Earlier this year I reviewed the basic tour presented by Scott Michaels’ tour company, Dearly Departed Tours. In short, Michaels and his gang are film experts of the highest (and sometimes the lowest) caliber. The tours, and the museum that holds all manner of bizarre film ephemera, are put on by people passionate about cinema, particularly the classic film variety. It helps that they’re also a gang obsessed with death and there was no weirder time to celebrate celebrity and death like the studio era. When they announced plans to do a tour themed to tragic blonde bombshell Jean Harlow, I instantly knew I needed to take it – and thanks to wonderful tour guide Elissa Jordan I was able to snag the last seat on the bus. In the L.A. area this summer and want to learn more about Jean “Baby” Harlow? This is where you want to be.
Since I’ve already detailed the actual museum already let’s get right to the tour. Harlow’s Hollywood is conducted by Jordan herself as well as Harlow biographer Darrell Rooney – who you might have remembered I interview a few years ago. The bus itself holds about 10 people or so allowing you to ask questions of the guides easily. The buses come complete with air conditioning which is at a premium in the tour bus market, especially during L.A.’s hot summers. Jordan and Rooney are founts of information. Jordan does several tours for Dearly Departed and doesn’t just drop Harlow information, but can also point out landmarks if you’re a fan of ’60s music (the Doors, Janis Joplin) or other famous leading ladies. Rooney knows everyone associated with Harlow, as well as the people who now own her previous homes. In fact, a stop at one of Harlow’s homes saw the group go inside and look around. (A note, if you are disabled you can certainly bring your wheelchair if it fits. There are two stops where you exit the car.)
The tour stops at several prominent locations associated with Harlow’s life, including the gates of Paramount Studios, the old Columbia Studios (now the Hollywood Athletic Club), and the studios formerly owned by Howard Hughes. Because of the tour’s specificity there are long stretches where locations aren’t looked on which is fine. Jordan and Rooney are such founts of information you have plenty of time to sit back, enjoy the AC, and hear their amazing stories. They document Harlow’s life in detail, from her origins as Harlean Carpenter to her acrimonious relationship with her mother, Jean and stepfather Marino Bello. (Bello, as the guides cheekily reveal, is buried in Forest Lawn but wasn’t good enough to stay in the family mausoleum.)
When locations are pointed out it’s remarkable. You see the former dentist office Jean went to which is now a restaurant on Hollywood Blvd called 33 Taps. I’ve been there and the food is tasty though I’d never believe teeth were being inspected there. A stop on the Sunset Strip will show you where the original Trocadero once stood. But the tour’s real reason for existence is to show you the amazing places where Jean Harlow used to live. As I mentioned previously there are two opportunities to get off the bus and see two of Jean’s former homes. Her final home is only seen through bushes but her house on Clubview – a beautiful home, by the way – is open to tours taking pictures on the porch. If you’re lucky you might be able to go in but don’t plan a visit with that in mind. A visit to the home described as a “German style hunting lodge” is fun as you get to visit the twisty, narrow streets of Benedict Canyon. Seeing the area makes up for the fact the lodge is obscured through trees. And her house on Beverly Glen is impeccable and the bus gets right up next to it.
Harlow’s Hollywood is a must do for Jean Harlow fans. The locations are breathtaking – and show you that Hollywood still knows how to do up glitz and glamour – and Elissa Jordan and Darrell Rooney are fantastic. The tour is only offered during the summer so get in on it now if you’re visiting Los Angeles.
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A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.