Clara Bow

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CLARA BOW

-THE ORIGINAL FLAPPER-

Clara Gordon Bow (1905-1965) If ever someone deserved a hug and some tender words of understanding, it would be the life & soul of Silent Pictures Clara Bow. Brought up with with the kind of childhood that beggars belief, it’s amazing that she survived at all. Practically disowned by her parents, nightmare upon nightmare plagued her sorry existance. Abandoned by an abusive father, Bow lived the life of a street urchin with little or no love from her prostitute mother. One of her mother’s charming habits was to stand over her daughter’s bed in the middle of the night with a butcher’s knife to her throat.. one such night Clara awoke and ran screaming into the wardrobe till morning. Insomnia plagued her for the rest of her life. At the age of nine her best friend Johnny received mortal injuries in a house fire and died in her arms. In an interview Clara said that when she was required to cry for a part, she sang ‘Rock a’ bye baby’, and recalled her poor Johnny. And as if to stamp out any other breathing space, her father returned from time to time beat the mother and sexually abuse Clara.

Two photographs sent into Motion Picture Magazine admitted her into the movies, where she rose through a succession of bit parts to the prototype ‘It girl’ (so dubbed by author Elinor Glyn) and a life of wild liberated abandon among the beautiful people of the Jazz Age. For a decade she shone with the elite, though was never truly accepted with her embarassingly common street talk and oh so loose morals. Rumours of affairs with the likes of Bela Lugosi, John Gilbert, Gary Cooper, John Wayne & Director Victor Flemming were lapped up by the gossip columns and fretted over by the studio bosses.

Sound hit Hollywood and Clara’s strong Brooklyn accent snuffed out her career in a few brief years. Unlike many of her contemporaries who found themselves left high and dry by the onset of Sound Pictures, Clara had money tucked away and a moderately rich husband in Rex Bell (Cowboy actor turned politician). She may have been financially secure, but with her rollercoaster of a life slowed to a crawl her emotional problems festered and tormented her. An attempted suicide lead to psychiatric treatment, antiquated electroshock therapy and an early death at the age of 60.

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“Even now I can’t trust life. It did too many awful things to me as a kid.”

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SELECTED FILMOGRAPHY

Beyond the Rainbow (1922) / Down to the Sea in Ships (1922) / Enemies of Women (1923) / The Daring Years (1923) / Daughter’s of Pleasure (1924) / Wine (1924) / This Woman (1924) / The Adventurous Sex (1925) / Parisian Love (1925) / The Plastic Age (1925) / It (1927) / Children of Divorce (1927) / Wings (1927) / Red Hair 1928 / The Fleet’s In 1928 / The Wild Party (1929) / Dangerous Curves (1929) / The Saturday Night Kid (1929) / Love Among the Millionaires (1930) / Her Wedding Night (1930) / No Limit (1931) / Kick In (1931) / Call Her Savage (1932) / Hoop La (1933)

POSTER ART

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NEW YORK TELEGRAPH (22nd July, 1922)

‘So far motion pictures haven’t affected her one iota. She is as refreshingly unaffected as if she had never faced a means to pretend. She hasn’t any secrets from the world–she trusts everyone, and doesn’t believe that any one would be unkind enough to print any of the romances that she loves to tell about.  Almost any mascaro firm would pay her a big salary for the use of her name. She came into pictures after winning a beauty contest.  She screens in the vernacular of the studio like a million dollars, and when Elmer Clifton had a look at her big brown eyes, and her round little face, almost like the girl in a picture book, he gave her one of the leading roles in “Down to the Sea in Ships.”

“This chance, Clara” said Mr. Clifton (every one calls her Clara), “will either make or break you–it depends upon the success of the picture.  Every one knows of the phenomenal success of Mr. Clifton’s great whaling picture. It made him, and it made Clara, and led to her getting an offer from J.G.Bachmann to play one of the leading roles in “May Time” for Preferred Pictures. She has just finished “Grit,” with Glenn Hunter.  She says she just loves Glenn. “I went down to see ‘Merton of the Movies’ the other night and I sat in the front row.  Glenn said something about Clara Bow, the motion picture actress, and I was so embarrassed.  Mr. and Mrs. Harold Lloyd were in the audience, too, but Glenn didn’t see them in time to put them in the play. “Glenn thinks I could act on the stage.  He said maybe sometime he will give me a part in one of his plays.” She thinks Mr. Hunter is a fine actor and dares any one to deny it. In fact, she rather hopes someone will, so she can prove her loyalty to young Merton by having a battle. Our conversation was mostly about whom Clara adores and whom she does not adore, and what she is going to do in California and the ideal man she
expects to marry. “You know,” she said, confidentially, leaning over a dish of chow mein almost as big as she is, “I have had six proposals of marriage; but I didn’t love one of them.”.. “What about the fraternity pin, does that belong to one of the loves?” she was asked. “No,” she explained, “I traded a piece of jewelry I had with a boy because I thought it was pretty.  A girl gave it to him–some boy had given it to her–and now it’s mine!”

Shades of Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Cornell and any other college where the Greek letter fraternities are in vogue! “I think you better go back to the office,” said Morris, interrupting Clara’s rhapsody.  “Mr. Beatty wants to see you.”..“No, he doesn’t, I have to have my picture taken,” answered the incorrigible Clara. But the pictures were as good an excuse as any, and Mr. Ryskind piloted her from the chop suey palace where she pranced across the floor, keeping time to the music like a delighted child. I thought afterward if the little girl who lives at my house had not
been so frightfully grown up she and Clara might have had a good time. We hope some one will tell Mr. Tarkington about Clara so that he will put her in a story.  She is almost too good to be true.  And to think she is going to Hollywood to play in the “fillums.”  We only wish some reformer who believes
the screen contaminates all who associate with it could meet this child. Still on second thought it might not be safe: Clara uses a dangerous pair of eyes.  And as for eyelashes, almost any mascaro would pay her a big salary for the use of her name.’

Louella Parsons

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In Which We Serve (1942)

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IN WHICH WE SERVE

Noel Coward / John Mills / Celia Johnson / Dere Elphinstone / Michael Wilding / Robert Sansom / Phillip Friend / Richard Attenborough / Ballard Berkeley / Kenneth Carten / Kay Walsh / Kathleen Harrison  /  Soundtrack  Noel Coward  / Cinematography  Ronald Nearne  / Produced  Noel Coward / Directed  Noel Coward & David Lean

THE STORY OF A SHIP..

Few films made during the war years in Britain (with WWII as subject matter) are worthy of much more than curiosity value. Dated morale boosters with little art to carry them through the years. There were of course some wonderful films turned out from the British studios at the time, such as Brief Encounter & Blithe Spirit (both incidentally Lean’s work), but those tended to skirt around the edges of the War, or steer a different course altogether. ‘In Which We Serve’ is an entirely different kettle of fish though. Whilst it decidedly helped to puff-up the resolve of this small islands’ ..eternal and indominitable pride, it does so with such moving power and keen social & cultural observation that it isn’t at all unfair to call it the best of all War films.

With ‘Saving Private Ryan’, Speilberg spent a considerable fortune reconstructing the Normandy landings down to the n’th degree, but really nothing can quite compete with a war film where practically the entire cast were enlisted soldiers (including John Mills, Richard Attenborough and half of it’s production crew) all given short leave by the war office for the tight shooting schedule. Tom Hanks may have spent months getting into character (and given a powerful performance it’s agreed), but Coward gathered together men who had first hand experience of the terrors of war, and it shows on their faces. Through the old thinly stretched mask of plucky British spirit, the stiff upper lip and the unwillingness to show emotion, it sits.. somewhere behind the eyes, bursting out into the light of day for brief moments when left unchecked, before being hastily tucked away, covered by a shrug and a “there’s no use in making a fuss is there.”

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Coward wrote, produced and directed In Which We Serve (with the indispensible help of David Lean) in a style that has since become synonymous with Tarantino. Bouncing around the days preceeding the loss of a British destroyer, adding flesh to the usually faceless sailors, from when they first came aboard till their ultimate demise or rescue from the sea. Based in part on the sinking of HMS Kelly off of Crete mid-war, Coward assumes the role that is escentially Captain Lord Mountbatten (Coward even wears Mountbatten’s own cap in many scenes), with Mills, Attenbourgh and the rest under his command. Critics at the time smirkingly dubbed the film ‘In Which We Sank’, but as with much in history, how we cope with defeat is at least as important as how we react to success. Besides, we British always did back the under-dog.

Aside from the marvelous leads Noel Coward & John Mills.. Dickie Attenborough shines with a youthful intensity that is to be put on hold till the war’s end, when he can finally get his teeth into the juicy lead role of villain Pinkie Brown in ‘Brighton Rock’. In a genre that generally relegates women to the sidelines, In Which We Serve gives us two well developed female characters in Coward’s wife Celia Johnson (so, so beautiful) and Mill’s newlywed Kay Walsh, as well as other unusually feisty women in Penelope Dudley-Ward & Dora Gregory (to admittedly Kathleen Harrison’s steriotypical cockney screecher). Between these two couples we see as many parallels as solid divisions in class. Each as instrumental in maintaining the divide as the other. For lovers of film trivia, the onscreen baby son of Kay Walsh & John Mills is actually played by Mill’s own daughter Juliet Mills..beating sister Hayley Mills in the child actor stakes by a few years.

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‘..men must work and women must weep.’

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‘Here ends the story of a ship, but there will always be other ships; we are an island race, through all our centuries the sea has ruled our destiny. There will always be other ships and men to sail in them. It is these men, in peace or war, to whom we owe so much. Above all victories, beyond all loss, in spite of changing values and a changing world they give to us, their countrymen, eternal and indominitable pride.’

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POSTERS & PROMOTION

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PRODUCTION

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