A Short Biography
Clara Gordon Bow was a popular silent film actress of the late 1920’s, and one of the decade’s most endearing personalities. She brought a “certain something” to her roles; needless to say, she had that “certain something” too. In a career spanning 11 years and 57 films, she became one of, if not the, most popular actress of her day, with such films as Dancing Mothers (1925), Mantrap (1926), The Plastic Age (1925), Wings (1927) and It (1927).
Clara was born in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, NY on July 29th, 1905. Clara was actually the third child; two girls, Alene Bow and Emily Bow, came before. Alene lived 3 days; Emily lived 2 hours. Her parents were mother Sarah Bow (1880 – 1923) and father Robert Bow (1874 – 1959).
After winning a movie contest in a fan magazine at age 16, Clara went on to play a small role in Beyond the Rainbow (1922). Later that year, she played Dot Morgan in Down to the Sea in Ships. In 1924, she received her first star-billing in the film Wine. The Plastic Age, with Donald Keith and Gilbert Roland, and Dancing Mothers with Alice Joyce and Conway Tearle (both of 1925), was a hit, as was Mantrap (1926), a romantic-comedy teaming her with Ernest Torrence and Percy Marmont. 1926 also saw Kid Boots, a comedy starring Eddie Cantor and reuniting her with Billie Dove, who had also been in Beyond the Rainbow four years earlier.
In 1927 she starred as sweet and sassy shopgirl Betty Lou Spence in the romantic-comedy It, turning the 22 year-old woman into an American cultural icon and earning her the nickname of the ‘It’ Girl. Wings (1927), with Charles “Buddy” Rogers, Richard Arlen and Jobyna Ralston, was a war epic of the air that was a huge hit. She also starred in the now lost Rough House Rosie and incomplete Get Your Man in 1927. In 1928, Clara made 4 films, The Fleet’s In, Red Hair, Ladies of the Mob and Three Week-ends, all of which are sadly lost.
In 1929 she made her first talkie, The Wild Party, with Fredric March. Clara’s voice was perfectly fine; it was neither too high or too low and her Brooklyn accent is barely even audible. Clara was more popular than ever; in January 1929 she received about 45,000 fan letters. The Satiurday Night Kid and Dangerous Curves were released that same year. A court-trial with her secretary Daisy De Voe (on embezzlement charges) in 1931 was damaging, as were obscene allegations made later that year in a tabloid called The Coast Reporter.
In 1931 she married cowboy actor Rex Bell, moving to a desert ranch in Nevada. 1931 was also the year her contract to Paramount ended; after No Limit and Kick In, she left Paramount for good and made a two-picture deal with Fox soon after and made her last two films: the excellent Call Her Savage and her swan-song Hoop-La, in 1932 and 1933 respectively. She went back to her desert ranch in Nevada and, in 1934, gave birth to a son, Tony Beldam, who later changed his name to Rex Anthony Bell, Jr. He passed away in July of 2011. In 1938 she gave birth to a second son, George Beldam, Jr.
On September 27, 1965 in her Culver City, CA estate (where she had been living under the care of a nurse), Clara died of a heart attack at the age of 60. Autopsy showed that she suffered from a disease of the heart, atherosclerosis, and that her heart bore scars from a previous, undetected heart attack.
Images used by kind permission of the Clara Bow Archive