Clara Gordon Bow, an American actress, who ascended to fame during the 1920s in the silent film industry and effectively made the switch to ‘talkies’ after 1927. Her role as a fearless shopgirl in the film ‘It’ brought her global stardom and the nickname ‘The It Girl’. She came to personify the ‘Roaring Twenties’ and is portrayed as its leading sex symbol.
She appeared in fifty-seven films – 46 silent films and 11 talkies. Her best movies included hits such as ‘Mantrap’ (1926), ‘It’ (1927), and ‘Wings’ (1927). Her casting in a motion picture was said to have guaranteed investors, by almost two-to-one odds, a ‘safe return on their investment’. In 1928 and 1929, she was named first box-office attraction, and in 1927 and 1930, she was named second box-office draw. At the peak of her stardom, in a single month – January 1929, she received more than 45,000 fan letters.
In 1999, film historian Leonard Maltin mentioned that when you think of the past great motion picture stars, you think of Greta Garbo, Lillian Gish; great names, great actresses, but Clara Bow was more popular in relationship with box-office success and of consistently getting film-goers into the theaters; she was really at the top! In 1999, on its ‘100 Years…100 Stars’ final list, the American Film Institute did not include Clara Bow.
Bow was the topic of wild innuendos about her sex life during her lifetime; most of them were established to be untrue. A tabloid called ‘The Coast Reporter’ printed explicit allegations about her in 1931, accusing her of drug addiction, exhibitionism, alcoholism, lesbianism, contracting a venereal disease, incest, and bestiality.
The publisher then offered to stop printing the hearsay stories in the tabloid for the blackmail sum of $25,000, which led to his arrest by government agents and, after court sentencing, an eight-year prison term.
She married actor Rex Bell in 1931, after which, Bow retired from acting and moved to Nevada to become a rancher. Her final motion picture, ‘Hoop-La’, was released in 1933.
Bow spent her final years in Culver City, California, under the constant supervision of a nurse.
Her livelihood came from her estate worth an estimated $500,000 at the time of her death. On 27 September 1965, at the age of 60, she died of a heart attack. An autopsy revealed that she suffered from atherosclerosis, a heart disease that can begin in early adolescence.
The autopsy also indicated that Bow’s heart exhibited damage from an earlier heart attack that went undetected.