Clara Bow’s Movies

Clara Bow’s first movie was Beyond the Rainbow. Filmed in New York in 1921, when Clara was sixteen, the movie went on public release on February 19, 1922. A 16mm print of the film still survives.

The plot is a decent one: guests arrive at a party and are passed a mysterious note saying, ‘Consult your conscience. Your secret is common gossip.’  All the guests have something to hide, so panic and murder ensue.

The note was written by Clara’s character, Virginia Gardener, as a mischievous joke. It’s ironic that in her first movie Clara was the instigator of chaos because, in her own iconic way, that set the tone for her career.

Clara appeared in five scenes in Beyond the Rainbow, but strangely those scenes were cut from the final print, only to be restored when she became a star. Her billing also moved up from ninth to third when she achieved stardom.

📸 A still from Beyond the Rainbow featuring Helen Ware, George Fawcett and Clara Bow.

Clara Bow’s second movie was Down to the Sea in Ships, a silent romantic drama about a whaling family living in a Quaker community. The movie, made during the summer of 1922 when Clara was seventeen, was premiered on September 25, 1922 and went on general release from March 4, 1923.

Clara plays Dot Morgan who, as a baby, is found floating near the shore on a raft made of branches. Dot is a mischievous, rebellious child who wants to be a whaler when she grows up, an ambition frowned upon by her community. So, we have Clara as a tomboy rebel: perfect casting.

Clara Bow as Dot Morgan

Dressed as a boy, Dot stows-away on a ship. She is attacked by a crew member, and rescued by her friend, Jimmie, a cabin boy. The ship returns to port and the main romantic thread of the story, which does not involve Clara, unfolds.

The movie contains authentic whaling scenes and strives for realism. The critics hated it, but audiences enjoyed it. Indeed, the movie played continuously for 22 weeks in New York City.

Billed 10th, Clara received praise for her role in the movie, her natural style contrasting with the mannered approach of the other actors. 

The critics said: “Miss Bow will undoubtedly gain fame as a screen comedienne.” “She scored a tremendous hit in Down to the Sea in Ships … [and] has reached the front rank of motion picture principal players.” “With her beauty, her brains, her personality and her genuine acting ability it should not be many moons before she enjoys stardom in the fullest sense of the word. You must see ‘Down to the Sea in Ships’.”

1920s – 1960s