Meanwhile, the inquest went on. Irving Thalberg, top MGM exec, and other movie bigwigs were questioned. Even Bern’s private physician was flown back from Hawaii to testify.
The doctor declared publicly that “Bern had suffered a physical handicap that would have prevented a happy marriage . .
But this did not entirely explain the mystery, especially since Jean had known about Bern’s infimity all the time. What was she holding back? What w’as making her suffer these silent agonies? What did the note really mean?
The “second” note mentioned by gardener Clifton Davis, who later denied its existence, is the key to the mystery.
Davis secretly admitted when • the tumult was over that after talking to family friends and MGM executives, he was convinced it would be “better not to say anything about it,” since the contents were so sensational and scandalous.
“That second note,” declared one of Bern’s close friends (who insists on keeping the information off-the-record because he is still a top Hollywood director), “left no doubt as to what the ‘comedy’ was that had caused Paul’s ‘abject humiliation’.
“On that fatal night,” (and part of this is in the Shulman book), “Bern, hoping to keep his wife from roaming, brought home an artificial male organ but he had it made so large that all it did for Jean when she saw it was to make her laugh uncontrollably. Then, feeling sorry for her husband, she tossed it away and turned on everything she could to try to arouse him. And if any woman who ever lived could arouse a man, it was she!
Hollywood was in an uproar. The stunned 21-year-old bride wept real tears. To police and reporters she insisted she did not know what the note to her meant, nor the reason for her 42-year-old groom’s suicide.
There was no doubt Bern had shot himself, but the strange note led the police to press an investigation.
Even Hollywood insiders puzzled over the cryptic note. What did he mean by “last night was only a comedy” ? What had happened that Jean Harlow would not even hint at?
The Bern gardener said there was a second note from Bern, even offered to sell its contents to a movie magazine.
But when police investigated the gardener, Clifton Davis, said he was “mistaken.” He knew “nothing.”
The Coroner summoned Jean Harlow to the inquest, but her doctor said she could not attend. The distraught Venus, hollow-eyed, leaden-voiced and listless, as though caught in a nightmare, was hiding out at her mother’s Beverly Hills home.
One afternoon a high MGM executive, who was visiting Jean’s mother, looked up to see Jean climbing the rail of an upstairs balcony that overhung a deep canyon.
With a yell of warning he and two other friends leaped forward to stop the suicide attempt of the million-dollar beauty.
Gentle Paul Bern grew less and less gentle with his fabulous wife. On one occasion, he broke up a fancy cocktail party by loudly accusing her of making an assignation with a cab driver.
Despite Jean’s protests that the cabbie had come to their home only to return a pair of gloves she had left in his cab, Bern had his own fixed ideas about what was going on. He grew so nasty that Jean began to weep, and the party turned into a rout.
On the other hand, servants whispered about quarrels which flared up when Jean insisted on making amorous gestures to him around the house.
In public, when they were not fighting, she would hang warmly on his arm, her famed bosom just nudging his elbow.
Then, two months after the wedding, police answered a call from the Bern butler to find Paul Bern stretched out nude in front of his wife’s mirror with a gun in his hand and a bullet hole in his head. Beside him was a dramatic but cryptic note. It read:
“Dearest Dear, Unfortunately this is the only way to make good the frightful wrong I have done you and to wipe out my abject humiliation. I love you.
“P.S. You understand that last night was only a comedy. Paul”
The passionate blonde had taken a step which would cast a shadow over her whole life. Pictures, newsreels and stories of the gilt-edged ceremony were flashed around the world as the girl whose every photograph set millions of men to panting began a sexless honeymoon.
“Nobody was ever sure just what Jean’s intentions for herself were, but from the moment she heard about Paul, she was twice as determined to go through with the marriage and to make him happy,” insisted a costume designer who was one of the star’s best friends.
“But,” added the designer, “Jean certainly could never have given up love—her kind of flesh-and-blood love—and I don’t believe she expected to. Maybe she thought she could transform Paul into a real male. Or maybe they had an understanding— about other men.”
The movie colony speculated endlessly about the strange union. Jean was as attentive as a wife could be.
But within three weeks Bern began making jealous scenes in public. The “other men” were everywhere, of course, and La Harlow still enjoyed their homage.
She was working on the same MGM lot making Red Dust with Clark Gable, a co-star and old friend with wrhom she had spent much leisure time.
The lot buzzed with comment on the torrid love scenes that the two great sex appeal stars were “acting.”
During a famous bath scene in a rain barrel, the smouldering Harlow demonstrated that she believed in playing bath scenes realistically—in the nude.