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Clara Bow

Real name: Clara Gordon Bow
Birthdate: July 29, 1905
Status: Married
Partner: Rex Bell

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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, both 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 burned to death in her arms when she was 10 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.

Having dropped out of school at the age of seven and with little more worldly experience than a job at the Coney Island amusement park, through a stroke of fortune, young Clara Bow found herself working as a movie actress by her mid-teens.

Always an avid movie fan herself, Bow won the Motion Picture Magazine's Fame and Fortune contest in 1921, the grand prize being a part in a film. She needed two photographs in order to enter the contest, so she begged her father for the money and he finally took her to a cheap studio. Although she hated the results, 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.

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.

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 1927, Bow reached the heights of her popularity with the film It, after Bow had already been dubbed "The It Girl" by Elinor Glyn — "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.") (The Glyn quote appears in her novel, It). More commonly, "It" was taken to mean "sex appeal" ("It, hell," said Dorothy Parker, "She had those.")


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