It’s that time again folks where I am participating in another blogathon. This time, it is in the ‘Second Annual Marathon Stars Blogathon’ which is hosted by The Wonderful World of Cinema, In The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood and Musings of a Classic Film Addict. It’s running from March 14th-16th so if you have a chance to, check out the other participating blogs posts as well.
When I saw the initial post for this blogathon, I knew that I wanted to take part. The only problem was that there was so much freedom and choice, I just couldn’t decide to write about. I then decided on Clara Bow for a couple of reasons. Firstly I knew that I wanted to write about someone from the silent film era of history. I also wanted to make sure that the films they starred in were also accessible to watch today. What I find really interesting about Clara Bow is that she is someone whose real-life seems to contradict her ‘image’. I haven’t read any biography about her yet, although I hope one day soon I will, but from what I have read there are still remnants of this ‘party girl persona’ that still has a life of its own today.
Before I go into the actual blogathon content, I wanted to let you all know about the problem with ‘Wings’. Not so much a problem with the film, but rather just procuring it. Basically, In The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood recommended the film (and I forgot to reply to your comment, apologies) and it was one that was definitely on my list. I also got a gift voucher for Christmas that I wanted to use to get ‘Wings’, however, that company went into administration and they are now working out trade deals with their suppliers. This means that I will not have the film watched and ready in time for the blogathon’s original deadline but the moment I can get a hold of it and watch it, I will add to it here.
Down to the Sea in Ships: (1922)
‘Down to the Sea in Ships’ (1922): first appearance, credit and last appearance.
During the early 1920s half of the American population would go weekly to the cinema. It was a new and exciting art form which captivated the public, including one Miss Clara Bow. At 16 she knew that she wanted to become an actress. In 1921, with the help of her father, she entered into the ‘Fame and Fortune’ contest in the autumn of 1921. In the final, she had a screen test against a woman who was already experienced in them. Despite this, she actually won the contest because the judges believed that she became her character and “lived” the role. Her prize was an evening gown, a silver trophy and a publisher who said they would help her get a film career. This seemed to be the case with ‘Beyond the Rainbow’ (1922), however, her part was cut from the final film.
It wasn’t until director Elmer Clifton decided to give Clara a chance in his feature ‘Down to the Sea in Ships’ (1922), where she negotiated that she would be paid $50 dollars a week. The story revolves around the whaling and Quaker community in 1800s New Bedford, Massachusetts. The drama mainly focuses on the Morgan family who are: Captain Charles Morgan (William Walcott) the head of the household and owner of a fleet of whaling ships, Patience (Marguerite Courtot), his daughter and ‘Dot’ (Clara Bow) his granddaughter from his late son. Patience wants to marry her old friend who’s returned from college, Allan Dexter (Raymond McKee). Her father forbids this because he is not a Quaker or whaler. Instead, he wants her to marry Samuel Siggs (J. Thornton Baston), a ‘Chinese man’ (the actor is not) who infiltrates the company so that he can take over the company to transport gold. Whilst Allan then disappears onto the whaling ship to prove himself to Mr. Morgan, someone else is hiding aboard the ship too…
‘Dot’ Morgan wants to be a whaler when she grows up, which is of course frowned upon by the people in her community. She’s rebellious, somewhat vicious and headstrong, and Clara really brings this to the forefront in her portrayal. In all honesty I feel like her talents are somewhat wasted in this film because we don’t see a lot of her. Yet when we do, she makes an impact. Her character must have been revolutionary at the time on screen because not only do we see her literally slap her captures and fight back at men, but we also see her disguise herself as a boy wearing trousers. There are also moments in the film where this is undermined, such as at the end of the film with her ethereal white gown in a field of flowers and her fainting at the shock of her capture by the mutinous captain. The film was critically panned, but Clara’s acting was not. She utilised what she had with a limiting part and made it successfully her own.
Helen’s Babies: (1924)
‘Helen’s Babies’ (1924): first appearance, credit and last appearance.
In 1924, Clara was named as one of the WAMPAS Baby Stars. The Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers (WAMPAS) would pick 13 young actresses who they believed to be destined for greatness in movie stardom. It lasted from 1922-1934 and included the likes of Colleen Moore, Ethel Shannon, Joan Crawford, Dolores Costello and Lupe Vélez amongst others. Just before this, in the summer of 1923, Clara Bow made the permanent move to Hollywood in order to star in Preferred Pictures Films. In fact, throughout of the whole of 1924 Clara was very busy indeed. She made eight films, including her first lead in ‘Poisoned Paradise’ (1924) and a loan to Universal Studios for ‘Wine’ (1924). It was also around this time when Clara Bow was being referred to in casting as the flapper. This was down to her role in ‘Black Oxen’ (1923), and the ideas around Clara being the epitome of the flapper actually stick around for much longer, much to the chagrin of Colleen Moore.
The film features around the Lawrence’s family in 1920s America. There is father Tom Lawrence (Richard Tucker), mother Helen Lawrence (Claire Adams) and children Toddie (Baby Peggy) and Budge (Jeanne Carpenter). Helen’s brother, uncle Harry Burton (Edward Everett Horton) has written a book on children which Tom frequently uses and adores. When Harry writes to his sister that he will travel to them for his vacation, the Lawrence’s decide to take a vacation of their own. They believe that he is capable enough to look after the children because of his book, although it turns out that he only made a book about raising children because his publisher told him to. In fact he doesn’t like children at all and only reluctantly agrees to help out, with the help of one fan of his work, and neighbour to the Lawrence’s.
In this film, Clara plays Alice Mayton. Her role, again, is not a massive part but it really shows off her knack for playing romantic comedies. The film is quite different to the previous one but this time she’s actually given more of a chance to showcase her talent through mid-close ups. There’s one scene in particular, towards the start of the film, where Harry is swinging on a tree branch in an attempt to get Toddie’s doll. There is a shot-reverse-shot in place because, for reasons, they can’t actually show him falling out of a tree. Even though I know he’s not actually falling, her reactions were so natural that I felt the fear Alice did in that moment. In fact throughout this entire film, her little facial gestures and reactions seemed so natural and genuine. In the 21st century, there is usually a stereotype that silent film acting is melodramatic and over the top. Clara in this film just disproves that with her motherly and light-hearted nature in the role of Alice Moyton. Her hats in this film are also beautiful and I want them.
Get Your Man: (1927)
‘Get Your Man’ (1927): first appearance, credit and last appearance.
1927 is what I would dub as ‘the year of Clara Bow’. (I would possibly include 1928 as well considering that ‘Wings’ won the best picture Oscar.) 1927 is the year that most people know of and associate with Clara Bow. In 1926, she was signed onto the prestigious Paramount Pictures, making eight films for them in her first year alone. Yet it was in 1927 where she only did 6 films, but these ones had the most impact. This film here was one of them, however, in the Library of Congress they have an incomplete print in which 2 reels are missing.
‘Get Your Man’ (1927) is a Paramount Pictures romantic comedy which features a rather generic plot. Duke Robert Albin (Charles ‘Buddy’ Rogers) gave an oath as a child to marry Simone de Valens (Josephine Dunn), when she was a baby. The rest of the film takes place 17 years later, where Duke Albin (Josef Swickard) and Marquis de Valens (Harvey Clark) agree that the marriage should take place in a week’s time. The Duke tells Robert that he must go to Paris to collect the family necklace that has been re-pearled as a gift for Simone. In Paris, he frequently runs into one American lady, Nancy Worthington (Clara Bow). They realise they have feelings for each other but they can’t do anything about it because of this engagement. This then leads Nancy into action, doing whatever she can to ‘get her man’.
As mentioned, Clara plays the character of Nancy Worthington. Romantic comedies are what I would consider Clara’s forte but in this one she really shines. There is definitely a progression happening within her acting, which is that it is getting stronger and stronger with each performance. Her gestural reactions in this film are just superb. For example, when she was at the exhibit of ‘Paul Poiret and his models’, she believed they weren’t dummies. She goes to hit one and it turns out that the woman wasn’t part of the exhibit at all. Her reaction is absolutely priceless, as she looks away and murmurs ‘oh my god’. What I think is especially interesting about this film, though, is there is a sense of wickedness with this role which just shines through. I think the film in general is also interesting, as it positions her as a symbol of the modern woman who is bringing new life into old sensibilities and structures.
‘It’ (1927): first appearance, credit and last appearance.
When you think Clara Bow, this is the film which comes to mind. ‘It’ is now a popular concept within stardom in the 20th and 21st century, and it usually selected by someone who embodies the ideal standards of a woman at the time. The term ‘It’ is usually associated with its creation by Elinor Glyn, who had written the story on which the film was based. ‘It’ is a “quality of the mind as well as a physical attraction.” It’s basically like the 21st century equivalent of ‘big dick energy’, where you have no idea what it actually is until you see someone with ‘it’. This film gave Paramount Pictures a success, Clara Bow rave reviews, and her place forever remembered in history as ‘The It Girl’.
The story follows that of shop girl Betty Lou Spence (Clara Bow). She works at Waltham’s department store, which is basically like Harrods’s, and falls for her new boss Cyrus Waltham Jr. (Antonio Moreno). He himself is supposedly romantically linked to childhood friend Adela Van Norman (Jacqueline Gadsden). In a typical Romeo and Juliet fashion, they are both from different social classes meaning that they would probably never work out. Until Betty Lou decides to do something about it, with the help of ‘It’. His friend Monty (William Austin) is intrigued by the story, so much so that he decides to scour out the floor. It is here that he sees Betty Lou and believes that she has ‘It’. She decides to use this to her advantage, so that she can get closer to Cyrus Jr. With the help of her roommate Molly (Priscilla Bonner) and the baby, she gets ready to go dinner where Cyrus Jr. is too. Here, he finds out from Elinor Glyn herself what ‘It’ is, and realises that Betty has ‘It’. He then seems to fall for her too, however, there are various pitfalls (like in life) which seems to get in the way of their ‘happy ever after’.
Firstly, this film is amazing and I recommend that everyone should watch it. What really makes the film for me is Clara Bow herself. Here, it’s almost like an amalgamation of the character traits that we have seen from the other 3 films rolled into this one. This is seen, for example, when Monty asks her out for dinner. Here, her face shows the cunning wickedness and planning seen in Nancy Cunningham. When she goes upstairs to see her roommate’s baby, her motherly nature as seen with Alice Mayton is on display by her making the baby laugh. Her light-hearted and modern sensibilities are shown through her cutting up her own dress to re-fashion for her dinner date, and her rebellious streak is seen later on when she slaps Cyrus Jr. of taking advantage of her via a kiss. From seeing this film, I am honestly not surprised by its cultural impact and critical success upon release. This role combines all the elements of Clara’s previous roles and brings them together here. In this film she really makes it her own. In this film, she has ‘It’.
Call Her Savage: (1932)
‘Call Her Savage’ (1932): first appearance, credit and last appearance.
There is somewhat of a misconception in popular culture that Clara Bow made no ‘talkie’ pictures because of her Brooklyn accent. In fact, Clara made a few ‘talkies’, however, this film role was the second to last film that she ever made. Like most contemporaries of her time like Charlie Chaplin, she disliked the idea of sound pictures. The overhead microphones would make her nervous and she almost reached breaking point during the early sound period. Things in her life became too much for Clara, leading to her being admitted to a sanatorium. It seemed that at 25, her career was over. She married Rex Bell and she recuperated down at his ranch in Nevada. She seemed to be done with acting until 1932, when she signed 2-picture deal with Fox. The first of these films was ‘Call Her Savage’ (1932.)
This re-code film centres around the Springer family. It starts with a young Ruth and Peter who are migrating across the country in Wild West America. Ruth’s father is married but also in a relationship with another woman, and the people of the community believe that they are cursed due to his infidelity. The religious aspects come into play, as the community believe that the third, fourth and fifth generation of his family will have to pay the price for his infidelity. 18 years later, Pete Springer (Willard Robertson) and Ruth Springer (Estelle Taylor) are married. Whilst he goes off to work on his railroad empire, Ruth seems to be romantically involved with the Native American Ronasa (Weldon Heyburn). As he goes off to marry, she gives birth to a little girl who goes by the name Nasa. Nasa Springer (Clara Bow) is a rebellious child who is sent off to a private school in Chicago by her father, in an attempt to ‘tame’ her spirit. Leaving her friend Moonglow (Gilbert Roland) behind and seeking new ones in the likes of Lawrence Crosby (Monroe Owsley), Nasa navigates herself through life into adulthood. Unlike most of her films, this isn’t a romantic comedy as a lot of bad things do happen.
As mentioned, Clara Bow plays the role of Nasa Springer. Firstly, old-Hollywood films that are all around ‘who is this race and who is white’ etc., such as ‘White Cargo’ (1942), are just films that I don’t like and they’re usually critically panned. To me, this film is ‘meh’ and it is only that because of Clara Bow. It does seem somewhat full-circle for her to star in a film around religious groups, so that seems like a nice rondo format to her career. That being said, a part of me couldn’t quite believe that she could still play the young girl. She may still have a ‘baby face’, but knowing that she was older herself kind of took the escapism of the film away from me. This film also dials up the whole rebellious thing to the extreme, as she is literally whipping her friend and also shoves a guitar onto another guy’s head to make him stop playing. Also, the whole “Yippee!” thing was just really cringey. I feel like this film was probably my least favourite out of all the ones that I have seen, and the critics at the time somewhat agree with me (especially when you compare to ‘Hoop-La’ (1933).) It was still successful though, and she did the best she could do given that terrible script. In short, Fox did her dirty.
In 1933, Clara Bow retired from acting at the age of 28. During her 11 year career, she featured in many films and made an impact by symbolising the new, modern woman of the 1920s. Through looking at the films of Clara Bow for the blogathon, it made me realise my new found love for this woman. When I was younger I had always heard of her and when I saw her picture, I related to her. (Long story short, I have naturally thin eyebrows so when big eyebrows were back in, I felt inadequate. I saw her picture and I thought ‘she looks like me!’) I have always admired her from afar and have always been interested to see her films. This blogathon was a chance for me to do that, and I’m glad that I did. My admiration from afar has now become me being a massive fan of her and her work. Someday soon, I hope to not only get ‘Wings’ (1928), but read David Stenn’s biography on her as well. She died in 1965 at the age of 60. Engraved on her tombstone are the words which will be forever associated with Clara Bow, ‘Hollywood’s It Girl’.