Hollywood Remains to Be Seen

Clara Bow
1907 - 1965

Forest Lawn Glendale

Clara Bow, popular film star of the 1920s best known as "The 'It' Girl," was America's first real sex symbol.

Bow grew up in a household of poverty, violence and mental illness. She escaped her circumstances by entering her photo and winning a movie magazine contest, with the top prize being the chance to appear in a small role in the film, "Beyond the Rainbow" (1922). Bow's acting was considered so amateurish that her scenes were cut before the film was released. When she became a star a few years later, however, her scenes were restored to the film.

Despite her difficult beginning, Bow worked steadily in films through the 1920s, typically appeared in supporting roles in films that were described as "domestic melodramas," with an occasional comedy. The type of films she appeared in can best be described simply by listing some of the titles -- "Enemies of Women" (1923), "Grit" (1924), "Poisoned Paradise" (1924), "Daughters of Pleasure" (1924), "Empty Hearts" (1924), "Helen's Babies" (1924), "This Woman" (1924), "The Adventurous Sex" (1925), "Eve's Lover" (1925), "Lawful Cheaters" (1925), "Parisian Love" (1925), "Kiss Me Again" (1925), "Free to Love" (1925), "My Lady's Lips" (1925), "Two Can Play" (1926) and "Mantrap" (1926).

Bow had become the symbol for the Roaring '20s and the flapper age -- an attractive, vibrant, liberated woman with boundless energy, bobbed hair, "bee-stung" lips and flashing eyes. Bow also became a symbol for the growing sexual liberation of the era.

The film that defined Bow's career was "It" (1927), in which she played a lowly shopgirl with designs on the wealthy storeowner. In an effort to make him notice her, she dates the storeowner's best friend and her plan works. In the film, Bow was a woman who saw what she wanted, and did whatever it took to get it. From then on, Bow was known as "The It Girl," with "it" usually meaning sex appeal. Bow also appeared in "Wings" (1927), which won the first Academy Award as Best Picture. Bow continued to appear in films as the often-wild women who knows what she wants, and gets it, including "Get Your Man" (1927), "The Fleet's In" (1928), "The Wild Party" (1929), "Dangerous Curves" (1929), "Her Wedding Night" (1930), "No Limit" (1931) and "Call Her Savage" (1932). When sound films became popular in the early 1930s, Bow's thick Brooklyn accent was a severe handicap. Her last film was "Hoopla" (1933).

Bow married cowboy actor Rex Bell in 1931, and she devoted her time to raising their two children. But she was also the continuing focus of wild rumors about her previous romantic affairs, including one involving the entire University of Southern California football team. Bow's former secretary sold her story to the tabloids, telling wild tales of Bow's frequent and enthusiastic sexual trysts with dozens of Hollywood suitors.

Bow retired from films in 1933, when she was just 26 years old, and went to live with Bell on his Walking Box Ranch, west of Searchlight, NV. For the rest of her life, Bow fought a series of personal struggles, including a weight problem and growing mental instability. In her later years, she was often confined to a sanatorium, and she never returned to show business. "Being a sex symbol is a heavy load to carry," Bow once said. In her final years, Bow moved back to Los Angeles, where she lived as a virtual recluse. She died alone, suffering a heart attack while watching a Gary Cooper Western on television.

Bow's crypt marker identifies her as "Hollywood's 'It' Girl."

Bow was born Clara Gordon Bow on July 29, 1907 (some sources say 1905), in Brooklyn, NY. She died on Sept. 27, 1965, in Los Angeles, CA.

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