Did a Countess Once Famously Insult Jean Harlow?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about movies and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the Movie urban legends featured so far.

MOVIE URBAN LEGEND: Countess Margot Asquith insulted Jean Harlow by calling her a harlot.

As I’ve discussed in past legends like Julie Newmar supposedly insulting actor Michael Dunn, George Bernard Shaw reportedly brutally insulting Isadora Duncan and W.C. Fields allegedly mocking Philadelphis on his tombstone, most famous stories involving clever insults are not true. Most people, after all, even clever ones, tend not to be that clever in real life.

However, when it comes to Margot Asquith, Countess of Oxford and Asquith, she seems to actually BE that clever (and perhaps, one might say, that mean), when it came to a comment she made to actress Jean Harlow.

Margot Asquith was married to H. H. Asquith, who was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1908 to 1916 (up until Margaret Thatcher passed him, he had the longest continuous tenure as a UK Prime Minister in the 20th Century). H.H. Asquith passed away in 1928, but Margot continued to stay in the public eye, working as a writer and becoming famous for her acerbic sense of humor.

This leads to the legend at hand, which is that Asquith supposedly met actress Jean Harlow and when the movie star (probably best known at the time for her beautiful looks and her platinum blonde hair) mispronounced Aquith’s first name as MarGOT instead of MarGO, Asquith replied, “No, no, Jean. The ‘t’ is silent, as in Harlow.”

Kind of messed up zinger, but at least it was pretty clever. Now did it actually happen?

I am inclined to say yes.

Garson O’Toole, the great Quote Investigator, found a reference to the quote as far back as in a gossip column from August 1934, where it stated (in reference to an actress of the time that went by the name Margo)

Apropos Margo, who is discussed in this column, get Fred McFadden, Palace press agent, to tell you the story of Jean Harlow at Margot Asquith’s party.

And in October of that same year, the diplomat Lewis Einstein wrote in a letter to a friend:

By way of pleasantry I must relate to you one of our mutual friend Lady Oxford’s latest. Having met Jean Harlow (the original platinum blonde) at a party the latter exuberantly began to call her Margott stressing the final t. Margot (severely) — ‘The final “t” in my christian name is silent, unlike your family name’.

When you hear two sources on a story like this that early on in the life of the story, it tends to suggest that it actually happened. Enough so that I’m willing to go with the legend as…

STATUS: True

Thanks to the Quote Investigator for the research!

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com.

One Reply to “Did a Countess Once Famously Insult Jean Harlow?”

  1. Gotta say the famous version is more clever than the version Mr Einstein quotes in his letter, though. (Still a pretty sick burn.)

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