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“Unlucky Thirteen? No, Unlucky Twenty Six!

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  • “Unlucky Thirteen? No, Unlucky Twenty Six!

    Hollywood has always been a magnet, attracting thousands of wannabe film stars to its bright lights like so many suicidal moths. A glittering giant jar of oh so sweet honey, luring them like a swarm of ambitious, sugar starved bees. And that’s exactly what it was like in the 1920s.

    The “war to end all wars” was over and America was hysterical with gaiety. “Bam wappa dam, its party time!” Women were so happy they flapped their arms like birds when they danced and in so doing gave birth to a name – “Flapper.” Life was good, cheeks were rouged and my dears, Flappers, “gasp”, even dyed their eyelashes!

    Into this seething cauldron of decadence came a hauntingly beautiful teenager, one Clara Gordon Bow, later to become simply Clara Bow, the “It Girl.”

    Imagine if you will the worst possible start to life that any child could possibly experience. Well what you’re probably imaging is infinitely better than what Clara went through during the first sixteen years of her life.

    Sarah Gordon, Clara’s mother, was a hooker who by the way also suffered from epilepsy. Oh and did I mention that she was also as crazy as a shithouse rat? Well she was and to make things even more interesting Robert Bow, her husband, a carpenter by trade, was also a few cards short of a full deck too. The charming couple lived in a filthy, ramshackle tenement in Brooklyn, New York.

    So is it possible that one of the most famous, beloved and beautiful stars of the 1920s was born into this dysfunctional family? You betcha! In fact Sarah was apparently so happy when Clara was born on 29 July 1905, that she left the baby where she lay, presuming because she had not cried that she was dead. So imagine her mood when Clara’s maternal grandmother shook the infant who then woke up, very much alive.

    Anyway, by the time Clara reached puberty, she was a very beautiful woman. Her mother, well let’s rather call her Sarah because a mother she was not, was now dangerously insane. One can only imagine how much Clara must have longed to escape this environment.

    In 1921 she got her chance. Motion Picture magazine ran a “Fame and Fortune” competition which Clara won. First prize was a screen test and her first film “Beyond the Rainbow” was released in 1922. Unfortunately all the scenes in which she appeared were cut from the final production.

    Sarah was slightly miffed that her daughter had disgraced the family by becoming an actress. I guess she had expected Clara to follow in her footsteps and become a whore. So to show exactly how upset she was, she decided to murder her daughter.

    Clara awoke one night to find Sarah leaning over her with a large knife clutched in her hand. Curses, foiled! Anyway she made another thankfully unsuccessful attempt to kill Clara and this time she was shipped off to a lunatic asylum. Clara suffered from chronic insomnia for the rest of her life – I wonder why?

    Within a few years Clara accomplished what many film stars fail to do in a lifetime. In 1927 at the age of only twenty two she acted in the first movie to win an Oscar for best picture and was Paramount’s biggest and brightest star. Clara lived and Clara loved, oh boy did Clara love to love and after what she had endured, who could blame her? She was the “It Girl” the darling of her time.

    Unfortunately her rapid rise to stardom was followed by an even quicker fall from grace. Like many of today’s young stars, Clara was unable to handle fame and fortune. Scandal followed upon scandal, culminating in a court case during which her secretary, Daisy Devoe disclosed graphic details of Clara’s love life.

    This, together with the advent of sound in movies and the Great Depression were the probable reasons why Paramount did not renew her contract. Although she later made two very forgettable movies, when she married cowboy actor Rex Bell on 4 December 1931, her career was to all intents and purposes over. At the tender age of twenty six Clara Bow went into hiding on her husband’s ranch.

    They had two sons and Clara spent a great deal of time in sanatoriums after nervous breakdowns. She died in Culver City, California on 26 December 1965 of a heart attack.

    By today’s standards Clara Bow was not a great actress, but she rose to fame during the Roaring Twenties. She was a beautiful, tragic woman, a film star with the ability to burst into tears on cue. What more could you ask from any flapper?

    "The embers of our past lives lie smouldering within us awaiting the winds of remembrance to fan them in flames of reality." Dax.