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July 29, 2021

30 Vintage Photographs of Clara Bow in the Early 1930s

Clara Bow was born in Brooklyn, in 1905, “the most brutal poverty that was known at the time”. Stuck in a tenement slum with an abusive father and a violent, mentally unstable mother, she sent her photograph to a ‘fame and fortune’ magazine competition when she was 16, and duly won the top prize. Soon, she was appearing in films in New York, and then Hollywood, working day and night until she became a superstar.

In 1925 alone, she made 15 films. Judith Mackrell, the author of “Flappers: Six Women of a Dangerous Generation,” sees Bow’s route to stardom as one of the many elements that made her so emblematic of the 1920s. “In any other era,” says Mackrell, “she would have ended up on the streets or in a factory, but the existence of cinema as a mass industry gave her the chance to reinvent her life.”

Her on-screen persona was just as cutting edge. America fell in love with Bow because of her big-eyed, baby-faced beauty, but also because she was carefree, energetic, self-assured and breezily independent. Her allure wasn’t about being darkly seductive or haughtily elegant, but about being comfortable in her own skin. Sporting short hair and short dresses, she would stride out and grab whatever – and whomever – she wanted. She was the archetypal modern woman.

One reason why ordinary Americans adored her was that she didn’t pretend to be an aristocrat, as other stars did. She told reporters all about her hard-scrabble background, and she was just as open about her many gambling sprees and boyfriends. This living-for-the-moment candor, which helped make her an idol in the Roaring 1920s, was frowned upon in the depression-ravaged 1930s, and she was attacked in the tabloids as a symbol of the dissolute entertainment industry. She was also less comfortable on film once sound-recording was introduced, although it’s a myth that her Brooklyn accent was too grating for the talkies. The fact was that Bow chose to leave Hollywood.

Bow retired to a cattle ranch in Nevada with her actor husband, Rex Bell, and battled psychiatric illness until her death at the age of 60. She completed her final film, Hoop-La, in 1933, when she was just 28. When she was promoting it in Europe, she told reporters, “I want to be known as a serious actress, and not as an It Girl.”

(via BBC)


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