Monday, October 14, 2013

SCANDAL! Clara Bow: The It Girl's Lifestyle on Trial

Welcome to 2013 - a year of scandals at A Person in the Dark. Yes, I love movies, but I confess I am a sucker for those juicy Hollywood scandals of old.
October's scandal: Clara Bow and the Hired Help
The irresistible Clara Bow
The troubled life of Clara Bow is legendary. Behind the vivacious and fun-loving persona of the "It Girl" was an uneducated woman whose mad mother had tried to kill her and whose drunken amd worthless father had most likely sexually abused her. Her trusting nature and lack of a support system that had her best interests at heart lead her to be taken advantage of by friends, lovers, family and employers. Paramount Studios had notoriously overworked her and exploited the quintessential flapper in movie after movie and, when she was worn out by life and frightened by the microphone, famously saw her as all washed up at age 25. Her no-good father continued to mooch off of her until his death and lovers used her to get their names in the papers.
Clara never thought she was beautiful, but we disagree

From 1923 - 1929 Clara Bow was one of Hollywood's biggest stars. She was also one of its most provocative, with scandals always swirling about her. Her parade of lovers was legendary (she had four fiancees: Gilbert Roland, Victor Fleming, Harry Richmond and eventual hubby, Rex Bell, as well affairs with Gary Cooper, a married doctor whose wife named her as the "other woman" in a divorce case and maybe Bela Lugosi who kept a nude portrait of Clara until his death) and her devil-may-care attitude shocked many of Hollywood's elite.
Clara's fiancees: Rex Bell, Gilbert Roland, Victor Fleming and Harry Richman
By 1930, Clara was worn out. Tired of the merry-go-round of lovers, the callousness of her studio and scared to death of sound films, Clara thought she had found 2 strokes of good luck when (a) handsome cowboy star Rex Bell entered her life, and (b) private secretary (and former hairdresser) Daisy DeVoe (originally DeBoe) began to set her affairs in order. There was only one problem: Bell and Devoe disliked one another and guarded Clara, and their position in her life, with equal jealously.

In 1929, DeVoe opened a "special account" in which Clara's paychecks were deposited and from which DeVoe paid her bills. Under DeVoe's management, Clara went from near bankruptcy to financial health. However, she lost the power struggle with Bell, who accused Daisy of stealing from Clara and fired her. When Daisy asked for a severance settlement, Bell interpreted this as blackmail and notified the police.

At Bell's and Paramount's request, DeVoe was arrested and questioned for 27 straight hours. Sticking to her guns, she refused to sign a confession and steadfastly asserted her innocence. She was then jailed without the opportunity to contact an attorney. Upon release, she sued the Los Angeles District Attorney for false imprisonment  who, in turn, retaliated by charging Devoe with 37 counts of grand theft.
Clara is smeared 
In the end, DeVoe was cleared of 34 counts and found guilty, unbelievably  of only 1. It was unbelievable because it involved a check for $825 signed by Clara herself and made payable to the IRS for her income taxes. For this offence, DeVoe got 18 months in prison.
Clara testifies to the Grand Jury
But it was Clara Bow who received the harshest punishment. During the trial DeVoe divulged the most intimate and unflattering tales of Clara Bow's life. Tales of wild sexual encounters, drunkenness and gambling kept the public's attention glued to the trial. Smelling blood, a smarmy yellow paper called The Coast Reporter printed unsubstantiated tales of drugs, gang sex with the USC football team, sex in public, sex with multiple partners, sex with men, sex with women and even sex with dogs. Clara was ruined. In the court of public opinion, Clara Bow was morally unfit to appear in films. Adding insult to injury, Paramount cancelled her contract and screwed her out of the money owed to her.
Clara comes back in "Call Her Savage" looking beautiful and
supported by old friend Gilbert Roland
Clara, bruised and exhausted, married Bell and retreated from the public eye. She made a comeback with Fox Pictures in 1932 making 2 films that were successful. But, Clara had had enough. The remainder of her life was lived largely out of the public gaze, although Bell went on to have a political career in Nevada. While she struggled mightily with her demons for the rest of her life, she and Bell remained married and she had 2 sons who worshiped their mother until the day she died. Ex-fiancee Gilbert Roland never abandoned her completely and wrote her tender and affectionate letters throughout her life.
Although Clara and Rex had a rocky marriage,
she was devoted to her 2 beautiful boys
The story of Clara's dysfunctional Hollywood home eventually found itself as the basis for the Jean Harlow film, "Bombshell." Directed by ex-flame Victor Fleming, he knew first hand how the leeches that surround a star can drain the life out of her. Although it was played for laughs, the vulnerability and hurt that was Clara's was never forgotten by the man who once loved her.
Clara as she is remembered best: sexy, adorable and modern







10 comments:

Patti said...

Some things never change---the smear campaign remains alive and well.

I have to admit, I know very little about Clara, and I've never seen a single one of her films. (I'm not into silents.)

It's nice to know that her sons adored her until her dying breath. That is a wonderful testament to her love and caring.

Flapper Flickers + Silent Stanzas said...

Daisy...*hiss hiss*
Thank you for writing about Clara. Gilbert Roland really loved her, he called her "dear Clarita" her whole life. :)
Her son Tony (who changed his name to Rex Bell Jr) died back in 2011; not sure what became of George (still trying to find info on him).

said...

Great piece! Clara had a though life, but she was such an icon of the roaring twenties.
This week an online magazine published an article calling Chaplin a pedophile and thousands of people on Facebook are now disgusted with him. THenkfully I already knew about everything and can differentiate private life and work. And, as Clara, I have no doubt some of his scandals and gossips originated from blackmail and revenge.
Kisses!

FlickChick said...

Patti - even though you are not into silents, I'll bet you'd like Clara Bow. She is very modern and natural.

FlickChick said...

Jennifer - Daisy did Clara wrong for sure, but after being thrown in jail and harassed so badly, she probably felt the need for revenge. Poor Clara was the one who suffered in the end (although Daisy had to do 18 months in jail for check that Clara signed).

FlickChick said...

Le - don't you just hate that? But, people love the juicy gossip and don't really care about the truth.

Silver Screenings said...

The story of Clara Bow is so, SO sad. It's really unfair of people to besmirch her name for profit. Makes me angry, even though this all happened decades ago.

Hey! I just realized I have "It" sitting on my DVR. Have never seen it, and am looking forward to it.

The Lady Eve said...

I'm not sure I've seen Clara Bow in anything other than clips of her films in documentaries...but - reflecting how long-lasting the damage done to her by the hectoring media was - I know of her troubled private life. I didn't know, though, that her reputation was was ruined because Rex Bell bungled the way in which he fired her accountant. Well, "bungled" hardly covers it.

FlickChick said...

Silver Screenings - oh, I so hope you enjoy "It" - Clara is a wonder!

FlickChick said...

Lady Eve - I do believe that the Rex-Daisy battle harmed everyone, but especially Clara. She was so fragile, he should have taken better care of her.