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Clara Bow: Topics in Chronicling America

Clara Bow, Hollywood’s first “It Girl,” escaped poverty to become one of the biggest stars of the silent film era. This guide provides access to material related to "Clara Bow" in the Chronicling America digital collection of historic newspapers.

Introduction

"'Flapper Type' Clara Bow, a brunette Brooklyn high school athlete, 17." October 2, 1923. New Britain Herald (New Britain, CT), Image 11. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers.

Clara Bow (1905-1965) captivated moviegoers from a young age. Bow took on complex roles drawing on her experience as a poor, abused, and lonely child. Critics noted she was “different” from other new actors, citing her ambition, independence, and willingness to be a little “rough and tumbled.”

Bow’s starred in the film “It,” which showcased her magnetic personality, sex appeal, and crowned her as the “It Girl." She also starred in “Wings,” the first film to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Her acting talent, however, was overshadowed by unrelenting gossip and media coverage, with many rumors about her relationships, spending habits, and unconventional lifestyle. Her reputation and mental health were shattered during a salacious trial against her former secretary, who revealed extensive personal details about Bow’s life. She retired from films shortly after, ending a short, but explosive career. Read more about it!

The information in this guide focuses on primary source materials found in the digitized historic newspapers from the digital collection Chronicling America.

The timeline below highlights important dates related to this topic and a section of this guide provides some suggested search strategies for further research in the collection.

Timeline

1922 Clara Bow is discovered after winning Brewster Magazine's beauty contest and stars in her first motion picture "Beyond the Rainbow."
1923 Seventeen year-old Clara Bow is chosen as the "perfect flapper" to star in "Black Oxen."
1926 Newspapers blame Clara Bow for a suicide attempt by Robert Savage, a former Yale Football player. Savage attempted to court Bow, but she rejected him. He slashed his wrist eight times.
1927 Clara Bow stars in “It” for Paramount and “Wings,” the winner of the Academy Award for Outstanding Picture (later titled "Best Picture") at the first Oscar ceremony.
1929 Clara Bow stars in her first talkie, "The Wild Party."
1930 Newspapers report that Clara Bow is in a relationship with a married man from Texas. Bow reportedly pays the man's wife $30,000 in a $150,000 alienation of affection suit.
January-February 1931 Daisy De Voe, Bow’s ex-secretary, is brought to court for theft of Bow’s money and property. In a sensational trial, Bow’s personal life, relationships, and habits are exposed to the public. Bow has a mental breakdown, is hospitalized, and dropped by Paramount. De Voe is charged with 35 counts, but is only convicted of one charge of grand theft (embezzling $825 from Clara Bow). De Voe is sentenced to five years probation with the first 18 months in Los Angeles County Jail.
August 1931 Frederic Girnau, publisher of a weekly tabloid newspaper "The Coast Reporter" is convicted of sending obscene matter through the mail about Clara Bow. He is sentenced to eight years in prison and fined $1,000.
December 1931 Clara Bow marries Rex Bell, a cowboy actor and they buy a ranch in Nevada.
1932-1933 Clara Bow returns to acting, starring in “Call Her Savage" and "Hoop-La."
July 1933 Sam Rork, the producer of "Call Her Savage" dies of a heart attack. Despite Clara Bow's close friendship with Rork, his family does not allow her to attend the funeral.
December 17, 1934 Clara Bow retires from acting to focus on being a mother to her newborn son, Rex Jr.
June 1935 Clara Bow and Rex Bell sell all of their properties in Malibu Beach and Beverly Hills. Their move to Nevada is prompted by the establishment of California state income tax.
1954 Clara Bow's husband, Rex Bell becomes Lieutenant Governor of Nevada.
July 4, 1962 Rex Bell dies from a heart attack. Clara Bow is living separately at a care facility in Culver City, California. He leaves his estate to their two sons.