Childhood & Early Life
Clara Gordon Bow was born to Sarah and Robert Bow, after the death of her two older sisters in infancy, in Brooklyn, New York.
She studied at P.S. 111, P.S. 9 and P.S. 98 and then enrolled at Bay Ridge High School in 1919. She was an extremely athletic girl and preferred the company of boys to girls. At one point in her life, she wished to be an athletics instructor.
When Clara was 16 years old, her mother fell from a 2-storeyed building and suffered a serious head injury. She was later diagnosed with psychosis due to epilepsy.. She began to care for her mother from very young but she suffered from a very distressing and sad childhood.
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In 1921, against her mother’s desires but with her father’s backing, she participated in Brewster publications’ magazine’s annual nationwide acting contest and eventually ended up earning a silver trophy and an evening gown for her talent.
After several hardships, she was finally offered a role of a tomboy in the movie, ‘Down to the Sea in Ships’. Right after the release and the success of this movie, she was seen dancing half-naked in ‘Enemies of Women’ the following year.
In 1923, she also got a role in ‘The Daring Years’, where she became close friends with actress, Mary Carr. The same year, she also starred in the films, ‘Maytime’ and ‘Black Oxen’.
From 1924 to 1926, she starred in a series of films including ‘Poisoned Paradise’, ‘Daughters of Pleasure’, ‘Helen’s Babies’, ‘Kiss Me Again’, ‘The Primrose Path’, ‘Dancing Mothers’, ‘Fascinating Youth’, ‘Mantrap’ and ‘Kid Boots’. It was during this period, she was looked upon as one of the greatest ‘sex symbols’ of the silver screen and as an actress who was bold enough to defy ‘gender conventions’.
In 1926, she signed her first contract with Paramount Pictures at a salary of $750 per week. The same year, her contract with Paramount was renewed into a five-year deal.
In 1927, she appeared in six films released under Paramount including, ‘It’, ‘Children of Divorce’, ‘Rough House Rosie’, ‘Wings’, ‘Hula’ and ‘Get Your Man’. The following year, she starred in ‘Red Hair’, ‘Ladies of the Mob’, ‘The Fleet’s In’ and ‘Three Weekends’, all of which are lost in the archives in modern times.
In the beginning of 1929, she began appearing in talkies films with ‘The Wild Party’. The same year, she also appeared in ‘Dangerous Curves’ opposite Richard Arlen and ‘The Saturday Night Kid’.
In 1930, she was seen half-singing, half-talking and dancing in movies like ‘Paramount on Parade’, ‘True to the Navy’, ‘Love Among the Millionaires’ and ‘Her Wedding Night’. The next year, she was seen in box-office hits, ‘No Limit’ and ‘Kick In’.
In 1932, she signed a two-picture deal with ‘Fox Film Corporation’ and appeared in the movie ‘Call Her Savage’ and ‘Hoop-La’, the latter which was released the subsequent year. After the release of these two movies, her career ended.
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The last she was seen in was ‘Screen Snapshots 1860: Howdy, Podner’, in 1949, where she played the role of a resort guest.
Personal Life & Legacy
She had a number of relationships with men but she finally eloped with Rex Bell, a cowboy and the couple went on to have two sons, Tony Beldam and George Beldam, Jr.
After retiring from acting, she opened ‘The ‘It’ Caf�’ with her husband, Rex Bell. It was closed after a brief run.
During her lifetime, she became the subject of a number of scandals related to lesbianism, drug addiction, alcoholism and incest. However, many of these reports were later proved fallacious.
Towards the end of her life, she became a social recluse and started to show symptoms of psychiatric illness after she attempted suicide.
In 1949, she was checked into ‘The Institute of Living’ to be treated for insomnia and she was then diagnosed with schizophrenia.
She spent her last few years alone with a nurse and passed away of a heart attack at the age of 60. During her autopsy, it was also revealed that she suffered from a heart disease.
She was honored with a US postage stamp, posthumously, in 1994.
In 1999, much after her death, the American Film Institute made Bow a nominee in the ‘100 Years… 100 Stars’ list.
She has been depicted in popular culture time and again in ‘Of Thee I Sing’, ‘The Artist’ and the song, ‘Clara Bow’.