Have you ever seen a Clara Bow movie?!
I hadn’t until last night. I knew Clara Bow. I knew she was the sex symbol of the 1920s. I knew she was this gorgeous, smokey-eyed darling of the Silent Film Era. But last night, I watched the movie that defined her image: It (not to be – and how could it – confused with that creepy Curry clown movie).
I’m currently in rehearsals for The Boy Friend down at Renton Civic Theatre, and as a part of my research, I decided to watch a silent film comedy or two to get into the 1920s spoof of it all. I found It in a library’s silent film collection and thought that the plot sounded just right: shopgirl Clara Bow falls for big boss Antonio Moreno. I turned it on, thinking I would watch 30 minutes or so, pick up some mannerisms, and then move on to an episode of Friends before bed. But I got hooked! I watched all 70-ish minutes with a smile. What a delight!
When my siblings and I were little, we made extensive use of our local library’s (small) movie collection. That meant we watched recorded ballets, nearly every episode of Faerie Tale Theatre, and slapstick silent movies. To my shame, I had assumed most silent films, whether comedy or drama, all had that Keystone Cops buffoonery. I expected nothing more from Clara Bow and It. But it didn’t take long for me to realize my mistake. Clara Bow was natural, charming, believable, lovable. I fell for her in an instant.
And her character, Betty Lou, was no weak-willed damsel in distress. In fact, she was a hard-working girl, trying to maker her way, look after her single-mother friend, and struggle beneath labels and assumptions. I acknowledge that the film is not a picture of feminist perfection or anything, but I was surprised at how relatable I found Betty Lou. She could easily be a character you’d find in a contemporary indie comedy. And I loved that.
But Betty Lou wouldn’t be squat without Clara Bow. And as I watched, I felt that actorly longing that hits me when I watch Jessica Chastain, Meryl Streep, Amy Poehler, Patricia Clarkson, Sally Hawkins, Emma Thompson, etc. I wanted to be Clara Bow. Goofy, confident, uninhibited and human Clara Bow.
She stole my heart while stealing every scene, and I can’t wait to watch more.