The more I see of men, the more I like dogs. — Clara Bow
RAISED in poverty in Brooklyn, Clara Bow’s earliest memories included remembrances of her mentally ill mother shutting her in the closet while she turned tricks for food money. Bow owed her escape from her abject condition to her father, a Coney Island waiter who saw in the beautiful face of his daughter a way out. He submitted a picture of her to a magazine beauty contest, the first prize of which was a trip to New York and a bit-part in a silent film. Bow won the contest, and eventually a contract with producer B.P. Schulberg that took the nineteen-year-old to Hollywood on a one-way ticket to sex goddessdom.
By the time she had turned twenty-five, Bow had starred in forty-eight films; her appearance in 1927’s It transformed her into the quintessential embodiment of the Roaring ’20s (the phrase “It Girl” was coined to describe her possession of certain qualities that set her apart from the crowd). Bow’s trademark bobbed hair, bow mouth, and bangled and beaded flapper fashion defined the style of a decade, and she became one of Paramount’s biggest female stars, commanding a $7,500-a-week salary.
Away from the studio, she led a scandalously risqué life, getting her kicks by gambling, racing down Sunset Boulevard in her roadster with her pampered chows (the car and dogs matched her flaming red hair), indulging in numerous sexual escapades (a running joke in Hollywood: Clara Bow laid everything but the linoleum.), and throwing notoriously outrageous parties with her favorite boys on the University of Southern California football team.
Bow’s career was eventually shattered by her private secretary, Daisy DeVoe, whom she had accused of embezzlement. DeVoe unfortunately was privy to many of the more sordid details of her boss’s life, and when it became apparent to her that she would have to do time for embezzling, she sold an exposé to the Evening Graphic that detailed Bow’s numerous sexual misadventures. Apart from the slow leak DeVoe’s blabbing put in her career, the advent of talkies effectively forced Bow into retirement in 1933 (her Brooklynese did little to soothe the ear), and her deteriorating mental health kept her in and out of various sanitariums for the rest of her life.