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Murder or Suicide? The Mysterious Death of Jean Harlow's Husband

Jean Harlow

Jean Harlow

Paul Bern was a writer/director and producer at MGM. He was not a great looking guy, but somehow he had caught the eye and heart of Jean Harlow. Harlow was one of the biggest sex symbols of her day, known as the blonde bombshell. But getting the girl that most if the men in America wanted to have did not bring Paul happiness. Harlow's family was demanding, and they put a strain on the marriage. Two months after the marriage Jean was spending the night with her mother and Paul Bern was found dead. He had apparently shot himself in the head.

Jean and Paul

Jean and Paul

I say apparently because the police were not called in until after the studio fixers had been on the scene. A note was found that apologized for the frightful wrong he had done her and that this was the only way to wipe out his "abject humiliation". It also said "You understand that last night was only a comedy". His doctor said he knew the reason for Bern killing himself, but wouldn't say what it was. The MGM studio fixers said it because Paul was biologically unfit for marriage, in other words he had a ridiculously small penis. There were other rumors that he was gay.

Dorothy Millette

Dorothy Millette

If he had some sort of sexual dysfunction, which almost everyone involved seemed to suggest (Jean refused to say anything at all on the subject, even at the coroner's inquiry) it didn't slow him down too much. Not only had he been having a fling with his secretary, but he was already married. It turned out that he had a common law marriage to Dorothy Millette. That marriage had been as tragic as his marriage to Harlow's, if not more. First, Bern's mother carried through on a threat to commit suicide over the relationship. Then Dorothy had some sort of illness, and went to a sanitarium. While she was there Bern moved to California and left her behind.

murder-or-suicide-the-mysterious-death-of-jean-harlows-husband

He continued to support her financially, and wrote to her regularly, but they were not together as man and wife even though they were still legally married. There are theories that Dorothy actually killed Bern and the studio covered it up to protect Harlow from scandal. I'm not sure being a bigamist who is murdered is more scandalous than committing suicide because you either have a little dick or you can't get it up, and her motive would be questionable. Bern had recently changed his will to leave everything to Harlow. Since he had been Dorothy's sole source of income, the moment he died she became destitute. The day after his death she threw herself off a boat and followed her husband into oblivion.

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Harlow moved on with her life. She continued working in movies. She married again to Harold Rosson, but that was mostly to deflect from her scandalous affair with the married boxer Max Baer. Still, this sham marriage lasted 8 months, 4 times longer than her genuine marriage to Bern. She had a long relationship with William Powell, of Thin Man fame. He refused to marry her. Harlow suffered from some health issues, and fell ill while working on a movie in May of 1937. After getting misdiagnosed for several days, it was finally found that she was in the final stages of kidney failure. She was 26 years old when she died. She had been married 3 times, been one of the biggest stars in the world, even written a novel which was published after her death. She packed a lot of life into those 26 short years.

© 2022 Gracchus Gruad

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