For this week’s Femme Fatale Friday, I have decided to write about one of my favorite silent film sirens, Clara Bow! Clara Bow was born into poverty in Brooklyn New York and found a way out by winning a chance to star in a film. She grew up with so little and retreated into movie theaters to try and escape some of her painful reality!
When she got to Hollywood, she proved to be a true talent on screen. It was a bit of an uphill battle at times, as the studio often pressured her to lose weight. Her life outside of film was marred by her father’s abuse of her money, as he was a morbid alcoholic who used her to support him when he followed her to Hollywood! It is no surprise that she sought to escape her real-life trouble by starring in films (and that she had used watching films as escapist fantasy when she was a young child).
Her life was known as a wild ride, as she was an infamous party girl outside of her professional life! Clara Bow did not have an easy time settling down but did marry and retire to a quiet life after her time as an actress ended. She also had two children, but this idyllic life was not simple either. For example, the trauma of her childhood never left her and she attempted suicide. This would lead her to undergo many mental health examinations afterward. Following her husband’s death, she spent her remaining days quietly living alone in her own apartment in Hollywood until her death!
So as I have illustrated Clara Bow had a very tough and sad life, and I did not even go into some of the sadder details! I find it sad that she is often not very remembered today, and that many people believe that she was forced to leave acting due to talking pictures. Of course, she did have a New York accent, but the main reason for living was that Hollywood life was not good for her.
As for her actual films, my favorite is the romantic comedy It, in this, the title referred to the it-factor. Essentially, this was sexual allure mixed with a certain Je ne sais quois! She was the first woman to be called an It-Girl, named after her role in this film. The film’s basic premise is that she is a shopgirl who catches the attention of the owner’s son, who begins to date her in earnest. Shenanigans ensue when he believes that she is an unwed mother, this is not true as the baby is her roommate’s, but it does illustrate the way it looked to have a child out of wedlock in the 1920s. Being an early romantic comedy, things get cleared up through a series of slapstick events!
Other films she starred in included Black Oxen and My Lady of Whims. The former had her playing a relatively small role in an ensemble cast, and the latter is rather infamous for some of her wardrobes. There is a dress she wears in this film that proves why she was considered a prime sex symbol of 1920s cinema, as it is essentially just lightly woven or knit with very sheer fabric, with embellishments that cover her enough to prove she is not naked! There are many other films she made, it was very common during the silent film era for actors to make a huge amount of films, as they could be made quickly. Clara Bow was like many in being overworked in this way! One of the great achievements Bow had was starring in the film Wings, which would win the first Best Picture Oscar ever (it was then called Best Production)!
I really hope that learning a bit about the story of this very tragic early Old Hollywood icon has inspired you to give some silent films a chance! All four of the films I mentioned above are perfect choices to start with, and as a bonus silent films tend to be very short, so not a lot of time commitment in the beginning to watch them. What did you think of Clara Bow? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
Note on Image: The image at the top of the post is my favorite photo of Clara Bow! I found the image on https://twitter.com/broadwayclara/status/935341568185139201.
- Clara Bow: Runnin’ Wild by David Stenn
- It (1927)
- Wings (1927)
- Black Oxen (1923)
- My Lady of Whims (1925)
I remember giving an oral report in her in high school. Never actually saw any of her films, though.
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They are really good, if you like the classics I highly recommend them!
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