Clara Bow: How She Got IT
She was sweet. She was sexy. She was fun. She was irresistible. No wonder Clara Bow made such a splash with her film debut in the 1927 silent move IT. Even today, she's still known as the first and most memorable IT Girl.
It was Rudyard Kipling who first used the phrase "IT" when referring to the sex appeal of a young barmaid in a 1904 short story. Later, the British novelist Elinor Glyn spelled out the meaning of IT in a 1927 novella titled "IT." Simultaneously, she co-produced and wrote the screenplay for the movie IT, where IT is described (in a placard, of course) as "that quality possessed by some which draws all others with its magnetic force...IT can be a quality of the mind, as well as a physical attraction."
Bow is best known now for her role in IT, as the shop girl who falls for -- and wins -- the boss. But she also appeared in 45 other silent movies. After growing up poor in Brooklyn, she won small parts in a handful of films made in New York City. Then, as an 18-year-old in 1923, she went to Hollywood -- where she soon became one of the top silent movie stars. In 1927, the same year as "IT," she starred in Wings, a war movie that became the first Academy Award winner for Best Picture. Later, she appeared in 11 "talkies" -- where audiences first heard her Brooklyn accent.
Bow struggled with the pressures of film stardom. A variety of scandals lead to a breakdown that eventually caused her -- at 28 -- to leave Hollywood and move with her husband actor Rex Bell to a ranch in Nevada. She returned to Hollywood to make a few more movies and to open a restaurant with her husband. She died in Culver City of a heart attack at age 60.
Since then, every era has identified its own IT Girls. In the '60s, it was Twiggy, Marisa Berenson, Edie Sedgwick and Marianne Faithful; in the '80s, Madonna; and, more recently, Chloe Sevigny. But Clara Bow -- with her smarts, her spunk and her sex appeal -- has never been matched.
Adding sound and song to the girl-wins-boy story from the 1927 film, the musical The IT Girl preserves the optimism and clear world view of the silent film's story. Inspired by the "special quality" of Clara Bow, it offers today's IT Girls their own chance to shine.
A poster for the 1927 Paramount Pictures silent movie.
Clara Bow, in a gown that was very revealing for its day.