Clara Bow

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Jennifer Murdoch:
Clara Gordon Bow (/ˈboʊ/; July 29, 1905 September 27, 1965) was an American actress who rose to stardom in silent film during the 1920s. It was her appearance as a plucky shopgirl in the film It that brought her global fame and the nickname "The It Girl". Bow came to personify the Roaring Twenties[1] and is described as its leading sex symbol.[2]

She appeared in 46 silent films and 11 talkies, including hits such as Mantrap (1926), It (1927) and Wings (1927). She was named first box-office draw in 1928 and 1929 and second box-office draw in 1927 and 1930.[3][4] Her presence in a motion picture was said to have ensured investors, by odds of almost 2-to-1, a "safe return".[5] At the apex of her stardom, she received more than 45,000 fan letters in a single month (January 1929).[6]

After marrying actor Rex Bell in 1931, Bow retired from acting and became a rancher in Nevada. Her final film, Hoop-La, was released in 1933. In September 1965, Bow died of a heart attack at the age of 60.

Jennifer Murdoch:

In Rough House Rosie (1927)
Born    Clara Gordon Bow
July 29, 1905
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
Died    September 27, 1965 (aged 60)
Culver City, California, U.S.
Cause of death
   Heart attack
Resting place
   Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale
Nationality    American
Education    P.S. 111
P.S. 9
P.S. 98
H.S. Bay Ridge
Occupation    Actress
Years active    1921–1933
Known for    The original "IT-girl"
Spouse(s)    Rex Bell (m. 1931; died 1962)
Children    Rex Bell Jr. (1934-2011)
George Beldam (1938- )

Jennifer Murdoch:
Early life

Bow was born in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, New York at 697 Bergen Street.[7] Her birth year, according to US Census 1910 and 1920 was given as 1905.[8] In the Census of 1930 Bow claims she was born in 1906.[9] and on her gravestone of 1965 the inscription says 1907.

Bow was her parents' third child; her two older sisters, born in 1903 and 1904 respectively, died in infancy.[10] Her mother, Sarah Bow (née Gordon, 1880–1923), was told by a doctor not to become pregnant again for fear the next baby might die as well. Despite the doctor's warning, Sarah became pregnant with Clara in the fall of 1904. In addition to the risky pregnancy, a heat wave besieged New York in July 1905 and temperatures peaked around 100 °F (38 °C);[11] "I don't suppose two people ever looked death in the face more clearly than my mother and I the morning I was born. We were both given up, but somehow we struggled back to life."[12]

Bow's parents were descended from English-Irish and Scottish immigrants who had come to America the generation before.[13] Bow said that her father, Robert (1874–1959), "had a quick, keen mind ... all the natural qualifications to make something of himself, but didn't...everything seemed to go wrong for him, poor darling".[12] Between 1905 and 1923, the family lived at 14 different addresses but seldom outside Prospect Heights. Robert was often absent.[14] "I do not think my mother ever loved my father. He knew it. And it made him very unhappy, for he worshiped her, always."[12]

At sixteen, Clara's mother Sarah fell from a second-story window and suffered a severe head injury. She was later diagnosed with "psychosis due to epilepsy",[15] a condition apart from the seizures that is known to cause disordered thinking, delusion, paranoia, and aggressive behavior.[16]

From her earliest years, Bow learned how to care for her mother during the seizures as well as how to deal with the psychotic and hostile episodes. She said her mother could be "mean" to her, but "didn't mean to ... she couldn't help it".[12] Still, Bow felt deprived of her childhood; "As a kid I took care of my mother, she didn't take care of me".[17] Sarah worsened gradually, and when she realized her daughter was set for a movie career, Bow's mother told her she "would be much better off dead". One night in February 1922, Bow awoke to a butcher knife held against her throat. She was able to fend off the attack and locked her mother up. In the morning, Sarah had no recollection of the episode but was later committed to a sanatorium by Robert.[12]

Clara spoke about the incident later:

    It was snowing. My mother and I were cold and hungry. We had been cold and hungry for days. We lay in each others arms and cried and tried to keep warm. It grew worse and worse. So that night my mother—but I can't tell you about it. Only when I remember it, it seems to me I can't live."[18]

Jennifer Murdoch:
On January 5, 1923, at age 43, Sarah died from her epilepsy. When relatives gathered for the funeral, Bow accused them of being "hypocrites" and became so mad she even tried to jump into the grave.[12]

Bow attended P.S. 111, P.S. 9 and P.S. 98.[10] As she grew up she felt shy among other girls, who teased her for her worn-out clothes and "carrot-top" hair. She said about her childhood "I never had any clothes. ... And lots of time didn't have anything to eat. We just lived, that's about all. Girls shunned me because I was so poorly dressed."[19] From first grade, Bow preferred the company of boys, stating, "I could lick any boy my size. My right arm was quite famous. My right arm was developed from pitching so much ... Once I hopped a ride on behind a big fire engine. I got a lot of credit from the gang for that."[12] A close friend, a younger boy who lived in her building, burned to death in her presence after an accident.[12]

In 1919 Bow enrolled to Bay Ridge High School for girls. "I wore sweaters and old skirts...didn't want to be treated like a girl...there was one boy who had always been my pal... he kissed me... I wasn't sore. I didn't get indignant. I was horrified and hurt."[12]

Bow's interest in sports and her physical abilities made her plan for a career as an athletics instructor. She won five medals "at the cinder tracks" and credited her cousin Homer Baker – the national half-mile champion (1913 and 1914) and 660 yards world-record holder – for being her trainer.[20] The Bows and Bakers shared the house – still standing – at 33 Prospect Place in 1920.[15][21][22]

Jennifer Murdoch:

 Postcard of Bay Ridge High School, 350 67th Street, Bay Ridge Brooklyn, New York 11220, looking west across 4th Avenue and 67th Street.


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