Carroll Baker did not achieve super stardom at the box office, but she did earn the admiration and respect from a great legion of fans. And while some movies can become labeled as 'classics,' a true classic is really an individual experience. It is something that reawakens a memory or emotion unique to that one person. Although many feel that Carroll Baker was miscast as 'Harlow' and the movie was generally panned by the public and critics alike, it was to become a real coming-of-age experience for myself.
When I was a little girl it was a big deal when I could spend weekends at my aunts because she had a swimming pool and I could also stay up late watching T.V. while eating lots of junk food. One Saturday night we watched 'Harlow,' and being an impressionable ten-year-old, was totally caught up in the fabulous clothes designed by Edith Head and the other trappings of celebrity. But more importantly, watching Carroll Baker's portrayal of Jean Harlow from 'studio prop' to 'sought-after-star,' was something I could identify with. Maybe a kid whose presence and opinions didn't seem to matter to a lot of people could also become something special. And while the movie did represent certain adult situations that I did not totally understand, it did leave an impression that stardom, like people, often are not like what they may appear to be. Little did I know then that 'Harlow' was to become a cinematic foreshadowing to another real tragedy that was to strike so close to home years later.
There was a pretty blonde girl that lived a couple of blocks away. Sometimes I would see her in the window when I passed her home...then she was gone. A couple of years later this blonde girl was to re-emerge as Dorothy Stratten, the 1980 Playboy Playmate of the Year...then she was gone again, killed in a jealous rage by her husband. And as I watched Carroll Baker portray her mother in 'Star 80,' it was like a resurrection of a wearied Jean Harlow warning Dorothy about evil...that there are still people who are often not what they appear...that Hollywood could be 'a trip through a sewer in a glass-bottomed boat.'
It seems like so many years ago now, but I will never forget those weekends at my aunts, 'Harlow,' or the blonde girl in the window. I will never forget the tragedy of their lives, the lessons learned at their expense that were so effectively portrayed by Carroll Baker. Peace Jean...Peace Dorothy...and thank you, Carroll.