Movie buffs, researchers, Hollywood enthusiasts, "flapper/Gatsby" bloggers and fashionistas may or may not have heard of the "IT" girl Clara Bow. Who, in the 1920s, breathed life into Elinor Glyn's ideology of the "IT" factor, aka a sex appeal. An attraction that apparently drew both sexes to a particular person. A magnetic draw, a sense of presence that only the subject who harbored it was/is blissfully unaware of. Most who do know of her may lay claim that Clara was an unintelligent girl from Brooklyn who stumbled through Hollywood, hopping from one bed to the other. From bedding her own dogs, to taking on the entire USC University football team—
Except that she didn't. Neither was her career halted by the onset of "Talkies." In fact, despite the anxiety it gave her, her voice recorded beautifully. And that's just what this article is for: burying the falsehoods that have clung to Clara Bow's name.
1) She dyed her hair:
It is true that Clara rinsed her remarkable auburn tresses with hyena to "deepen" and "brighten" her hair color. It's like how a blonde today might put in a few low-lights or highlights in order to add depth and dimension to their locks. The principle is the same, and doesn't change the fact that said blonde is still, a natural blonde. Just like Clara Bow rinsing her hair with hyena does not change the fact that she was a natural redhead.
2) She was unintelligent:
It is true that Clara dropped out of high school to help her ever struggling family. Though she had moments of nativity about the movie business in her early years, she was well-equipped with an abundance of street smarts. She continued her education later as an adult, scoring a high IQ that surprised even her. Clara Bow also became an avid reader and painter in later years.
3) She was a sensational slut:S
Thanks to publications beginning with the shady "The Coast Reporter," 1975's Hollywood Babylon, a blind public, and down to sites such as Datalounge, Clara Bow's imaginary sex life is as believed as Marie Antoinette's equally fabled "Let them eat cake!" (Refer to my article "Marie Antoinette: Debunking the Myths.") Although Clara had a promiscuous streak, having one to three boyfriends at one time, she was not doing anything out of the ordinary in Hollywood.
She just didn't hide it.
Being a notorious tomboy since childhood, this carried over to her adult life, making these rumors easier for others to believe. In 1975, Hollywood Babylon published an entire "expose" on the "IT" girl, taking all the fables on Clara Bow's love life and labeling them as facts. Including the infamous rumor that she took on the entire USC football team. After becoming an avid football fan when her publicist took her to a game for the first time, Bow befriended the team. She invited them to her home for parties that newspapers turned into "orgies." The truth was, the football team was too innocent, star struck, and polite to make it with Hollywood's biggest star.
Neither did she sleep with Paramount executive B.P. Schulberg, co-stars Buddy Rogers and Richard Arlen, or Eddie Cantor. During shooting for Wings, Richard Arlen started seeing the other female star on the lot, Jobyna Ralston, who he ended up marrying. According to Tui Lorraine, Clara "wasn't fooling around. Flirting, maybe, but we all did that!"
I couldn't agree more, flirting and sex are a far cry from one another.
The rumors nailed to her reputation during the DeVoe scandal and printed by the grossly false paper, "The Coast Reporter," claimed she slept with stuntman Jimmy Dundee, film tech John Rinehardt, publicly made love to her former boyfriend Harry Richman, seduced both her own cousin and her chauffeur, former friend-turned-step mother Tui Lorraine, a Mexican croupier who killed his wife and then himself while Clara, according to the rumor, showed little to no remorse. Even her dog, Duke, was not safe from her fabled carnal desires.
All of these claims, of course, were false. Those who knew Clara Bow when the Reporter began its mud slinging, knew better. The public, however, was blind enough to believe that a paper would not dare print something as such unless it were absolutely true.
When Clara Bow read the "news," she ran to her dressing room and vomited. No star in history had been so disgustingly, falsely berated.
4) She was cheap:
Because of her rough Brooklyn accent and upbringing, not to mention her insistence to be honest and outspoken about both her actions as well as her past, the Hollywood elite of the time (Hearst, Marion Davies, Mary Pickford, Colleen Moore, to name a few) rejected her from their circle, labeling her immoral, trashy, cheap, and ill-mannered. Clara Bow was doing nothing better or worse in her private life than America's Sweetheart Mary Pickford or as we all know, Marion Davies and Charlie Chaplin. Bow was simply upfront about it.
People don't like honesty, especially when Bow reminded them their delusional position in Hollywood could fall and bring them all right back to their poverty stricken roots where they started (She did this by being public and truthful about her past, her mothers mental illness, etc.). To Hollywood snobs, Clara was that reminder that they were all on shaky ground:
"Ya gotta be regular, even when you're up. I remember when I was scratchin' for a job. Pola Negri used ta (to) ride by me in her limousine like I was part of the roadbed. But I ain't gotta high-hat nobody. First, cuz I know how it feels. Second cuz this is a funny game. You're here today, gone tomorrow." —Clara Bow
5) Nervous Breakdown of 1927:
When Bow collapsed while on the set in 1927, doctors advised she take a long rest for a few weeks. B.P. Schulberg claimed she had a "nervous breakdown," and later it was rumored she had an abortion. Actually, Clara collapsed from exhaustion, B.P. Schulberg worked Clara to death—and underpaid her for it. Despite that her films pulled in more money than any other female star at the time.
6) Her career failed because of Talkies:
Even today, this rumor can be found plastered onto Clara Bow's bio on Amazon Prime. In fact, Clara made several talkies before quitting films altogether for a more "regular" life. Though the microphone and remembering lines gave her intense anxiety, Clara's voice passed the test and did not ruin her career. In True To Navy, she even sang! Tabloids raved about Clara Bow having a "voice."
The truth of the matter, was the result of a court battle with her former best friend and personal secretary, Daisy DeVoe, who threatened to black mail her. The case was the biggest trial sensation since the "Fatty" Arbuckle- Rappe case just a decade before.
Daisy lied about Bow's "drunken rages," and Clara's threatening to black mail her own father that everyone knew Clara was unconditionally devoted to despite his shabbiness and squandering of her money. At this time, the public, who Clara loved because she claimed they made her dreams possible, turned on her. They snickered as she took the stand, crying and stammering from heartache and nerves.
Daisy had been her best friend in the world, and betrayed her. Her fans had done the same. As a result, Clara wanted to disappear altogether. She broke her contract with Paramount, and escaped with her then boyfriend Rex Bell to the Nevada desert. They married, and soon Clara was receiving fan mail asking for her return to the screen. Every studio other than Paramount, began offering Bow contracts for better roles that she was long entitled to. She went with FOX, making her come-back vehicle Call Her Savage, the perfect dramatic role that she had been waiting for. After making another film for FOX, Hoopla, which she hated but the public loved, Bow retired forever:
"I don't want to be remembered as somebody who couldn't do nothing but take her clothes off. I want something real now." —Clara Bow
7) She was a Nazi sympathizer:
Clara Bow and husband Rex Bell finally took a honeymoon after her filming of Call Her Savage wrapped. They took a tour of Europe, where Bow kept a journal to record her experiences. When they arrived in Berlin, Adolf Hitler received them warmly. For Clara Bow was his favorite American actress. Adolf gave her a signed copy of his Mein Kampf, and a cloche hat with the swastika stitched into it. Meanwhile, Clara wrote of Berlin:
Clara Bow had no political knowledge, even less of Nazi Germany. To her, Hitler was just another fan.
8) She told Colleen Moore she wanted her part:
In the ill researched biography The IT Girl, the author penned that Clara Bow went up to Colleen Moore and demanded her part in Painted People. This is also stated by Moore, who claimed all Clara could take on the set with her was "two days." I'm personally not a fan of Colleen Moore, as she has a record of lying to suit herself, and very poorly. The truth is a bit different from that (as is much of the biography.)
In truth, Clara Bow was filming on Painted People for three weeks, not two days. The producer of the filmwas Moore's husband, so she received more than enough close-ups that she didn't need. Bow did something unheard of, confronting Colleen Moore by asking why she hogged the camera and prevented the director from Clara receiving closeups. Clara argued that Colleen Moore was a "big star, every close up I get helps me!" Moore reacted by having no close ups of Bow be shot.
To get back at her, Clara Bow went in for sinus surgery. They would be forced to recast Clara Bow, putting the film behind schedule. Artie Jacobson, Clara's then boyfriend is quoted as saying:
"She made that bitch pay!"
Clara Bow is one of the most iconic, yet tragic figures in movie history. Like Marilyn Monroe, Jean Harlow, Louise Brooks, James Dean, and so many others...
She is the meaning of "Rags to Riches" personified, with a heart of gold that also you were warned never to cross. A gentle soul that was abused physically, emotionally, and exploited by boyfriends, fans, studios, and those she considered dearest friends. Shunned for her honesty, and openly attacked for being herself.
However, the truth always wins and I will dedicate my life being a champion of it.
Resources: Runnin' Wild by David Stenn, Silent Movies: The Birth of Films and the Triumph of Movie Culture by Peter Kobel
A lonely heiress returns to her desolate childhood home after the consistent abandonment of her cheating husband. Here, Louisa remembers departed friends she abandoned in their time of need, while making new ones... including Jacob, a dockworker with whom she strikes up a passionate affair. As she loses herself for the first time, Louisa realizes she is spiraling out of control. Accepting that she is no better or worse than the world around her, and that the outcome can hardly mean a happy ending.
About the Creator
Retired flapper, writer, student, MILSO, and fur mama. A champion of the truth, the underdog and executioner of the deceitful.
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