America’s first “It Girl,” Clara Bow, was born on this day
in 1905. The possibly bisexual actress was one of the world’s first silent film
stars and, in her heyday, received over 45,000 fan letters a month!
It was Clara’s appearance in the 1927 film It that led to the creation of the title “It Girl” for which she is so famously remembered (x).
Clara Gordon Bow was born in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn on
July 29, 1905 in the thick of a summer heat wave that almost led to the death
of both newborn Clara and her mother Sarah. The Bows were a poor family who lived
in a working class English-Irish community; Clara’s father was frequently
out of work and her mother suffered from mental illness – diagnosed as “psychosis
due to epilepsy” at the time. Clara recalled her home life as being “miserable”
and found solace in athletics at school and by going to the cinema. By the age
of 16, she was already dreaming about becoming an actress. Her dream became a
reality in January of 1922 when a 17-year-old Clara entered and won Brewster
Magazine’s annual “Fame and Fortune Contest.”
After winning the “Fame and Fortune Contest,” Clara was cast
in her very first – albeit small – motion picture, Beyond the Rainbow. She wouldn’t strike it big until 1923 when she
was cast in her very first big Hollywood production, Maytime. It was with films like Maytime
and later Black Oxen that Clara came
to personify the popular archetype of “the flapper girl.” She later struggled
to tone down her Brooklyn accent with the rise of “talkies,” but was able to
land the hurdle with films such as The Saturday
Night Kid and Dangerous Curves.
Having dominated theater screens and gossip magazines alike during two
different film eras, Clara cemented her status as queen of Hollywood.
Clara Bow is photographed sitting on the lap of out lesbian director Dorothy Arzner, who eased American audiences into hearing Clara’s thick Brooklyn accent for the first time in her first ever sound film, The Wild Party (x).
Clara eventually married a fellow actor named Rex Bell,
retired from acting, and settled down at a Nevada ranch with her husband and
two sons. However, before she left Hollywood for the simply life, Clara was known
as a free-wheeling party girl who danced naked on tables and enjoyed sex with both men and
women. It was also rumored that Clara had a fling with director Dorothy Arzner,
who directed Clara in the famously lesbian-themed The Wild Party (which you can read more about here). Would Clara have identified
with the contemporary label bisexual? – the world may never know. After having
lived out both the glamorous acting career and happy home life she had always
dreamed about, Clara passed away on September 27, 1965 at the age of 60.