Today is the birthday of the original “It Girl”—Clara Bow.
Born in Brooklyn on July 29, 1905, Bow’s childhood was one straight out of a nightmare. Raised in poverty with a mentally unstable mother who threatened to kill her and a father who sexually abused her, the seventh-grade drop out’s one avenue of escape was the movies.
In 1921, Motion Picture magazine announced the Fame and Fortune Contest. First prize was a part in a movie. Bow’s father paid $1.00 for her to have two photos taken at a Coney Island studio, which she delivered in person to the publishers. The manager of the contest noted on her photos, “Called in person—very pretty.” Bow ended up beating out the other contestants and won.
She was given a part in Beyond the Rainbow (1922) but her scenes ended up on the cutting room floor. Her next role as a tomboy in Elmer Clifton’s Down to the Sea in Ships (1922) proved more fruitful, earning her praise from the critics. Hollywood soon beckoned, and Bow would go on to become the biggest star of the 1920s with films that included The Plastic Age (1925), Mantrap (1926), Wings (1927), and It (1927), in which she played her most famous role—Betty Lou, a shop girl with plenty of “it” who sets her sights on her wealthy boss.
With her bobbed red hair, expressive brown eyes, and sex appeal that seemed to radiate off the screen, Bow epitomized the fun-loving flapper of the Roaring Twenties. In fact, F. Scott Fitzgerald said, "Clara Bow is the quintessence of what the term 'flapper' signifies as a definite description: pretty, impudent, superbly assured, as worldly-wise, briefly-clad and 'hard-berled' as possible."
By the 1930s though Bow's flame had burned out. Overworked, mistreated by the studio, and suffering from scandals and ill health, she made her final film, Hoop-La in 1933 before retiring from acting. She moved to Nevada with her husband, Rex Bell, and raised two boys. As she got older, Bow suffered from schizophrenia and ended up living alone, separated from her family. She died on September 27, 1965 while watching a film from the 1920s.
If you've never seen a Clara Bow film, do so, now. She is brilliant on the screen—funny, adorable, heartbreaking, and well deserving of the title of "It Girl." Happy Birthday, Clara.