Category Archives: Jean Harlow

The ‘t’ Is Silent, as in Harlow

Margot Asquith? Margot Grahame? Apocryphal?

Mrs Herbert Asquith, later Countess of Oxford and AsquithDear Quote Investigator: According to a Hollywood legend there was a pointed verbal encounter between the movie siren Jean Harlow and the sharp-tongued English aristocrat Margot Asquith. When Harlow attended a party given by Asquith, the movie star presumptuously referred to the hostess by her first name, and she repeatedly mispronounced it as “Margott”, i.e., she pronounced a “t” at the end of the name. Eventually, Asquith responded with a squelcher:

No, no, Jean. The ‘t’ is silent, as in Harlow.

Do you think this wordplay on “harlot” occurred during an actual conversation or was this dialog constructed afterwards by a comedian? I have seen a citation in 1974, but that date is very late.

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI was printed in a newspaper gossip column in August 1934. The article discussed a rising young movie actress who used the single name “Margo”. (This Margo was unrelated to Harlow or Asquith.) The title of the article was “Name is ‘Margo’ Without a ‘T'” and it had two meanings. The first meaning was simply a reference to the new actress. The second meaning was a sly allusion to the punchline of the joke under examination.

The gossip columnist did not directly recount the comical anecdote involving Harlow and Asquith because of the censorial sensitivities of the 1930s, and because the reporter was dependent on the good will of movie studios. However, the final sentence of the column shown below established the fact that the joke was in circulation: 1

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.

The second earliest evidence known to QI appeared in a letter dated October 4, 1934 that was located by top-notch researcher Sam Clements. For many years the famous jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. and the diplomat Lewis Einstein exchanged correspondence. A note from Einstein included a version of the anecdote which he may have heard from Margot Asquith directly. The term “Lady Oxford” in the following passage referred to Asquith who was the Countess of Oxford: 2

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’.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1934 August 28, Dallas Morning News, Notes On The Passing Show: Name is “Margo” Without a “T” by J. R. Jr. [John Rosenfield, Jr.], Page 6, Column 3, Dallas, Texas. (GenealogyBank)
  2. 1964, The Holmes-Einstein letters: Correspondence of Mr. Justice Holmes and Lewis Einstein: 1903-1935, Edited by James Bishop Peabody, (Letter dated October 4, 1934 from Lewis Einstein to Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes), Start Page 358, Quote Page 359, Macmillan & Co. Ltd, London. (Verified on paper; Great thanks to Sam Clements for providing this citation)