Silent Star of January 1996

Clara Bow

Portrait of Clara Bow The "jazz baby" personified, Clara Bow (1906-1965) became one of Hollywood's brightest lights of the '20s. Saucy and pert, Clara was dubbed 'The "It" Girl' by Elinor Glyn and chosen to star in the film version of Ms. Glyn's famous novel. While nothing more than good old sex appeal, "It" symbolized the tremendous progress women were making in society, and leading the way was Clara Bow, the girl of the year, who had "It" in abundance.

The daughter of a schizophrenic mother and a sexually abusive father, Clara broke away by winning the 1921 Fame and Fortune Contest, sponsored by Brewster Publications, publishers of Clara's favorite magazine, Motion Picture. Winning led to a small part in Beyond the Rainbow (1922), where Clara's part was cut, and then to Down to the Sea in Ships (1922). While critically panned, Clara's performance was praised and made clear Clara's ability to make the screen come alive with her presence.

Still one step away from stardom, Clara was signed to B.P. Schulberg´s Preferred Pictures in 1923, where she spent the next 2 years churning out low-budget films for Schulberg and others. In 1924, Clara was one of 13 young women chosen as a Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers (WAMPAS) Baby Star, chosen for their talent and promise as a potential motion picture star. Clara was on her way up.

1925 saw the release of Clara's breakthrough picture, The Plastic Age (1925). This film, Preferred's biggest hit yet, came to the attention of Schulberg's former partner Adolph Zukor, head of Paramount Pictures. Thanks to Clara Bow, B.P. Schulberg and Adolph Zukor merged to form one of the largest studios in Hollywood.

Success followed success, with Clara's popularity growing from such films as Mantrap, Kid Boots, Dancing Mothers and Wings. But it was 1927's grand-slam smash It which made Clara Bow Paramount's number 1 star, and the most famous name in Hollywood.

Contrary to popular belief, Clara Bow successfully made the transition to talkies with such roles as Call Her Savage and Hoop-La. She retired from films in 1933 to become a full-time wife and later, full-time mother to two sons, Tony and George.

Clara died in 1965, separated from her husband Rex Bell and in relative obscurity. Sadly, her childhood of poverty, violence, and insanity, together with the very public scandals during her stardom left Clara mentally fragile and incapacitated for much more than quiet and seclusion. She lived out the rest of her days in solitude.

Glen Pringle /
Kally Mavromatis /
Copyright © 1996-2012 by Glen Pringle and Kally Mavromatis
ISSN 1329-4431