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