The Golden Age of Hollywood #1


“I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” – Vivien Leigh as Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire, 1951.

Clara Bow was, arguably, America’s first major superstar. At the apex of her stardom in 1929 she received 45,000 fan letters a month. I’m charting Clara’s life and career through her movies, her quotes and contemporary sources, and look forward to sharing my research with you.

Various records list Clara’s birthday as 29 July, but the years vary – 1905, 1906 and 1907. The 1910 US census was taken on 15 April. Clara was recorded as aged four in that census, which suggests she was born in 1905.

The 1910 census also recorded that Clara was one of three children born to her parents, Robert and Sarah, but the only one alive. A heatwave gripped her home city, New York, in July 1905, with temperatures topping 100 °F. Many people died.

Later, Clara wrote: “I don’t suppose two people ever looked death in the face more clearly than my mother and I the morning I was born. We were both given up, but somehow we struggled back to life.”

Independent Press-Telegram, Long Beach, California, October 21, 1950. “Lady Stars Gain Height.”

Highest grossing film of 1920: Way Down East.

A silent romantic drama, directed by D.W. Griffith and starring Lilian Gish, Way Down East is best remembered for its climatic scene in which Lillian Gish’s character, Anna, is rescued from doom on an icy river (pictured).

Way Down East was heavy censored. The Pennsylvania film board demanded over sixty cuts, rendering the story meaningless. The mock marriage and honeymoon between Lennox and Anna had to go, along with any hints of her pregnancy. Other cuts included scenes where society women smoked cigarettes and an intertitle, which featured the words “wild oats”.

I’m also researching Rita Hayworth in depth for a forthcoming article and novel. Here’s one of her quotes.

“I’m a good actress. I have depth. I have feeling. But they don’t care. All they want is the image.”

Tula

I never wanted to be a star. I just wanted to act in movies. I just wanted to get away from the impoverished streets of Brooklyn and live in relative comfort.

Now, at the close of the 1920s, I was the biggest name in Hollywood. My movies were the highest grossing in the business. Investors depended on me, producers depended on me, my fellow actors depended on me, and maybe the strain of that dependence triggered my emotional collapse.

Actually, I knew what trigged my emotional collapse – my father’s death. I found myself in an asylum, in the care of Dr Brooks. Along with my fiancé, fellow actor Gregory Powell, Dr Brooks was convinced that an underlying issue triggered my collapse, and he wanted me to record my life story, so that he could identify that issue.

Gregory had faith in me. He said he’d wait for me, and that he knew I’d make a full recovery. But to make that recovery, I had to address the underlying issue that had placed me in the asylum.

So, I offer you the notes that I prepared for Dr Brooks. To the best of my ability and memory, I recorded the important events that made up the first twenty-five years of my life. And within these notes I discovered the true reason for my emotional breakdown.

And that’s a wrap!

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