Who doesn't love the It Girl? I do, though truth be told where I fall for Clara is in pre-code Fox talkie Call Her Savage (1932) which I noticed aired recently on the Fox Movie Channel. By the time of Call Her Savage, Bow, at just 27, was basically done, washed-up, through.
Her meteoric rise began in storybook fashion by winning the 1921 Fame and Fortune Contest, a beauty contest, sponsored by Brewster Publications who published Motion Picture, Motion Picture Classic, and Shadowland Magazines. Clara got a ticket to Hollywood and the teenager was cast as star Billie Dove's little sister in Beyond the Rainbow (1922). This led to a part in Elmer Clifton's whaling picture, Down to the Sea in Ships (1922), where as Dot Morgan 16-year-old Clara stole the picture--she did it again, this time in a more prestigious picture, Black Oxen (1923) starring Corinne Griffith.
It (1927) was still four years off, but moviegoers were already being treated to Bow's incredible screen presence. Clara Bow wasn't your run-of-mill skinny flapper, this lady was, and excuse me for saying, stacked, and she knew how to move, especially on camera. She was beautiful in a way that still translates to modern audiences, but most of all Clara Bow was fun, and she brought that fun to the screen pretty much by playing herself.
She's at her best in Mantrap (1926), directed by Victor Fleming, where she marries the straight shooting woodsman played by Ernest Torrence, moves with him to the middle of nowhere and then finds herself unable to resist the presence of Percy Marmont's lawyer who comes on the scene. Loyalties to her husband aside, you can't blame Bow's Alverna, she's bursting with youth, so much energy wrapped up in a pretty package, her husband had to know what he was getting himself into. And Alverna does go back to Torrence's Joe in the end, but even she's worried about slipping again. I mean, if I recall correctly, there's really not a lot to Mantrap, but then again, there's Bow, and you can't take your eyes off of her.
And then there's Call Her Savage, Clara's "come-back" picture with Fox, which includes just about every bit of sin you might dream of being wrapped in a pre-code movie. After opening with Clara's Nasa taking a whip to Gilbert Roland's Native American character, Moonglow, Nasa finds herself sent off to finishing school by her father in an attempt to tame her, though the highlight there is a cat fight with a rival played by Thelma Todd. Following that here's just a bit of what happens in Call Her Savage, as written by David Stenn in his excellent Clara Bow: Runnin' Wild:
...she elopes from her debutante party with a rake who marries her to spite his mistress. Disowned by her family and abandoned by her husband, Nasa seeks revenge by gambling away a fortune. Her spree ends when she is summoned to New Orleans to confront her estranged spouse, now destitute and deranged with syphilis. Nonetheless he tries to rape her.
Pregnant and poor, Nasa moves to a tenement and bears her child in a charity hospital. When her baby falls ill, she sells herself to buy medicine, entrusting the infant with a little girl next door who runs away when a drunk attempts to molest her. The drunk drops a lighted match, the tenement catches fire, Nasa's baby dies, and she returns to New York ...
I'll stop there, I think you get the picture. But the most amazing thing to me about Call Her Savage is that the It Girl from Brooklyn, so terrified of the microphones, talks, and she talks well. Her voice fits her just as well as everything else does, adding yet another layer of charm on top of that smile, those eyes, the total package which lit up the screen every time Clara Bow was captured on film.
We have a complete profile of Clara Bow over on sister site things-and-other-stuff.com, written by Tammy Stone as part of The Silent Collection. Here's an excerpt concerning Clara's rise to fame:
It was in 1926 that Clara hit the big time, when Paramount signed her on and molded her into a star right from the start. Her first year with the studio, she appeared as Alice Joyce’s self-absorbed daughter in “Dancing Mothers”, and really became noticed for her stunning performances as a Klondike bride in “Mantrap”, and as star of “Kid Boots”. The next year, Clara made the film that would turn her into a star and movie icon: 1927’s “It”. The catchy title spawned a generation of fans who would know her as the “It Girl”. At the pinnacle of the roaring 20s, the “It girl”, as personified by the smoldering Clara Bow, would come to represent Jazz modernity, a fierce (feminine) independence, and above all, sexual freedom. She continued on a wave of success, churning out popular movies such as 1927’s “Children of Divorce” and “Wings”, and 1928’s “Ladies of the Mob.”
Despite some contradictions to my own personal opinions in this column, Tammy's profile of Bow gives an excellent overview of the life of It Girl.