This week it’s Anne Hathaway, the next week Natalie Portman and after that maybe Mila Kunis. Who is the new “it girl” in Hollywood? Reaching “it girl” status is great while it lasts, but there was only one original “it girl” and her name was Clara Bow. Women adored her for her spunkiness and free spirit. Yet she was gifted in attracting men as well. She had that unattainable and enviable spark that got her cast time and time again.
Bow began her career in silent film and was one of the few actors of the time that managed to successfully transition to “talkies.” Her voice was not the silky smooth one sought after by many actors of the time, but still a unique one that drew the ears of those who heard it. Yet what she was most known for was for being the first to hint at the existence of sex in film. Granted for today’s
standards it was still tame, but for the time, Clara’s flirtation was hot as a skillet.
Just as her star shot to the sky, she began to burn. Paramount began typecasting her as mostly a flapper, or a party girl. She displayed her acting abilities including her emotional range through other roles although not as plentiful sometimes as a jailbird and other times as a tomboy.
Strangely, for a person so desired as an adult, Clara was born unwanted. She was born in 1905 in Brooklyn to a mother who was mentally ill and her father had no interest in her. Her dreams were her escape.
That was until she won the 1921 Fame and Fortune contest looking for the next big thing by Motion Picture, Motion Picture Classic, and Shadowland Magazines. They reported that she had “a genuine spark of the divine fire.” She was cast in a small part in Beyond the Rainbow in 1922, but was disappointed to find that her scene was cut before release. However things changed when B.P.Schulberg got hold of Clara. Soon she had more work than had thought possible.
She was more versatile than given credit for by many film historians. Despite giving such brilliant dramatic performances, it was Clara’s flapper roles that increasingly drew the attentions of millions of American film-goers.
Riding on the successes of The Plastic Age, Dancing Mothers, and especially
Mantrap, Clara was fast becoming a major star. Men started to desire her voluptuous body and became completely mesmerized by her effervescent charm and breath-taking beauty. Clara even set fashion trends among women.
Yet a dispute with assistant Daisy DeVoe which lead to a court case took Clara into a downward spiral that she found nearly impossible to escape. Ms. DeVoe had difficulty getting along with Bow’s then husband, Rex Bell, who may have gotten the allegations going. In the trial, DeVoe alleged that Bow had a libido that wouldn’t stop. She claimed the actress had her way with countless men and even dipped a toe into bestiality. Clara found it hard to repolish her reputation and began having breakdowns. She became known as “Crisis-a-day Clara.” Studios and industry people distanced themselves from her.
Eventually she came back to movies in Call Her Savage (1932) and Hoopla (1933). However her party girl reputation was stuck like the gum to the back of her ear. In 1988 David Stenn wrote a biography about Clara called Runnin’ Wild in which his pen burned in his mission to clarify and rectify the wild rumors about her.
One might ask what good such an effort would do, over twenty years after herdeath, on September 26, 1965. As long as there are those who enjoyed Clara’s life and work, then setting the record straight would be worth it.
Who was Clara Bow, the “it girl”? It can be summed up in one of her personal
quotes. “All the time the flapper is laughin’ and dancin’, there’s a feelin’ of