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Clara Bow. Flapper and "It" Girl

Updated on March 13, 2014

A Young Clara Bow

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Clara Bow's Early Years

Clara was born in the slums of Brooklyn on July 29, 1905 and christened, Clara Gordon Bow. After she reached stardom the year of her birth became a bit of a puzzle after she claimed to be born in 1906 during an interview. During the 1930s, when Clara was in steep decline, she claimed to be born in 1907. She stuck with 1907 for the rest of her life and even her gravestone is inscribed with this year. Clara's parents were not exactly ideal parents due to the lack of genuine love between them. Robert Bow was always depressed because his wife never showed him affection.

Sarah Bow was unstable due to depression brought on by the deaths of her two older daughters who both died in infancy. Sarah had been told by her doctor not to become pregnant again. The rationale behind this warning is unclear. The facts were probably lost on Sarah because she was uneducated and probably did not understand what her doctor was saying in regards to her feminine issues. But Sarah intended to keep trying for a family even if it killed her. She had married Robert Bow for the sole purpose of having children and she simply could not go to her grave a childless woman.

Robert Bow tried to be an entrepreneur but somehow failed at just about every venture he attempted. He ended up taking odd jobs in between business attempts. The family was barely getting along financially and emotionally when Sarah fell out of an upstairs window and suffered a severe head injury. She was diagnosed with psychosis resulting from epilepsy. She was later diagnosed with paranoia and numerous other mental disorders. Clara was now a caretaker for her mother who was prone to wild and unpredictable outbursts that were escalating into violence.

After Clara was attacked by her mother with a butcher knife in the middle of the knight, Sarah was committed to a sanitarium for the remainder of her life.

Clara Bow, The Flapper

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Clara Bow With Her Father in 1931

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The "It Girl"

Sixteen year old Clara Bow could escape from her unhappy cold-water tenement home in Brooklyn for a few hours whenever she opened her favorite movie magazines. She spent hour imitating Gloria Swanson, Theda Bara, and Lillian Gish, and many more hours fantasizing about how glamorous their lives were compared to hers.

She was pretty and her father gave her many compliments during her childhood and teen years, and in the old fashioned American fashion, let her know that she could be a movie star if she really wanted to be. If his entrepreneurial dreams were declining, Clara's were just beginning. Robert Bow helped his little Clara enter a "fame and fortune" contest, and Little Miss Bow was selected by the magazine that ran the contest, and while she was having photos taken of herself to send in to Hollywood, another New Yorker had high ideals of winning also, It was none other than William Haines, the first gay movie star. They were to choose a male and a female to send to Hollywood and Williams Haines won a few minor bit parts in movies, while Clara's prize was a rather substantial part in a movie.

Clara did such a great job that she began a string of movies with her parts growing more important with each one. She had an uninhibited saucy style that drew audiences in. She was quickly given the nickname, "The Brooklyn Bonfire".

Bow was soon being billed as the "ultimate jazz baby" as the roaring 20's were just beginning to roar. She made hit after hit, and when she made the movie "It" by Elinor Glynn, she became known as the "It girl" and received more fan mail than any other star, and dominated fan magazines.

Clara Bow had an affair with a young Gary Cooper and convinced the studio to give him his big chance, which resulted in he getting the part that launched him to stardom, that of a pilot in "wings".

Gary Cooper was just one of many lovers Clara's name was linked to. Some others were Richard Arlen, Buddy Rogers, John Gilbert, Charles Farrell, Frederic March, Gilbert Roland, Eddie Cantor, Bela Lugosi, Victor Fleming and many others.

In a very personal interview Clara said, "I think that wildly fun and happy people are usually concealing something about themselves. The best thing that life has taught them is to snap at any opportunity to have fun because they are sure that at any minute fate is going to hit them over the head." She was 22 years old when she made that statement. Perhaps a premonition of what might happen to her.

Clara had always suffered from insomnia, and suffered a nervous breakdown while working on one of her films. Clara had a devoted friend who paid her bills, kept the house running, and did errands for her. Her name was Daisy DeVoe, astudio hairdresser at Paramount. Miss Bow asked Daisy to become her live-in secretary in 1928. It was a big mistake. Clara discovered that Daisy had indeed been sharing in everything of Clara's including her bank account. Missing were $35,000, clothing, furs, jewelry and silver, as well as love letters, and telegrams.

Shocked and hurt, Clara fired Daisy who in retaliation, threatened blackmail. Clara's fans knew she was wild, but they had no idea how many men had shared her sleepless nights. When Clara refused to play the victim any longer, Daisy made good on her threat, selling her version of Clara's romantic adventures to a newspaper, Clara pressed charges, and a jury decided in her favor and DeVoe received an 18 month sentence.

But serious damage to Clara's career and reputation had occurred. Everything was catching up with Clara. The Brooklyn Bonfire was burning out.

She collapsed and went to a sanitarium in Glendale, California. After she was released she married actor Rex Bell in 1931.

The marriage surprised many of her fans. Rex Bell was a moderately successful cowboy star with classic Hollywood good looks and charisma. In 1934 their first son was born, Tony Bedlam, later to change his name to Rex Bell Jr., then in 1938 another son was born, George Beldam Jr. Clara officially retired from movies in 1933.

As stressful as making movies had been, retirement was a very sad time in life for Clara. She was lonely, due to her ex-movie star husband making his mark in politics and her two sons taking an interest in their father's achievements. Clara felt out of place and never found herself. In 1937 her husband, Rex Bell, tried in vain to cheer her up by opening a restaurant for her in Hollywood called The It Cafe. It was his hope that she could go there to re live her success, and receive the adulation that she was craving. It helped Clara in many ways but Clara was still at a loss for who she really was and therefore, all the glorification she received from fans could never solve her real turmoil. Besides, she was quickly becoming an introvert. By the mid 1940s Clara stayed out of sight because she was gaining weight at a rapid pace and even ballooned to almost 200 pounds at one point.

After years of depression, entering and re entering hospitals for psychiatric care, she died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 60 in 1965.


Clara Shortly After Her Marriage to Rex Bell

Rex Bell, Clara Bow, and Their Sons

Rex Bell Jr. Shortly Before His Death

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Rex Bell, and Clara Bow's Sons

Rex Bell thoroughly came into his own as Clara's career decline excelerated. The couples sons greatly admired their father for his charm, charisma, and power. After retiring from the movies at approximately the same time as Clara as a cowboy actor Rex Bell planned a career change. He and Clara moved to Nevada in 1931 and developed their own ranch.

In 1944 Bell ran for the United States House of Representatives on the Republican ticket. He lost the election to the wiley and better connected Berkeley Bunker, but the Nevada residents of the 1930s knew that Rex had the best plan for the middle class and Rex was a very popular citizen. In 1954 he became lieutenant governor and remained in the public eye as Clara disappeared into the shadows.

Rex Bell was a greatly respected Republican politician who had the average American at his best interest. The residents of Nevada appreciated Rex and were greatly shaken when he passed away while campaigning for governor re election in 1962. Shortly after his passing, and very possibly while still mourning the death of his father, Clara's eldest son changed his name from Rex Larbow Beldam to Rex Bell Jr.

He had his sights set on being all that his father was and wasted no time getting a thorough education. He first attended Note Dame in the mid 1950s, then enrolled in law school. Bell Jr.'s legal career in 1969 as a Clark County deputy district attorney and went on to serve as counsel for the city of Las Vegas police department. In 1972 he was elected as justice of the peace and sought the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor, the same position his father had held ten years prior.

After serving one term, Rex went on to become Clark County district attorney in 1979 and lived a good life. He was admired and respected in much the same way that his father was, albeit not as much the extrovert.

He was described by friends as proud to be a Nevadan and exuded a kind, humble and generous nature. He passed away at the age of 76 in 2011 after a battle with cancer.

Clara Bow and Her Sons In the Mid 1960s

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