Clara Gordon Bow, destined to become THE flapper of the 1920's, was born and raised in poverty in Brooklyn, New York, on July 29, 1905. Her family was also beset with violence. Her mother tried to slit Clara's throat when she attempted to enter the film industry. She won a photo beauty contest which launched her movie career that would eventually number 58 films, from 1922 to 1933. It was the movie It (1927), which was to define her career. The film starred Clara as a shop girl who was asked out by the store's owner. As you watch the silent film you can see the excitement as she prepared for her date with the boss, her girlfriend trying hard to assist her. She was trying to use a pair of scissors to modify her dress in order to look more "sexy". This movie did a lot to change society's mores as there was only a few years between World War I and Clara Bow, but this movie went a long way in how society looked at itself. Clara was flaming youth in rebellion. In the film she was presenting a worldly wisdom that somehow sex meant having a good time. But you shouldn't be misled by the film, because she was still close to Lillian Gish in that when her boss tries to kiss her goodnight, she slaps him. Yes, she, too, was a good girl and a first cousin of Trueheart Susie. At the height of her popularity she received over 45,000 fan letters a month. She, too, was probably the most overworked and underpaid star in the industry. With the coming of sound, which did lend itself to her thick Brooklyn accent, her popularity waned. Clara was also involved in several court battles ranging from unpaid taxes to being in divorce court for "stealing" women's husbands. After the court trials, she made a couple of attempts to get back in the public eye. One was Call Her Savage (1932) in 1932. It was somewhat of a failure at the box office and her last was in 1933 in a film called Hoopla (1933). She, then, married cowboy star, Rex Bell at the age of 26 and retired from the film world at the age of 28. She was a doting mother of her two sons and would do anything to please them. Haunted by a weight problem, and a mental imbalance, she never entered show business again. Clara was confined to a sanitarium from time to time and was not allowed access to her loving sons she adored very much. She died of a heart attack in West Los Angeles, on September 26, 1965. She was 60 years old. Today she is finding a renaissance among movie buffs, who are recently discovering the virtues of silent film. The actress who wanted so much to be like the wonderful young lady in It (1927) has the legacy of her films to confirm what a wonderful lady she really was. She, too, was America's first sex symbol.
Later to become the personification of the flaming Roaring Twenties, Clara Bow was born and brought up in near poverty in Brooklyn, New York. She won a photo beauty contest which started a movie career of some 56 feature films. Best known as the uninhibited flapper, she reached the top as the "It Girl" in 1927. With the advent of sound and the Depression's disfavorable attitude towards Jazz-age extravagances, her popularity faded. Also. adding to her problems, were gambling debts, unpaid taxes and several sensational public court battles involving alienation of affections and embezzlement (by her secretary.) She then married cowboy star Rex Bell at age 26 and retired from the screen at age 28. Plagued by personal crises, a weight problem and mental instability, she never made another film. She died in 1965.
Clara Bow was born in a run-down tenement in old Brooklyn, to a schizophrenic Mother and a chronically destitute, physically abusive father. As a child, she was a tomboy and played games in the streets with the boys; since her clothes were so ragged and dirty other girl children wouldn't play with her. Her best friend Johnny burned to death in her arms when she was 10 years old. Years later, she could make herself cry at will on a movie set by listening to the lullaby "Rock-A-Bye Baby". She claimed it reminded her of her small friend. She also told reporters simple, brutal, honest stories about her horrific childhood, which was a big no-no in her day. Mental illness in the family was considered more shameful than unmarried pregnancy. This made Clara a lot of enemies in Hollywood.
She entered "The Fame and Fortune Contest" as a teenager. Girls from all over the country competed, and the 1st Prize was a part in a movie. She showed up in her ragged clothes and the other girls smirked at her. The contest judges paid no attention to her until she did her screen test - and then they unanimously chose her over all the other girls. Clara lit up the screen like nothing they had ever seen. She got the part, but it was later cut from the movie. During this time her mother tried to kill her and was institutionalized, where she died shortly after.
She was taken to Hollywood by B.P. Schulberg, who used Clara sexually and financially. He worked her like a horse and paid her very little compared to other stars of the day. Even so, the talented Clara became a superstar, and the first ever Hollywood sex symbol. Clara could flirt with the camera just by looking into it with her big brown eyes and mischievous bow-tie grin. She exuded sex appeal from every pore in her little body and was not afraid to flaunt it. She personified "flaming youth in rebellion". Her characters were always working class gals; manicurists, showgirls and the like. Her movies did a lot to emancipate young Americans from the restrictive Victorian morals their parents had been raised with. Clara's characters were unashamed about being attracted to men and went after them with gusto. Her shop girl in It (1927) sees the bosses son one day, and says "Oh Santa, gimme him!" She knows exactly what to do to get him interested and then keeps him on his toes. Her characters cut their dresses up to look sexier, cut off their hair, drank and smoked in public, and danced all night long. At the height of her career, she received 45,000 fan letters a week, a record that has never been equaled. She was the idol of working girls and the dream of working class guys everywhere.
Even though the public adored Clara, Hollywood shunned her. Most of Hollywood's big names of the 1920s had come from poor backgrounds like Clara, but when they made it big they tended to develop upper class values and personas. They pretended their poor childhoods had never happened. Clara didn't. Clara never hid anything; that was her problem. It was later discovered by a biographer that Clara was actually schizophrenic, like her mother. One of the hallmark signs of schizophrenia is a total unconcern with social mores. Clara loved to tell really dirty jokes at parties when the conversation lulled, or make blatant remarks about the size of her (many) lovers to other, more prudish girls. She had very public affairs (her euphemism was "engagements") with a score of leading men and directors, including Victor Fleming, Gary Cooper, and Gilbert Roland. This behavior horrified her peers, and eventually she was driven out of Hollywood. Many nasty rumors about her sexuality floated around the movie colony, including the one about her taking on the entire USC Football Team one night, which was finally disproved by a biographer, David Stenn.
The coming of sound was like an earthquake to Hollywood. It shook up everything. Her fans probably wouldn't have minded her blue collar Brooklyn accent, since most of them were working class gals themselves, but Clara got herself so worked up with mike fright she had breakdowns during her first talkies. Before she could recover from this, she ended up in court with her private life splashed all over the papers, which didn't help matters one bit. Her secretary and best friend, Daisy De Voe, was caught embezzling from her. When Clara took Daisy to court, Daisy told the court and press uncensored details of Clara's sex life, along with lots of exaggeration, which the press automatically printed and believed. The scandal ruined Clara. She had another more serious breakdown and had to recover in a sanatorium. Soon after she retired for good, and moved to Nevada with her new husband, the cowboy actor Rex Bell. She raised two sons, all the while battling her mental illness, and died in obscurity in 1965.