But contrast Star Bashing-Tarnishing the Legend, a rather unusual article by Laurie Jacobson, considering the natural negative slant of journalism. She begins her article with these words: "Bad taste and cowardice." How about "low-life and degenerate"? I sincerely applaud her intelligence and courage in saying, "With each televangelist and politician that crumbles under the weight of scandal, the derisive laughter and cheers grow louder. Why? Because it makes it easier for us to live with our own shortcomings to make less of an effort. In short, we feel better. And that is a very sad assessment of the majority of the American public."18 She is 100% correct. Especially the caption which read, "Poor Clara Bow has been dead for decades, but that doesn't seem to stop the stories about her scandalous sexcapades." She might also have added that the human race has not matured since the early Christians were eaten by the lions before delirious crowds at the Colisseum.
Have we become a culture of sadistic perverts with nothing better to do than stimulate our libidos with lies from the past?
In The Movie Stars, by Richard Griffith, a caption reads, "After his daughter rose to fame and wealth, and lifted him from obscurity and poverty, Robert Bow spent most of his time writing to fan magazine editors complaining about the lousy publicity she got. He signed such letters, 'R. Bow,' validating his signature in parentheses with 'Father of Clara Bow.'"19 Whether or not he accomplished his objective is open to conjecture. Unfortunately, Clara couldn't defend herself even when she was alive, as an article by Paul Jarvis in an unidentified movie-fan magazine circa 1930, "Quit Pickin' on Me, Says Clara Bow," in which she said, "The trouble with me is, I'm not a sneak." How true.
Ironically, in Picture Play Magazine of September, 1926, in an article entitled, "Pet Aversions of the Stars," Clara is quoted as saying, "The woman gossip-the sewing-circle type! I know no one more malicious than persons who spread misfortune, scandal, and exaggerated half-truths. They are so destructive, such troublemakers-all to no end. And at the same time, such disseminators consider themselves so virtuous, so smug, so righteous! I like straightforward people. Gossips are my pet aversion."20
In Classics of the Silent Screen: A Pictorial Treasury, by Joe Franklin and William K. Everson, there is a complimentary article, almost apologetic, which totally glosses over any mention of Clara's impropriety. I respect the accomplishment of Mr. Everson and Mr. Franklin on creating this fine work. I recently had the good fortune to meet Mr. Everson, film historian and author, at New York University where he teaches. He has left me with the impression that had more films, and Stenn's book been available when he worked on Classics of the Silent Screen, the entry on Clara Bow would have been longer. As such, I do not feel the picture is complete.
Is there a hero here? As much as I admire and respect the achievements of Mr. Everson or Mr. Franklin, it isn't them, or even Laurie Jacobson, but someone else.
I found the work of a man named Edward Wagenknecht, author of Stars of the Silents and the Movies in the Age of Innocence. The following articles speak for themselves:
"We have a new indoor sport among us. Many enjoy it more than miniature golf. It is a very easy game to play because there are no rules connected with it. The only requirement is that the player shall lack a certain sense of fairness and decency.
"The game is played around a girl. She is a girl who has never done any of the players any harm, who has indeed given many of them a good deal of innocent pleasure. The object of the game is to discredit her, to humiliate her, and ultimately to deprive her of her employment. To this end any tactics may be used. One may cirulate gossip and slander about her. One may repeat stories one has heard others tell, even though one may have no evidence they are true. One may watch her comings and goings, day in and day out, and every time she makes a false step employ newspaper headlines to make the whole world know about it. One may even use her illnesses and misfortunes, to say nothing of the wrongs she suffers at the hands of others, and twist them into weapons to be employed against her. One may make a matter of public discussion out of intimately personal matters that could not, by any stretch of the imagination concern anybody except the girl herself. One may write open letters to her, reading her moral lectures in public, discourses in which one professes to have only her own best interests at heart, but which, at the same time, one takes pains to fill with sly, covert, underhanded insinuations concerning her private life. One may make her a whipping post for the sins of a whole community. One may tacitly assume that she is a person of no consideration whatever, that everything she thinks and says and does must necessarily be wrong, that nothing about her could possibly be right.
"The game goes off rather expeditiously if the girl has red hair. And there is one other little thing: her name should be Clara Bow."21
This was written during her Paramount days and sent out as a press release by Arch Reeve, then Paramount's publicity chief, to American newspapers. In Movies in the Age of Innocence, Wagenknecht also adds, "I do not believe that such campaigns are conducted by pure-minded idealists, and I do believe that when the writers of the scandal sheets arrive in hell, they are going to have to look up, not down, to find the most culpable of their victims, and this regardless of whether what they have printed about them is true or false."22
In Modern Screen, July, 1931, an article by Lawrence Grail entitled "Has Hollywood a Conscience?" questions the validity of industry gossip. "Is it true that Clara runs around the streets at night in her teddies? Rumors, gossip, scandal. How the whispers start nobody knows. But you have heard them. By a sort of grapevine telegraph, they travel from one end of the country faster than airmail. Some of the stars say that people want to believe Hollywood is sinful, whether it is or not. Clara Bow has said...that the only way for a star to escape sensational headlines is to conform to strictly conventional rules of conduct. Clara herself is certainly not conventional. In her latest splash in the papers, she was accused of receiving passionate telegrams from three men at the same time, and spending hundreds of dollars on liquor. Rumors, gossip, scandal. How much of it all is true?"23
Even in those years, the press recogized the falsehoods that they themselves were printing. Hence, myth became fact.
In the August 6,1989 magazine section of The New York Daily News, there is an article by Dan Young on Brooklyn's Coney Island amusement park at the turn of the century. Part of the article refers to Nathan's Famous, a landmark restaurant. The author states, "Among Nathan's early employees was a bun-slicing Brooklyn gal named Clara Bowtenilli...Bowtenilli was discovered by lightweight champ Slapsy Maxie Rosenblum and singer Harry Richman and became the starlet named Clara Bow."24 Everything in this statement is inaccurate. Her born name was Clara Bow She was a star of the first magnitude, not a starlet. As far as Rosenblum and Richman discovering her, it is ridiculous. Richman definitely benefitted by knowing Clara, not the other way around.
In The New York Times Book Review section of November 6, 1988, in a sidebar by Sharon Shervington, it is stated, "Her husband, the actor Rex Bell, who became a well-known Nevada politician, had her legally barred from seeing her sons and the couple were estranged."25 One of her own sons disputes this. Rex Bell, Jr., in a January 1, 1989, letter to the editor, wrote that, "After my parents separated, my brother and I were frequent guests in Mother's home or apartments and our family continued to celebrate every Christmas together until her death in 1965."26