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Brooklyn, New York
Birth Sign
Brooklyn, New York

Clara Bow was a popular American actress who was best known for her oozing sexuality long before Marilyn Monroe became famous. Since her entry into the film industry nearly a decade ago, she has dominated American cinema. Years of exploitation, mental instability, and weight loss eventually forced her to retire at the tender age of 26, an age that would normally be considered a ‘peak’ for any other actress. She first gained prominence through silent films and then went on to humanize what was popularly referred to as the ‘Roaring Twenties’. Throughout her career, she appeared in over 46 silent films and 11 talkies, the majority of which became sleeper hits at the box office. Even today, films such as ‘Mantrap’ and ‘Wings’ are considered to be among her most well-known works. At the height of her celebrity, she was the subject of numerous scandals and was accused of’stealing’ the husbands of other women. As her gambling debts grew, so did her unpopularity with the general public, and she quickly descended from superstar to minions. With the introduction of sound in films, her career reached a stalemate, and she ceased to be the twinkle-toed star of her heyday.

Childhood & Adolescence

Clara Gordon Bow was born in Brooklyn, New York, to Sarah and Robert Bow following the deaths of her two older sisters in infancy.

She attended P.S. 111, P.S. 9, and P.S. 98 before enrolling in 1919 at Bay Ridge High School. She was a very athletic young lady who preferred the company of boys to that of girls. She desired to be an athletics instructor at one point in her life.

Clara’s mother suffered a serious head injury when she was sixteen years old after falling from a two-story building. Later in life, she was diagnosed with psychosis as a result of her epilepsy. She began caring for her mother when she was very young, but she endured a very distressing and unhappy childhood.

Career of Clara

In 1921, against her mother’s wishes but with the encouragement of her father, she entered Brewster publications’ magazine’s annual nationwide acting contest and won a silver trophy and an evening gown for her efforts.

After several setbacks, she was eventually cast as a tomboy in the film ‘Down to the Sea in Ships’. Following the release and success of this film, she was seen dancing half-naked in the following year’s ‘Enemies of Women.’

She also landed a role in ‘The Daring Years’ in 1923, where she met actress Mary Carr. She also starred in the films ‘Maytime’ and ‘Black Oxen’ that year.

Between 1924 and 1926, she appeared in a number of films, including ‘Poisoned Paradise’, ‘Daughters of Pleasure’, ‘Helen’s Babies’, ‘Kiss Me Again’, ‘The Primrose Path’, ‘Dancing Mothers’, ‘Fascinating Youth’, ‘Mantrap’, and ‘Kid Boots’. During this time period, she was regarded as one of the silver screen’s greatest’sex symbols’ and as an actress who was unafraid to defy ‘gender conventions.’

In 1926, she signed a contract with Paramount Pictures for a weekly salary of $750. The following year, her contract with Paramount was extended to five years.

She starred in six Paramount films in 1927, including ‘It’, ‘Children of Divorce’, ‘Rough House Rosie’, ‘Wings’, ‘Hula’, and ‘Get Your Man’. The following year, she appeared in ‘Red Hair,’ ‘Ladies of the Mob,’ ‘The Fleet’s In,’ and ‘Three Weekends,’ all of which have been lost to time.

She made her talkie film debut in 1929 with ‘The Wild Party’. She also appeared in ‘Dangerous Curves’ opposite Richard Arlen that year, as well as ‘The Saturday Night Kid’.

In 1930, she appeared in films such as ‘Paramount on Parade’, ‘True to the Navy’, ‘Love Among the Millionaires’, and ‘Her Wedding Night’, half-singing, half-talking, and dancing. The following year, she starred in the box-office smashes ‘No Limit’ and ‘Kick In’.

She signed a two-picture deal with ‘Fox Film Corporation’ in 1932 and appeared in ‘Call Her Savage’ and ‘Hoop-La,’ the latter of which was released the following year. Her career came to an end following the release of these two films.

In 1949, she appeared in ‘Screen Snapshots 1860: Howdy, Podner,’ in which she played a resort guest.

Significant Works Clara

Her portrayal of ‘Betty Lou Spence’ in the silent film rom-com ‘It’ brought her considerable fame and recognition as an actress.

This was the film that launched her to stardom, and she quickly earned the moniker of the ‘It’ girl. The film became extremely popular, and the Library of Congress selected it for preservation in the ‘National Film Registry’ of the United States.

Awards and Accomplishments

On the Hollywood Walk of Fame, she was honored with a star.

Personal History and Legacies

She had several relationships with men before eloping with Rex Bell, a cowboy, with whom she had two sons, Tony Beldam and George Beldam, Jr.

After retiring from acting, she and her husband, Rex Bell, opened ‘The ‘It’ Caf ‘. It was discontinued following a brief run.

Throughout her life, she was embroiled in a series of scandals involving lesbianism, drug addiction, alcoholism, and incest. Many of these reports, however, were later proven to be false.
She became a social recluse toward the end of her life and began exhibiting symptoms of psychiatric illness following an attempted suicide.

She was admitted to ‘The Institute of Living’ in 1949 for treatment of insomnia and was later diagnosed with schizophrenia.

She spent her final years alone with a nurse and died at the age of 60 of a heart attack. Additionally, it was discovered during her autopsy that she had a heart condition.

In 1994, she was posthumously honored with a United States postage stamp. Bow was nominated for the American Film Institute’s ‘100 Years… 100 Stars’ list in 1999, several years after her death.

She has been portrayed numerous times in popular culture, including in ‘Of Thee I Sing,’ ‘The Artist,’ and the song ‘Clara Bow.’

Estimated Net Worth

Bow spent her final years in Culver City, under the constant care of a nurse, Estalla Smith, and living off an estate valued at approximately $500,000. She died of a heart attack in 1965, at the age of 60, which her autopsy determined was caused by atherosclerosis.


This well-known American actress served as the inspiration for the creation of the popular cartoon character ‘Betty Boop.’