“She danced even when her feet were not moving” Adolf Zukor
Clara Bow had somewhat of a disheartening beginning to her life having been born to an unhappily married mother who suffered from, the then misunderstood, epileptic fits. Sara Bow, who had previously had her first two babies die prematurely expected the same for her third one. This would not be the case for Clara.
Clara’s father, Robert Bow, was a drunken, verbally and physically abusive father and husband who was unable to hold a steady job and was away most of her childhood. The family lived in poverty and Clara’s mother Sara was forced into work as a prostitute in order to make money for food, often locking Clara in a closet while she entertained customers in their apartment.
Clara’s poor and tattered clothing led the other little girls in her neighborhood to make fun of her. As a result, she decided to make friends with the boys, who immediately took a liking to her “tomboyish” nature.
When she had turned sixteen, in order to escape her troubled life, Clara Bow began modeling for a number of movie magazines. She had often sought personal sanctuary at the movies and after the shows would pose in front of her mirror practicing her favorite actresses gestures and expressions.
This greatly displeased her mother who would often tell Clara that “acting was for whores” and had occasionally come up behind her and threaten to kill her stating “she would be better off dead then an actress in film.” Because of this, Clara did not disclose to her mother her plans to enter a modeling contest for a chance at the cover shot on a 1921 publication of Motion Picture Magazine.
Clara submitted two photographs for the contest and the judges were impressed by how attractively she photographed. She was offered a number of follow-up screen tests which showcased her natural acting ability leading to Clara ultimately winning the contest.
Her first role was in the film Beyond the Rainbow (1922), but her scenes ended up on the cutting room floor leaving Clara feeling completely devastated.
It was at this time her mother began having more serious seizures as a result of her medical problems, and one night she threatened Clara at knife point until falling to the floor from a particularly horrible seizure. This experience would give Clara insomnia and feelings of insecurity for the rest of her life.
In spite of how dreadful life was on the home front for Clara, her career in films started to really take off after being seen on the cover of Motion Picture Magazine. She was given a small part in the film Down to the Sea in Ships (1922) and even though ripped by the critics she caught the eye of producer B. P. Schulberg of Preferred Pictures (soon to become Paramount Pictures), and was off to Hollywood. It didn’t take long for audiences to begin a love affair with the soon to be “It Girl.”
Her magical on screen presence as the first illustrious “flapper” of the roaring twenties had women across America walking, talking, dancing, and dressing like Clara Bow.
She would go on to make many more successful silent films, including Mantrap (1926), Dance Madness (1926), Get Your Man (1927), Hula (1927), Wings (1927), Rough House Rosie (1927), Children of Divorce (1927), and the legendary It (1927).
Clara Bow died in Los Angeles of a heart attack in 1965, but her legacy in films still lives on to this day, and her contribution to the silent film era has put her name at the top of the list when discussing the most popular and influential stars of the 1920’s.
Carl DiNello is a Blogger whose passion is Hollywood history and those movies from the 1920’s – 1950’s that make up this rich history.