Though Hollywood has had many sex symbols, it wasn’t until Clara Bow that Hollywood had its first tragic female star. During her life Bow endured poverty, abuse, exploitation and public humiliation.
Born into a Brooklyn slum and the turn of the 20th century. Bow was had an absent, feckless father and a mentally unstable mother. All of this would make for a tough enough life, the one source escapism for the lonely child was the invention of the cinema. She entered into a movie magazine contest for an actress who would appear in film as an extra. Her father loaned her a dollar for her headshot, it was the only good thing he ever did for her and she was forever grateful to him. However her mother was a prostitute yet when young Clara wanted to be an actress, she felt this was horrific and tried to stab young Clara. Bow had understandably left her miserable youth behind and left for Hollywood.
As the 20’s progressed, Bow started with small parts and gradually became the biggest star of the silent era, her biggest and most defining film was ‘IT’. Now you must be wondering, what it IT? Well IT is animal magnetism, sex appeal and charisma. IT is that thing that we can all spot in certain people, those special people who as soon as they walk into a room; everyone takes notice. This was the role Bow was born to play.
She was more than a popular actress, she represented a new kind of woman. One who enjoys dancing, drinking, flirting and was not shy around any man she took an interest it, in one word a Flapper. At the height of her fame she was one of the highest paid actresses in Hollywood and she enjoyed the perks of her success, with decadent parties, flowing alcohol (prohibition was still in effect, though not effective). However the greatest challenge in Bow’s life was betrayal from someone she thought she could trust. Daisy Devoe was Bow’s personal assistant and friend, or so she believed. It transpired that Devoe was stealing from Bow and when Bow went to the police Devoe had her opportunity to truly devastate Bow. Even though Devoe was the one on trial, it was Bow who was payed the ultimate price. In her testimony Devoe, claimed that Bow was highly promiscuous with sports teams and even dogs, a drunk and generally disgraceful behaviour. This was hugely damaging to Bow’s reputation and she suffered under the weight of the public scandal. The only person she could turn to was Rex Bell, an actor who later became her husband. They both left Hollywood and opted for a quiet life. She dies in 1965.
I have a soft spot for Bow, not only was she charismatic with real star quality. On a more tragic note she was a vulnerable character who was used and abused by most of the people she cared for and trusted.