Wishing Jean Harlow a happy birthday! She was born on March 3, 1911, in Kansas City to a mild-mannered dentist and his headstrong wife. Her parents’ marriage didn’t last long but they still produced a daughter, Harlean Carpenter, who would grow up to be Hollywood’s first “platinum blonde” and “blonde bombshell.” Both terms were created especially for her white-blonde hair color, which became all the rage after Harlow’s success in movies. Once she moved to MGM, her fame skyrocketed and she was a bonafide sensation.

One of her many fans in the 1930s was a little girl in Hollywood named Norma Jeane, who read about the blonde movie queen in fan magazines. Norma Jeanne’s guardian, Grace McKee Goddard, was also a Harlow fan and liked to tell the little girl that one day she would grow up to be like Jean Harlow.

As Marilyn Monroe began her own acting career, she patterned her look after her childhood idol. She gave the blonde image her own twist, but Marilyn herself always acknowledged Jean Harlow’s influence. Even when she was older, Marilyn felt a closeness to the original blonde bombshell and believed the two had much in common.

“I keep thinking of her, rolling over the facts of her life,” Marilyn said of Jean. “It was kind of spooky and sometimes I thought, Am I making this happen? But I don’t think so. We just seemed to have the same spirit or something, I don’t know. I kept wondering if I’d die young like her too.”

*Marilyn posing as her idol Jean Harlow for a series of photographs taken for LIFE Magazine by Richard Avendon in 1958*

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