CLARA BOW Biography - Actors and Actresses


Biography » actors and actresses » clara bow


Name: Clara Gordon Bow                                                                     
Born: 29 July 1905 Brooklyn, New York City, New York                                       
Died: 27 September 1965 West Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California                         
Clara Gordon Bow (July 29, 1905 – September 27, 1965) was an American actress           
and sex symbol who rose to fame in the silent film era of the 1920s. Bow was               
renowned for her sexual magnetism and became known around the world as the It             
girl, where "It" was commonly understood to mean sex appeal. She was regarded as           
a quintessential flapper.                                                                 
Bow was born in a tenement in Brooklyn, New York, the only surviving child of a           
dysfunctional family afflicted with mental illness, poverty, and physical and             
emotional abuse. She was the third child born to her parents; the first two               
children, also daughters, were stillborn. Bow's mother, hoping that her third             
child would also die at birth, didn't bother with a birth certificate.                     
As a child, she was a tomboy and played games in the streets with the boys. Her           
clothes were ragged and dirty; other girls wouldn't play with her. Clara's                 
friend Johnny was severely burned and died in her arms when she was ten years             
old. Years later, she could make herself cry at will on a movie set by singing             
the lullaby "Rock-a-bye Baby". She said it reminded her of Johnny.                         
Bow's mother, Sarah Gordon, was an occasional prostitute who suffered from                 
mental illness and epilepsy. She was noted for her frequent public affairs with           
local firemen. Bow's father, Robert Bow, was rarely present and may have had a             
mental impairment. Whenever he returned home, he was verbally and physically               
abusive to both wife and daughter. Bow's father reportedly raped her when she             
was between 15 and 16 years old.                                                           
Always an avid movie fan, Bow entered and won the Motion Picture Magazine's Fame           
and Fortune contest in 1921, the grand prize being a part in a film. According             
to the articles in February, March, and April 1928 in Motion Picture Classic, in           
which she told her life story, she talked her father into giving her one dollar           
to have some pictures made that she could give to the contest's judges. Her               
father gave her the dollar, and she went to a Brooklyn photographer, who took             
two pictures of her, which she said "were terrible". Although she hated the               
pictures of her wearing a red tam and her only dress, the contest judges were             
impressed. After numerous screen tests, Bow was selected the winner. She won a             
part in Beyond the Rainbow (1922), but to her humiliation and disappointment,             
her scenes were cut from the final print and were not seen until the film was             
restored years later. Bow preferred playing poker with her cook, maid, and                 
chauffeur over attending her movie premieres.                                             
Bow also had to deal with her mother, Sarah Gordon, who told Bow that acting was           
for prostitutes. Gordon had also taken to sneaking up behind Bow and threatening           
to kill her because she felt her daughter would be better off dead. One night,             
she awoke to find her mother holding a butcher knife to her throat. Clara ran             
and locked herself in a closet until her grandmother came home. Bow suffered               
insomnia for the rest of her life. Later became engaged to shoeless joe jackson           
before the 1919 world series                                                               
Bow's screen introduction wasn't until her next film, Down to the Sea in Ships.           
This was a silent film, as were all of Bow's early films until the advent of               
sound in the late 1920s.                                                                   
She began to appear in numerous small movie roles. All the while, she suffered             
guilty feelings over her mother's disapproval. In 1923, Bow was on the set when           
she learned that her mother had died. She was devastated, feeling that her                 
acting was somehow responsible for her mother's death.                                     
With her earliest films being all East Coast productions, Bow got her big break           
when an officer of Preferred Pictures approached her on the set. He offered her           
free train fare to make a screen test in Hollywood, and Bow agreed to make the             
trip. The first time Preferred Pictures head B.P. Schulberg saw disheveled Clara           
Bow in her one ragged dress, he was dismayed. He was reluctant even to give her           
a screen test, but when he finally did, the results astounded him. Bow was                 
already adept at pantomime, and she could cry on command.                                 
Starting with Maytime (1923), Schulberg cast Bow in a series of small roles. She           
nearly always stole her scenes. However, instead of creating projects for her,             
he loaned her out to other studios for easy money. Nevertheless, Bow started to           
make a name for herself through these many small roles and was selected as one             
of the WAMPAS Baby Stars in 1924.                                                         
As soon as Bow started to make money, she brought her father to live with her in           
Hollywood. For the next few years, she funded numerous business ventures for him,         
including a restaurant and a dry cleaners, all of which failed. He soon became a           
drunken nuisance on her sets, where he would try to pick up young girls by                 
telling them his daughter was Clara Bow. Despite the behavior of her unwanted             
relative, Bow was adored during this time of her career. Crew members always               
seemed to fall in love with her. She was friendly, generous, and so grateful for           
her success that she always remained humble.                                               
In 1925, Schulberg cast Bow in The Plastic Age. The movie was a huge hit, and             
Bow was suddenly the studio's most popular star. She also began to date her co-star       
Gilbert Roland, who would become the first of many engagements for her. Bow               
followed her first big success with Mantrap (1926), directed by Victor Fleming.           
Though he was twice her age, Bow quickly fell in love with her director. She               
began seeing both Roland and Fleming at the same time.                                     
In 1927, Bow reached the heights of her popularity with the film It; the film             
was based on a story written by Elinor Glyn, and upon the film's release and               
popularity, Clara Bow became known as the "It Girl". In Glynn's story, It, a               
character explains what "It" really is: "It...that strange magnetism which                 
attracts both sexes...entirely unself-conscious...full of self-confidence...indifferent   
to the effect...she is producing and uninfluenced by others.") More commonly, "It"         
was taken to mean sex appeal. "It, hell," quipped Dorothy Parker, "She had those."         
This image was enhanced by various off-screen love affairs publicized by the               
tabloid press. However, some Hollywood insiders considered her socially                   
undesirable, especially in light of rumored sexual escapades with many famous             
men of the time. Bela Lugosi, Gary Cooper, Gilbert Roland, John Wayne, director           
Victor Fleming, and John Gilbert were reputed to have been among her many lovers.         
Bow's alleged alcoholism, drug abuse, and mental illness were also becoming               
problems for the studios. Budd Schulberg, the producer's son, wrote in his                 
memoir Moving Pictures, "There was one subject on which the staid old Hollywood           
establishment would agree: Clara Bow, no matter how great her popularity, was a           
low life and a disgrace to the community."                                                 
However, Bow was praised for her vitality and enthusiasm — Adolph Zukor once             
said that "She danced even when her feet weren't moving"  —                             
though her roles rarely allowed her to show much range. In the early 1930s,               
Motion Picture magazine complained that the studio never gave her film plots any           
thought beyond "Hey, let's put Clara in a sailor suit!"  At                               
least one important film writer, Adela Rogers St. Johns, felt Bow had enormous             
promise that was never tapped by the studios.                                             
Documentation indicates that as Bow developed a reputation as "Crisis-a-Day               
Clara".  Paramount went out of its way to humiliate the                                   
increasingly emotionally frail actress by canceling her films, docking her pay,           
charging her for unreturned costumes, and insisting that she pay for her                   
publicity photographs. Her contract also included a morality clause offering her           
a bonus of $500,000 for behaving like a lady and staying out of the newspapers.           
In 1927, Bow starred in Wings, a war picture largely rewritten to accommodate             
her, as she was Paramount's biggest star at the time. The film went on to win             
the first Academy Award for Best Picture. Afterwards, Bow's career continued               
with limited success into the early sound film era. She worried (correctly) that           
her strong Brooklyn accent would destroy much of her mystique. Bow began                   
experiencing microphone fright on the sets of her sound films. A visibly nervous           
Bow had to do a number of retakes in The Wild Party, her first talkie, because             
her eyes kept wandering up to the microphone overhead.                                     
In 1928, Bow wrote the foreword for a novelization of her film The Fleet's In.             
The 1930 U.S. Census lists Bow's residence as 512 North Bedford Drive in Beverly           
Hills, California. Her home's value was listed as $25,000, higher than most               
others on her block at the time.                                                           
Bow and cowboy actor Rex Bell (actually George F. Beldon), later a Lieutenant             
Governor of Nevada, married in 1932 and had two sons, Tony Beldon (born 1934,             
changed name to Rex Anthony Bell, Jr.) and George Beldon, Jr. (born 1938). Bow             
retired from acting in 1933. Her last public exposure, albeit fleeting, was a             
guest appearance on the radio show Truth or Consequences in 1947; Clara provided           
the voice of "Mrs. Hush".                                                                 
In 1944 while her husband was running for the U.S. House of Representatives Bow           
tried to committ suicide. After being diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1949,               
Bow entered a treatment regimen that included shock treatments. Later, her                 
husband sent her to one of the top mental institutions in the nation. Doctors             
found out that Bow had been raped by her father at a young age.                           
Bow spent her last years living in a modest house, living off an estate worth             
about $500,000 at the time of her death. She died on September 27, 1965 of a               
heart attack and was interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in                 
Glendale, California.