Saturday, February 20, 2010

Miss Clara Bow

Oh Clara. My favorite flapper. I first heard about Clara from the book "Hollywood Babylon" (aka TRASH) and then I had started reading about her in connection with Jean Harlow (another one of my favorites). Just looking at her in films and photographs, she really just looks like the Roaring Twenties. Her, and other actresses like Louise Brooks are just so 20s...they belong there, and will live there forever. I love Clara. She was a fiery red head with a free spirit, but also she had a sensitive soul. Her film, "It" is one of my favorite films, and when I have kids, my first daughter is going to be named Clara Bow :)

Clara Gordon Bow was born July 29, 1905 in Brooklyn, New York to parents Sarah and Robert Bow. Sarah suffered a head injury when she was 16 years old and later developed epilepsy. She was then diagnosed with "psychosis due to epilepsy." As a result, Cara spent most of her childhood caring for her mother.

When Sarah realized that her daughter wanted a career in movies, she grew distraught. One night, Clara woke up to her mother holding a knife to her throat, threatening to kill her if she became an actress. Her mother later did not remember this episode, and was soon committed. She passed away in 1923.

Robert Bow supported his daughter's dreams of becoming a movie actress. Later on, it would become apparent that he felt this way because he wanted to use Clara for her money and her fame.

Clara read that the magazine Motion Picture Classic was running a contest, asking for girls to send in their pictures for a chance to win a movie role. She went to the boardwalk and had a cheap photograph taken, submitted it, and won. The film was Beyond the Rainbow, and sadly, her part was cut from the final print (It has since been restored for all of us to watch and enjoy).

After she was named one of the WAMPAS Baby Stars of 1924, her career started to pick up. Her father Robert tagged along with Clara and would try and pick up girls by using the line "I am Clara Bow's father!"

The 1927 film It skyrocketed Clara to stardom. After the films release, she was nicknamed "The It Girl." Later that year she starred with Buddy Rogers and George Arlen in the first film to win an Academy Award, Wings.
Her other works included: The Plastic Age (1925), Mantrap (1926), Hula (1927), and The Saturday Night Kid (1929).

Clara's fame brought with it interest in her private life. Women were copying her hairstyle (she died it red with henna) and the way she applied her lipstick in the shape of a heart on her lips. Ladies called this "putting a Bow on."

Clara only married once. But, she was famous for her sexual escapades...some of which were fabricated by newspapers. She was at one time engaged to Gilbert Roland and Victor Fleming. She had relationships with Bela Lugosi (who kept a nude portrait of Clara in his room until the end of his life), John Gilbert, Gary Cooper, Richard Arlen, and Harry Richman.

There has been a myth circulating that Clara once had an orgy with the entire USC football team. This is FALSE! Because of her free spirited nature, she was accused of being very free with her sexuality (which...maybe she was, but not enough to take on an entire team).

The beginning of her downfall from fame began when she fired her personal secretary and friend, Daisy DeVoe, for embezzling. Clara took Daisy to court, and as revenge, Daisy told the press details about Clara's sex life...adding plenty of exaggeration. The scandal ruined Clara's image, and sent her into a mental breakdown. She entered into an asylum.

With the coming of talkies, many actors became terrified of speaking on screen. Clara was one of them. She was terrified. During the filming of her first talkie, shots had to be retaken over and over again because she kept looking up at the microphone over head. The stress of the talkies, and the end of the 1920s caused her to withdraw from film.

She married actor Rex Bell in 1931, and had two sons, Rex Jr. and George. When Rex decided to run for a political position, the idea of being thrust back into the spotlight terrified Clara so much, that she attempted suicide. She again checked herself into a sanitarium for shock treatments. She was eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia, just like her mother. This along with her consistent insomnia (as a result of the knife incident with her mother) makes Clara feel very unstable, and she had to be under the care of a nurse at home.

She died on September 27, 1965 of a heart attack at home. She was only 60 years old. At atopsy, it was revealed Clara had an undiagnosed heart condition, and had actually had a heart attack before. She was interred at Forest Lawn in California.

I do not want people to remember Clara Bow as the girl who took on the USC football team (GRRR!). I want them to see how beautiful and full of life she was. I had a chance to leave a kiss on her grave when I visited California a few years ago...after leaping over some chains. I absolutely adore Clara Bow :)

(On director Victor Fleming) "Of all the men I've known, there was a man." ~ Clara Bow

** 10/23/10 ** If I am reading the 1920 Census correctly (the handwriting and small print can make it difficult) it appears that Clara's father worked as an electrician. And as we know or have learned, he didn't keep that job after Clara became famous.


  1. It seemed like Clara had a wild ride throughout the twenties. It's just such a shame her friend Daisy stole from her and then spread lies about her. Talk about a fall from grace that wasn't even her fault. I can't even fathom just how hurtful that gossip would be. Maybe the closest thing today would be the jokes surrounding Michael Jackson.

    Hollywood is a mean machine. It can quickly build you up but just as quickly destroy you. In the end at least we have her films. They stand outside all that unnecessary drama and politics that is Hollywood, for in her films, she genuinely seemed to be having the time of her life.

  2. I agree. I think it was so unfair that she was blamed for being the cause of the extravagance of the 1920s, that her ways were deemed evil and immoral when everyone else was doing the same thing.

    Its sad she isn't remembered more often as being an important part of Hollywood's history. Seems she is only remembered for "sleeping with the whole USC football team" horrible rumor...

  3. Just watched “It” today which was my first experience with Clara Bow and I have to say she did not disappoint. Clara as ‘Betty’ was feisty and fiery and somehow made breathing extremely seductive.

    If I may, here’s my brief review of “It”.

    The film starts off with Betty Lou working at the world largest department store. It’s actually a little neat to see how much stores have changed in almost ninety years. In walks the boss, Cyrus who Betty hopelessly falls in love with. Cyrus’s assistant Monty sees Betty and falls hopelessly in love with her. That’s the basic setup and as a romantic comedy it succeeds.

    It was a surprise and a delight to watch Betty and Cyrus go out on a date at Coney Island. They were genuinely having fun and I was having fun watching them. There was a whole subplot about whether or not Betty had a baby and what kind of women she really was. I couldn’t but help think about her real life troubles which lay ahead for Clara and how (in a way) they were eerily prescient. For Clara she would eventfully be shunned but only on a much grander scale than when Cyrus does it to her.

    The ending was a real hoot with Monty accidentally running Cyrus’s yacht into another boat and sending Betty and Cyrus’s other girl (Molly) into the Ocean. Betty saves Molly from drowning by punching her in the face and knocking her out! Yes! What a girl. Not that Molly really deserved it as the film didn’t make her out to be any less deserving of Cyrus’s affection but it sure was neat to watch Betty sock it to her.

    In the end I was highly entertained and can’t wait to revisit ‘it’ again.

  4. Thank you Mr. Lake for the write up! I hope people will read it and want to watch the movie as well.

    Glad you liked it :)