a few that made me cringe!)
Anne Girard: Absolutely. The scene in the backseat of the car when they are on the way to the hospital… that was tough to write, and to put myself in Harlow’s shoes under the strictures of those times. I wanted to show the mix of panic, fear and anger—and ultimately resignation, she was feeling. Also there is a last scene between Harlow and her husband when he comes to her house that final time. His desperation to keep his wife, mixed with the growing death of a marriage, made me sad for days afterward, but it was real life, what really happened, and I wanted to share that respectfully, but realistically too. I hope I did that.
L.L.: Let’s switch gears a bit to your writing process. Do you outline first, or let the pen lead? Do you research first, then write or does your research fall into place as the narrative unfolds?
Anne Girard: It kind of depends on the story. Usually though, once I’ve done an initial exploration of the characters, some scenes and dialogue do just tumble out. It’s the ‘get acquainted’ period between the characters and me. I jot those down and store them to add later to the text. Then I begin the lengthier research; biographies (all of them), historical time reference books, food, fashion and travel to the destination where the story is set. That’s a must. Then I write an initial outline of the scenes as they really happened from history so that I know, in a general way, where I will be going with the characters. The writing—all on yellow legal tablets—happens after that.
L.L.: What is obsessing you nowadays and why?
Anne Girard: Ah, obsession is the perfect word! I’m onto a new story—another real character from history, which is top secret for now. But I’m in the phase where the characters and I are getting acquainted, and I’m beginning to hear ‘their’ story. I love when that happens! It really is the ‘honeymoon’ phase of the writing process. I can’t wait to share it with the world. Hopefully, that will be soon and I will do justice to the characters and their amazing story.
L.L.: What might I have asked about, but forgot?
Anne Girard: Hmm… how ‘bout what I’m reading at the moment? That would be “At The Water’s Edge” by Sara Gruen. Fabulous writing and a great story; can’t ask for more than that!
L.L.: Thank you so much for taking the time to stop by, Anne. It was such a pleasure!
Anne Girard: Truly, Leslie, the pleasure was all mine! Wonderful questions!
Bio: 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.
Learn more about the author of PLATINUM DOLL:
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[Special thanks to S. Missirlian. Cover and author image courtesy of Anne Girard. B&W images of Jean Harlow and her mother, as well as the Hollywood headshot were retrieved from Wikipedia 1.1.16]
Wonderful interview Leslie. Thanks so much for having Anne on your blog.
Thanks, Suzy! She was a pleasure to have.