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  • Writer's pictureCarrie Specht

Unforgettable Clara Bow: She's Got "IT"!

Guest writer Lisa Roberts returns to ClassicFilmFan with a tribute to one of the greatest stars of the silent film era - Clara Bow. Although a world renown personality of the time, Bow is unknown to most people today. That’s is, except to the very discerning classic film fan.

Of all the actresses that came and went during the earliest years of cinema, Clara Bow is the one most closely associated with the heady wildness of flapper girl freedom and carefree joi de vivre. Bow’s career ended in 1933 when she was just twenty-eight years of age. She was burnt out, worn down and broken by her inability to keep up with the advent of sound pictures. Her body of work is still very impressive and one of her most enduring films is the 1927 picture "It". In 1927, a famous journalist of the time Elinor Glyn, used the word “It” to define someone who had an indefatigable ability to draw both men and women to them with some kind of impenetrable magnetic force. The word was, thereafter, attributed to Clara Bow – and most especially so after the release of this film. When watching "It" in its entirety, or even in just snippets, it is so easy to see why people thought that about her. (link to clip).

Bow plays a shop assistant in a fancy department store that falls in love with her employer. However, he is already romantically entangled. Romantic cross-connections and misunderstandings ensue, and comedic as well as dramatic complications arise. The film, originally released in 1927 was a total box office smash breaking many records of the day. It was a hit with both the critics and the fans and turned Clara Bow from just another popular actress into someone who was instantly recognizable all over the world. Women wanted to look like her and men wanted their women to ACT like her. It had been thought, until relatively recently that the original print of the movie had been lost. However, in the late 1960s a copy was found in Europe and it has since been restored, remastered and saved for posterity. You can watch some clips by using the above picture as a link.

However carefree Bow appeared to be to her fans, she masked a troubled past. The persona that Bow created on screen was massively at odds with her real life – especially so when contrasted with the film It. For many, she was the archetypal flapper, sowing her wild oats, living the existence of a thoroughly modern young woman in an ever-changing America. And yet, behind her playful exterior there was a deeply troubled young woman who had overcome much adversity to become a worldwide star (today there are agencies in place to help those in need). Her early life was marred by a troubled relationship with both her parents, her father being an abusive drunkard and her mother spent many years blighted by mental health problems including schizophrenia.

Bow tried in vain to get help for the domestic violence within the family, but was never able to fully assist her parents to recover from their issues. She ended up supporting her father with the money she made from her movies, but this only ended up fueling his drinking habits and abusive behavior further. Bow’s own personal life was checkered too, with many salacious newspaper reports concerning what she called “engagements” with certain famous male film stars of the time, most notable of these being Gary Cooper. Later on, Bow was fortunate enough to find love and solace with Rex Bell. When she finally retired in 1933, they moved to the desert to run a ranch and bring up their two sons Rex, Jr. and George. Bow’s later life was blighted by the same mental problems her mother had faced and she sadly died a recluse in 1965 at the relatively young age of sixty.

A final note: It contains what is possibly one of the greatest silent movie “inter-titles” ever. When Bow sees her love interest for the first time, the look on her face is expressed with a caption that reads: “Sweet Santa Claus. Give me him”. It is at once one of the funniest, yet most touching moments in early cinema history. It is a film that will delight everyone, young and old – and Clara Bow is someone we should never forget as one of the greatest actresses in cinema’s infancy.

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