If Only somebody had taken Clara Bow aside in 1925 and said to her ” Slow Down Child!”
It’s well known to Clara Bow Fans today that the “Original It Girl” with those flaming red curls and that saucy smile was on a wild ride in the 1920’s Hollywood scene. That’s one of the thrusts of our show STARRING CLARA BOW, which is in development and making its way toward Broadway. There were plenty of signs and signals- flashing red lights and warning sirens that our girl was living life in the fast lane.
Considering that she was catapulted to fame at a very young age as the result of winning the Fame and Fortune contest in MOTION PICTURE CLASSIC, (she was still a minor when she signed a contract with Preferred Pictures in 1922) one can only imagine what course she might have taken.
If only there had been a concerned parent, agent or manager to guide her through the maze of temptations and opportunities she encountered in Movieland. Our song “Wicked Wonderland” addresses this issue. But Clara was escorted to stardom only by those who sought to profit at her own naïve expense. She had “Something that Money Can’t Buy” and everyone along the way was in line to make sure that they got a piece of the Clara Bow pie. She was the most vivacious red head the world had ever seen.
Clara was a well known party girl and good times were exciting. She loved boys and men and was not shy about it. From an early stage in her life she was well acquainted with sex, and she didn’t think it was wrong to enjoy it just as the guys did. She worked all hours and partied all hours and rarely slept. There was a long history of insomnia, and of a morbid fear of sleeping alone. Thus it was her practice to have someone there to comfort her. We can probably recall ourselves how easy it was when we were young to party hard and get up and face the world with a quick snap back. Oh! I had some blazing white nights myself back in my younger days. She really loved making pictures. It was all make believe. Her real life was unbelievable, and she escaped thinking about it by being always ON.
If Only The It Girl Had Guidance…
Plus some determination to make better pictures, instead of being shoved into one formula picture after another, by a studio that continually packaged her as Rough House Rosie, it might have taken a very different course. But the little red head from Brooklyn loved the bright lights of danger. No sooner than she was out of one set of damaging circumstances ~ she would jump smack into another. She certainly loved taking chances.
I won’t go into Clara Bow Vs Daisy De Voe right here. Clara’s goose wasn’t just cooked with that sensational bit of business; it was roasted to a crisp on an unbridled media rotisserie.
Because of the trial, Clara couldn’t appear in CITY STREETS, in which she was to headline with Gary Cooper, her handsome beau. The part went instead to Sylvia Sidney, a recent Paramount discovery, and it made her a new sensational star. While Sidney gave a wonderful performance, our Clara could have broken out of the box with even greater pathos and luminosity.
Clara had only one thing going for her at that moment. It was REX BELL, the tall-in-the-saddle cowboy actor who rescued her from the stress of the courthouse breakdown and helped her get her head together, out on his Nevada ranch.
Paramount made all sorts of press releases about future Clara Bow films during the ensuing months. She would appear in “Working Girl”; Clara would make an adaptation of “Kick In” a huge stage hit (once she recovered from her nervous breakdown. The star needed complete rest.) Meanwhile, the public and press were beginning to ask:
IS CLARA FINISHED IN HOLLYWOOD? Her fans deluged Paramount with 10,000 letters a week, many compassionate and sympathetic, full of affection for their favorite star.
During this period, Clara’s picture NO LIMIT with scenes of Clara gambling like a maniac in wild sprees was playing around the world. In spite of bad box office in NYC, it did very good business everywhere else. Motion Picture Daily published the box office receipts from 10 major markets and the figures were strong. This was when Eddie Robinson was portraying LITTLE CAESAR and Garbo was in INSPIRATION. These were the main competition for Clara’s movie, which didn’t have a remarkable script to mesmerize the critics. Still – she was able to pull the fans in, despite lurid stories in newspapers bout her.
Picture-goers continued to see her movie and many considered her private life to be her own affair. They rallied to steady the pedestal on which they had placed her—simply hoping she’d recover soon enough to get on with the business of entertaining them, and keep them entertained. Americans can be fiercely loyal to a star even when youth and beauty fade. Think of Bette Davis, triumphs and flops, ups and downs, battles won and lost.
If only Clara had found the stability that Rex provided at home in her management and at Paramount’s head office, I think she might have gone much further.
No Limit to her talent. Other stars, notably Chaplin, Fairbanks &Pickford, Errol Flynn and Crawford had endured scandals and kept their hold on popularity. But some did not
manage to weather those storms very well. Famous players with enormous talents sometimes just couldn’t withstand the stress.
Clara turned down the big offer made by Irving Thalbeg at MGM. It was a seven year contract, and that was the deal breaker. Thalberg probably would have resculpted Clara into a vivacious MGM superstar as he did for Jean Harlow and Myrna Loy. He would have had scripts from great writers developed and tailored especially for her as he did for Dressler, Garbo, Shearer, Hepburn and others. But to Clara, freedom from a long Paramount contract was akin to Lincoln freeing the slaves…
Her subsequent two-picture deal at FOX proved the public still adored her. She made a pile of cash from that deal. I guess she and Rex figured they had had enough. Clara was so snubbed in Hollywood, so stung by slings and arrows, that the peace and quiet of the ranch was a welcome retreat from public scrutiny. Clara was deeply tired of the Hollywood treadmill. When she became pregnant, it was a golden opportunity to take her final bow. The inimitable It Girl, Miss Bow became the reclusive Mrs Bell. Fame and Fortune? She had had enough experience with both.