Sunday, November 14, 2010

She Had "IT"

I apologize for falling down on the job. Work had me so busy I couldn't hardly think last week. To make up for it, I decided to give you a real hum-dinger: Clara Bow.
Clara Bow was described as having "it" that undefinable flapper characteristic. Audiences flocked to see her films and I must admit... she drew me in as well. To this day, Clara has quite the following. If you look on (a phenomenal website for any classic film fan) Clara has pages of photos devoted to her.

I read Clara's biography before actually seeing one of her films. The book is called "Clara Bow: Runnin' Wild by David Stenn and it is quite a tragic read. Bow was born to a phsycotic
mother and a mostly absentee father. She grew up in the Brooklyn slums surrounded by poverty. Her parents and her often shared apartment buildings with other families. They would have one room to their name and share a communal bathroom down the hall. These apartments had no central heating or cooling, and Clara often had to deal with bitter cold winters and scorching summers.

Her child hood friend, a little boy, actually died in Clara's arms. He caught fire and Clara put it out, but the burns were too severe. She held him and cried as his life slipped away. Clara was only a child when it happened.

Clara's mother suffered from psychotic breaks. She also turned to prostitution in order to make ends meet when Clara's father wasn't making enough to provide for the family. She would hide Clara in the closet while she entertained clients. Clara awoke one night to find her mother standing over her with a knife. She was able to escape to the bathroom and hide until her father made it home. All the while, her mother beat on the bathroom door threatening to kill her.

How did a poor, sweet little girl survive and escape such hell? She did what so many of us do when the real world becomes unbearable. She went to the one place where all the rest of it disappeared...the movies.

Clara fell in love with moving pictures... little Mary Pickford running around with long flowing curls... images of families... of love. She would go home and practice making faces in the mirror, she could cry on command, and she used her spunk to entertain anybody and everybody. She convinced her dad to take her to a beauty contest... and she won. The rest of her career is history.

Clara was notorious for her promiscuity. Whether it was her
mother's attempted murder, or her father's lack of presence or her own horrifying experiences, Clara looked for comfort in the arms of men.... lots of men. I don't choose to judge her for this. I don't know who I would have become given those circumstances... Clara needed to be loved as an adult because she wasn't as a child.

Her most famous boyfriend was Gary Cooper. She helped him get his start in films, and I truly believed that they cared for each other. Their passion burned hot and short. I don't think Cooper was equipped to give Clara everything that she needed. She needed a man to devote himself to her and her well being. She always feared ending up like her mother, mentally unstable. She did do a stint in a mental hospital after a nervous breakdown from too much hard work, but she escaped her mother's fate.

I adore Clara because her presence on screen was so full of life. She had a pure heart and it shines through in her work. That infectious smile, her bubbly spirit. This girl didn't need words (although her talkies weren't bad) to make an audience fall head over heels for her adorable bobbed hair. She defined Flapper, she embraced the woman that she was, throwing off the shackles of Victorian convention and lived her life to the max.

Catch one of Clara's most iconic films "It" on TCM this week November 17 at 1:30 am ct.

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