Monday, July 29th, marks the 108th anniversary of the birth of Clara Bow, a 1920s style icon and the most blue collar of the flapper actress triumvirate, consisting of Louise Brooks, Colleen Moore, and Clara, that dominated the American film industry in the 1920s. Clara represented the regular girl as flapper and she generally played working class girls whose heart of gold, charm and infectious enthusiasm won the hearts of wealthier and more debonair men. Bow's real origins where like those of her film characters, decidedly working class. In fact when she began appearing in talkies her strong Brooklyn accent gave her trouble.
Clara grew up in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn and had a difficult childhood caring for her mother who suffered fro various physical and mental ailments and moving regularly as her father looked for work. In 1921 Clara won a fame and fortune contest which lead to a small part in a film and began the start of her acting career. However, it was in 1927 when she appeared in It, playing Betty Lou Spence a vivacious department store sales girl who falls in love with, and wins the heart of, the stores wealthy and handsome owner. The film was wildly popular breaking box office records and garnering critical praise. Clara Bow entered that national lexicon as the first "it girl." Below is a scene from the film showing Bow getting ready for a date with her wealthy suitor. The entire film is available for instant viewing on netflix.
Despite becoming a major star Clara Bow was not as enamored by Hollywood glamour as many of her costars. She had a relatively modest home and even filled one room with dirt so her dog would have a play area, (I love a girl who spoils her dog!), and she often preferred to spend time with everyday people rather then big stars. Though Clara Bow was a gifted actress, she championed a more natural performance style then many of her silent film star compatriots, and a box office success, her too trusting and impulsive nature lead her to be plagued by scandal. She married actor Rex Bell and retired from acting in 1933 moving to a ranch where she raised her two sons. Sadly she was plagued by physical and mental ailments similar to those that had troubled her mother for the rest of her life, she died in 1960.