The story of Jean Harlow, her late husband and a drowned woman in Sacramento is a complicated one.
It begins with a woman named Dorothy Millette who checked out of the Plaza Hotel in San Francisco after she heard about the death of Jean Harlow’s husband on the radio.
She paid her bill and booked a $3 stateroom on the Delta King riverboat, which officials confirmed she boarded later that day.
Dorothy was seen a few times during her stay on the riverboat. A waiter recalls serving her at dinner, a pretty woman who appeared exhausted and barely ate.
At 2:30 a.m., a man from Walnut Creek who was taking a walk on the top deck saw Millette crying and looking into the water.
She seemed to be unaware of his presence.
Two hours later, a night watchman found her coat and shoes on the deck and when the riverboat docked the next morning, Millette was nowhere to be found.
Meanwhile, police at the home of Jean Harlow were also searching for Millette. Harlow’s husband, MGM executive Paul Bern, was found dead with a bullet in his head in the bathroom.
Police soon discovered that Bern’s personal history was complicated, as it appeared that Harlow was not his only spouse.
Bern’s first wife, who he was still married to, was Dorothy Millette.
No one could understand why Jean Harlow, who was 22 years old and one of the biggest movie stars in the world, would marry a plain and serious 40-year-old German film executive.
However, Paul Bern was well connected and believed in Harlow’s potential as a serious actor, not just a sex symbol.
After a brief courtship, they got married in July 1932. However, two months later, Bern was dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
When Bern’s body was discovered, MGM was the first to be notified, not the police. The studio sent over their top employees to search the scene before police arrived.
They also informed Harlow of Bern’s death, who was spending the night at her mother’s house at the time.
As MGM worked to protect their star, police searched for a paper trail.
They found it through Bern’s Los Angeles insurance advisor, George G. Clarken, who admitted that Bern had never divorced Millette and had set up a trust fund for her.
A lawyer in New York confirmed the secret marriage and said he had drawn up a will for Millette over a decade earlier.
Bern’s sister filled in the rest of the story. Bern and Millette met in Toronto while working in a theater company and after they married, they moved to New York City so Bern could pursue a career in stage management.
However, Millette’s health deteriorated, and she moved into a sanitarium. Bern left for California, and Millette did not accompany him.
Bern continued to support Millette, who had recovered from her illness and moved into the Algonquin Hotel in New York.
He sent her a monthly stipend of $350, which is over $5,000 in today’s money, and they frequently wrote to each other.
Letters found in Millette’s handbag at the Plaza Hotel were on MGM stationary, including one written a few months before Bern and Harlow’s wedding where Bern funded Millette’s trip to San Francisco and expressed his love and best wishes.
On Sept. 14, two fishermen near Walnut Grove found a body floating in the Sacramento River, which was later identified as Millette.
In the week since her disappearance from the Delta King, the press referred to her as the “ghost wife.”
The death of an actress in San Francisco and what happened in room 1219 remains a mystery to this day.”