After settling into life as a new mother, I waited for Jo March’s “genius to burn”, inspiration to strike as to who my first post in months would be about. It came last night as I was sitting up in bed caring for my little baby. A documentary about Clara Bow, a huge silent screen movie star and extra-ordinary woman, piqued my interest.
Clara was born in July 1905 on a sweltering hot day to a mother who had lost two previous babies. They both “looked death in the face” according to Clara. Her childhood and young adult life was riddled with her mother’s mental health problems and a feeling of insecurity and not fitting in with other girls her age. She preferred being one of the boys, and was deeply hurt when a boy pal kissed her. Her life also ended in sadness and isolation, but it was the life in between that she lived on the silver screen that inspired many women in the States and around the world who watched her films. She had this impact in spite of her own troubles, even when she despised Hollywood.
Based on the book of the same name, which author Elinor Glyn defined as “That quality possessed by some which draws all others with its magnetic force”, the film that really launched her star was “It”.
Whatever “it” was, Clara certainly had it. Her character in the film, and indeed in many of Bow’s films, was independent, clever, ballsy. She didn’t wait for men to notice her, she went after the one she wanted. She was fiercely loyal to her friends and morals. Her red hair, although a shade of grey in the black and white films, inspired a generation of young girls to run out and buy the same henna their idol did. Letters address simply to “The It Girl, Hollywood” found her. She received as much fan mail as a US town of 5,000 citizens daily. Young women seeking a role model thanked her for showing them how to be brave, smart, strong.
The demise of Clara is a sad one, and perhaps a reminder that even the women we admire for being strong are only human like the rest of us. Still, the girl who inspired the flapper’s bob of the 20s and 30s continues to inspire for much more, in spite of her weakness.
More: Clara’s Wikipedia page here