The death was ruled a suicide all to quickly by authorities – and as was the norm back then, the studio was called upon the discovery of Bern’s death, instead of the police. So what happened that fateful night?
Dorothy Millette checked out of the Plaza Hotel in San Francisco shortly after she heard on the radio that Jean Harlow’s husband was dead. She paid up her account — she’d been living at the hotel for four months — and booked a $3 stateroom on the Delta King riverboat. Riverboat officials would confirm Millette boarded later that day, Sept. 6, 1932.
She was seen a few times. A waiter remembered her at dinner, a pretty but exhausted woman who barely ate. At 2:30 a.m., a Walnut Creek man went for a restroom break on the top deck. There, he saw Millette, crying and gazing into the inky water. She didn’t seem to notice him.
Two hours later, a night watchman making the rounds found a woman’s coat and shoes on the deck. When the riverboat docked in the morning, Millette didn’t disembark. Delta King staff began searching for her.
In Beverly Hills, police at the home of Jean Harlow were also wondering where they could find Dorothy Millette. Harlow’s husband, MGM studio exec Paul Bern, was dead in the bathroom, a bullet in his head. In short order, police determined there was something strange about Bern’s personal history. It seemed Harlow wasn’t his only spouse.
His first wife, the woman he was still married to, was Dorothy Millette.!!!
So it should be no surprise that Bern was the one who got Harlow’s contract purchased and transferred from the not-as-notable Howard Hughes to the successful MGM studio.
After just months of dating, Bern purposed to Harlow and just two days later the couple wed. So little planning went into the wedding that it’s said that Harlow didn’t even wear a real wedding dress. 150 guests gather at the home of the Harlow’s mother and the couple was married on July 2ed 1932. According to reports, they both took just one day off and then went back to work.
After the nuptials, Harlow was reported looking “radiant” and happy… but the same cannot be said about Bern. He is said to have become a paler, haggard version of himself within weeks of the couples wedding. Rumors began to fly, as they usually do in Hollywood.
Some speculated that the source of the turmoil was the grand home that Bern had purchased in for Harlow in Benedict Canyon. The home is a two-story Bavarian-style mansion situated on a 5-acre lot in the Beverly Hills neighborhood. The home has since been split up into 3 separate homes, with the carriage houses being converted into full homes.
When Bern’s body was discovered by the household staff, the first call was not to the police — it was to MGM. The studio sent over its top fixers, who combed through the scene for two hours before police were summoned.
Of course, this compromised the scene. Two hours later, that’s when the police arrived to conduct their investigation. Studio head Louis B. Mayer told police that he had found a suicide note. It was simple, an apology to Harlow for something horrible that Bern had done.
They also informed Harlow her husband was dead. She spent the night of his suicide at her mother’s house.
Apparently they were told by her physician Harlow was:
QUOTE “too hysterical to undergo questioning at this time.”
It is said that she later did speak to authorities.
According to the Inquest – the night before his death (Saturday), Bern had sent Harlow to spend the evening with her mother who was apparently home alone. Harlow returned on Sunday and was sent away AGAIN by Bern under the guise that he had work to do- specifically scripts to read. When Harlow never heard from Bern, she apparently simply assumed that he had fallen asleep reading the scripts and thought nothing of it. But that is just one account – another states that Jean wanted to be alone that evening because she “had a headache” so she went back to her mother’s house for some space.
They found it through George G. Clarken, Bern’s Los Angeles insurance advisor. Clarken admitted Bern had never divorced Millette; in fact, he’d set up a trust fund for Millette. A lawyer in New York confirmed Bern’s secret marriage. He said he’d drawn up a will for Millette over a decade ago.
“I was always under the impression that Dorothy was his wife. I believe there was some legal marriage ceremony performed,” he told the Associated Press. “I heard somewhere that Mrs. Bern had died in a sanitarium. Bern had not mentioned her for years.”
with Bern the day before his suicide. Perhaps Millette, the spurned woman, had murdered Bern and gone on the run.