Many stars achieve fame by virtue of their talent and charisma as much as for their tumultuous lives. Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland, Elvis Presley and James Dean are among them. Before these legends, there was Clara Bow, who like them, rose to stardom from nothing.
Born on July 29, 1905 in Brooklyn, New York, Clara Gordon Bow was unwanted from the moment she was born. Preceding two stillbirths and assuming Clara would follow, her mother, Sarah Gordon, did not fill out her birth certificate. Both parents displayed mental instability -- Sarah opted to prostituting herself while her father Robert would harm both of them to the point of raping Clara when she was a young girl. During these violent moments, Clara would hide wherever it was possible. One night, Bow’s mother stood over her bed with a knife vowing to kill her. Clara narrowly escaped death but she would never escape from insomnia which followed throughout her life. She did have one friend, he was a neighborhood boy and his name was Johnny. Unfortunately, his life would abruptly end in Clara’s arms after suffering from a fire accident.
In 1921, Clara entered and won a contest sponsored by Motion Picture Magazine's Fame and Fortune - the prize was a role in "Beyond The Rainbow" (1921). Unfortunately, her part was eliminated from the final cut, only added later when she became a major star. It was no matter to Clara, she had found what she wanted to do and pursued it with vigor. It was her role as "Dot" Morgan in "Down to the Sea Ships" (1922), that offered Clara a screen test and a free train ticked to Hollywood from an agent at Preferred Pictures. In the screen test, Clara was amazingly able to respond to direction and go from laughter to crying in a snap. On the spot, she was signed to a three-month film contract at fifty dollars a week.
Twenty-two small roles later, she became a star with her performance in the box office hit, “The Plastic Age” (1925). She also inspired B.P. Shulberg and Adolf Zukor to unite in creating one of the grandest and most durable movie studios ever - Paramount Pictures. It was when she starred in the film ““It,”” based on Elinor Glyn’’s novel of the same name, that her popularity grew, and she was henceforth known as The ““It”” Girl. She became a social phenomenon. Men wanted her and women wanted to be her – applying their lipstick to make their lips look like a heart and rinsing their hair in henna. But become such a sensation would bring a high price. The tabloids went wild over Clara’s alleged love affairs with famous men. Her troubled past started to catch up with her, causing problems with mental illness and leading her to abuse alcohol and drugs. Now, she was known as “Crisis-A-Day Clara.” Finally, the studio began canceling her films and included a morality clause in her contracts with a hefty bonus to keep her name out of the newspapers.
When silent films gave way to “talkies,” Clara developed a fear of microphones, worried that her Brooklyn accent would end her career. Despite that, she made eleven successful talking pictures including “Wings” (1927) which won the first Academy Award for Best Picture.
It took a nervous breakdown on the set of her last Paramount film, ““Kick In”” (1931) to get Clara to take a break. Clara married actor Rex Bell in 1932 and moved away from Hollywood to a ranch in Searchlight, Nevada. Fully recuperated from her breakdown, she returned to make ““Call Her Savage”” (1932) and ““Hoopla”” (1933), which would be her final films. Clara returned to the ranch. She would have two sons, Rex Anthony Bell and George Robert Bell. In 1949, she was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Her husband supported her through these difficult times and made certain she received care from one of the finest mental institutions. She died from a heart attack on September 27, 1965.