Clara Bow ~ The It Girl's Unhappy Life

Clara Bow

Clara Bow was Hollywood's It Girl but her personal life was filled with heartbreak and tragedy

She was born Clara Gordon Bow on July 29, 1905, in Brooklyn, New York. Sadly her mother, Sarah Bow, suffered from psychosis due to epilepsy. Sarah was institutionalized after she tried to kill young Clara with a butcher knife. Unfortunately after her mother was sent away her alcoholic father, Robert Bow, started sexually abusing her. When she was sixteen she entered a contest in Motion Picture magazine and won a screen test. Clara made her film debut in the 1922 silent drama Beyond The Rainbow. The beautiful redhead was offered a contract with Preferred Pictures. Then she was chosen to be one of the Wampas Baby Stars of 1924. During this time she also posed nude for photographer Alfred Cheney Johnston. In 1925 she appeared in fourteen films including The Plastic Age, Parisian Love, and The Primrose Path. While filming Mantrap in 1926 she started dating director Victor Fleming. She was cast as a carefree flapper in the 1927 comedy It. The film was a huge hit and made her a superstar. From then on she was known as "The It Girl". Next she starred in the hit drama Wings which won the Academy Award for Best Picture.

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Clara Bow With Her Dog

By 1929 she was the top female box-office star in the country and was getting forty-five thousand fan letters a month. When the talkies started she was worried about her thick Brooklyn accent but audiences loved her voice. Her first two talkies, The Wild Party and Dangerous Curves, were both box office hits. Although she earned more than five thousand dollars a week she lived in a modest seven-room bungalow in Beverly Hills. Clara hated going to parties and preferred to stay home and play poker. Her real life romances made her one of the most gossiped about women in Hollywood. Among her many lovers were Fredric March, Gilbert Roland, Bela Lugosi, and Gary Cooper. She once said "A sex symbol is a heavy load to carry when one is tired, hurt and bewildered." In 1930 her secretary, Daisy DeVoe, was arrested for stealing money from her. During the headline making trial Daisy claimed that Clara was involved in orgies and bestiality. Although these stories were false her reputation was ruined. Shortly after the trial she suffered a nervous breakdown and had to be hospitalized.

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On December 3, 1931 she married western actor Rex Bell. The couple moved to large ranch in Nevada. Tired of making movies she decided to retire. Her final film was the 1933 drama Hoopla. Clara and Rex had two sons - Rex Jr and George. They also opened a restaurant in Hollywood called "The It Cafe". Unfortunately she began suffering from severe mood swings and insomnia. She attempted suicide in 1944 by swallowing a bottle of pills. In 1949 she was institutionalized and diagnosed with schizophrenia. Eventually she and Rex separated but they remained legally married. As she got older she became reclusive and rarely left her home. Clara turned down a lucrative offer to write her autobiography because she didn't want to embarrass her family. Her estranged husband Rex died in 1962. On the evening of September 26, 1965 she watched the film The Virginian on television. It was directed by her former lover Victor Fleming and starred her former lover Gary Cooper. Early the next morning, on September 27, she died from a heart attack at the age of of sixty. She is buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.

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