The “It Girl”: Clara Bow’s Star Persona, Scandal and Celebrity

In February 1927, Paramount studios produced the romantic comedy It as a star vehicle for feature player Clara Bow, whose reputation was soaring based on her flapper characters in several successful movies, including The Plastic Age (1925), Dancing Mothers (1926), and Mantrap (1926). Paramount producer P.B. Schulberg contracted British romance author Elinor Glyn for $50,000 to write the novella of the same title which was originally published in Cosmopolitan magazine, and to promote Bow as the embodiment of “It.” Whereas Glyn’s novella focussed on an aristocratic woman and a powerful self-made man with “It,” in the film Bow’s working-class shop girl heroine, Betty Lou Spence, is the one with “It.” Glyn’s definition of “It” was presented in at least three places in the film, and Glyn herself appeared in the film. A year before the film was released, Glyn explained her definition of “It” to Photoplay journalist Dorothy Spensley: “It is the particular fascination possessed by men – much more often than women – which makes them immensely attractive to all women and even to men.” “It is largely to do with animal magnetism,” and is “a purely virile quality.” “The person who possesses It,” Glyn continued, “is always utterly unself-conscious and perfectly indifferent and unaware of anyone’s interest in him.” Glyn emphasized that her idea of “It” was more than simply a popular euphemism for “sex appeal.” In Glyn’s definition, the possessor of “It” had an indescribable charisma and charm- “a vital life force,” encompassing a quality of the mind as well as physical attraction. [1]

When “It” was anchored to Clara Bow’s performance in the film, the term took on new meaning. Bow’s “It” is visually encoded as sexually appealing and over-rides Glyn’s definition with her youthful, jazz-age exuberance, vigorous movements, rapid-fire changes in poses and moods, and a use of fashion that suggests a dynamic and sexual feminine style. Contradictorily, Bow introduced a new visible and knowing eroticism that united sex appeal and charm with innocence and comedy in her performance of the working girl flapper, Betty Lou. Her film-mediated performance of the flapper made sex fun for women, but it also signalled some of the dangers of unbridled sex for young women. Her performance incorporated some of the edgier aspects of her own working-class upbringing in the tenements of Brooklyn that allowed her to take the flapper in a new sexier direction, although she was never vulgar. A few months after the film was released, novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald who was widely heralded with bringing the flapper to US popular culture, described Clara Bow as “the quintessence of what the term ‘flapper’ signifies…pretty, impudent, worldly wise, briefly clad and ‘hard berled.’” [2] These aspects of Bow’s performance in the film, her star biographies in movie fan magazines, and studio publicity were formative in the construction of her star persona as the “It Girl.” The film made her a national sensation and an icon of sexual modernity where a new youthful feminine ideal of the mobile, sexy modern girl replaced the ideal of feminine gentility of the Victorian era. As the “It Girl,” she was an object for consumerism as Hollywood soon realized that “It” was “more valuable than diamonds,” and could “move mountains and cash registers.” [3]

Clara Bow burst into the turbulent Hollywood scene of the 1920s where she realized the dreams of screen-struck girls by becoming a film star. The rise of the American film industry in the 1910s and 1920s coincided with young women’s soaring participation in public life. Historian Hilary Hallett challenges the dominant myths about the industry’s origins in the genius of white male figures like D.W. Griffiths, and instead describes the new urban milieu that attracted young women to Los Angeles as a “Hollywood Bohemia,” where girls of mostly working-class backgrounds enjoyed unrivaled opportunities for visibility, mobility, and professional satisfaction. [4] Clara Bow was not only a product of the movies but also a modern girl, who at least to some extent, made herself. She escaped her physically and emotionally abusive childhood by winning the 1921 “Fame and Fortune” contest sponsored by Brooklyn-based Brewster publications. She went to Hollywood in 1923, at the invitation of Preferred Pictures producer B.P. Schulberg, and at the age of seventeen went to work making pictures. Schulberg exploited her terribly. She made fourteen films in 1925, eight in 1926, four in 1928, three in 1929, and four in 1930. As a feature player she was typecast into flapper roles before winning her starring role in It. The flipside of the modern girl as a flapper and a movie star was that she was also a scandalous feminine type. Fears that the girls who flocked to Hollywood would be corrupted fuelled the resurgent censorship movements of the early 1920s, and heavily publicized Hollywood scandals reinforced the stereotype of Hollywood film stars as morally corrupt. In 1931 after a series of heavily publicized romances, scandals, and illnesses she chose to leave Paramount and went to live at the Nevada ranch of her boyfriend Rex Bell. Bow returned to Hollywood to make two more films for Fox studios, Call Her Savage in 1932, and Hoopla in 1933, before retiring permanently.

This article demarcates the ways in which Clara Bow’s star persona as the “It Girl” was interwoven with constructions of gender, sexuality, and class. I argue that Bow’s star narrative was in part a modern-day Cinderella tale where a poor girl from the tenements of Brooklyn could become a movie star and realize the new sexual freedoms and public visibility of the flapper – the independence, visibility, romance, and career opportunities, but it was also a cautionary tale about the dangers of the flapper, the dilemmas of female celebrity, and uninhibited female sexuality. Firstly, I examine her performance of the flapper in It. The strategic construction of her public identity as the “It Girl,” hinged on her performance of the working girl flapper Betty Lou in the film. Building on the research of Sara Ross and others, I suggest that Bow introduced a working-class dimension to the triangle of class, gender, and sexuality by infecting the flapper with her performance of the independent, flirtatious, sexually knowing working girl flapper. [5] Secondly, I delve into the “star texts” about Bow published in movie fan magazines and newspapers which informed her image as the “It Girl” in the cultural imagination. Bow’s star persona was a constructed identity although there are points of convergence with her biography, hinting at the uneasy line between the media presentation and studio publicity and her “real” self. Much of the material in fan magazines was fabricated by studio publicity departments, who wrote the copy that filled the pages of the magazines with the so-called “authorized” and “exclusive” material for a star-hungry readership. Drawing on the seminal work of Dyer on stardom, I examine the close connection between Bow’s star persona and the ideological tensions surrounding the flapper. [6] Thirdly, I turn a critical lens to the scandals that followed the screen star who was also a celebrity. Film actresses who were drawn to the allure of fame walked a tightrope between celebration and condemnation. Celebrity, as Hallett argues, trucked in emotion and gossip, suggesting a close association with sexuality and the projection of a feminized self. [7] In 1920s Hollywood star scandals were a site for the representation of moral transgression and social unconventionality, particularly for women for whom independence and virtue were often viewed as incompatible. In a similar vein, the flapper embodied the sense of scandal which was attached to the presence of women in public. [8] Consequently, the vivacious, impulsive sexuality which Clara Bow displayed on-screen as the working-class flapper extended to her “It Girl” star persona off screen and made her a target for scandal and media scrutiny.

I am not the first scholar to consider flapper films and actresses who played flappers, or Clara Bow’s star-making performance in It. Feminist historians writing in the 1970s and 1980s, such as Marjorie Rosen, Molly Haskell, Sumiko Higashi and Mary Ryan dismissed the feminist potential of the flapper as “essentially one of style and surface.” [9] Their analyses, furthermore, tend to be plot-oriented and did not interrogate the film flapper’s star persona and celebrity, or performance. Despite Bow’s extraordinary popularity and cultural impact, they refer to her only briefly. Higashi dismisses Bow as a “sexual predator,” of a “lower class type,” who “is in perpetual motion in pursuit of her man – almost any man.” [10] Molly Haskell writes, “As the flaming incarnation of the flapper spirit, Clara Bow suggests sensuality and wildness but doesn’t stray any farther from the straight and narrow than the distance of a long cigarette holder or a midnight joy ride.” She continues, “At her wickedest, Bow might flirt with a married man, but he would usually be superseded by an appropriate suitor in a relationship sanctified by marriage.” [11] Haskell, therefore, views the flapper as reinforcing the status quo. Rosen remarks that Bow’s heroines were “all things to all men – erotic, zany, charming, impudent, strong, smart, and joyous,” and that she embodied the most attractive aspects of the era’s ideals of democratization. Overall, however, she interprets the film flapper as a reflection of the troublesome aspects of modern life. [12] Ryan writes that Bow’s performance of the flapper in It had a “wholesome cast” and a “spirited bravado.” [13] For these scholars Bow’s working girl flappers were approachable, attainable and like the real life girl-next-door. However, to the feminist sensibilities of this era, Bow’s flapper ultimately represents conventional gender roles rather than the feminist self-determination they sought. [14]

Subsequent scholars ground their analyses of flapper stars more clearly in the historical context of the 1920s and the cultural ambivalence about the new public freedom of the flapper. [15] Some draw on the frequently theorized relationship between the female film spectator and the silent film star that suggests a desiring female gaze that is embodied and productive. Women’s identification with screen flappers could generate possibilities for women’s liberation. Sara Ross and Cynthia Felando analyze the performances of flapper movie stars and the transformative potential of Bow’s flapper characters. Ross argues that Bow’s performance style allowed her to unite sex appeal, innocence and comedy in a new way that was simultaneously knowing and innocent where other performances of the flapper, notably those of Colleen Moore, consisted of extended sequences of posing and comic masquerade. She suggests that Bow owned her rebellion as never before. While she deployed a performance style built on the convention that the flapper was merely playing when she was involved in daring behaviour, her character’s “real” intentions were obvious giving the effect that her characters were simultaneously knowing and innocent. This made Bow’s flapper an acceptable screen type and mitigated criticism from censors. [16] Felando focusses on Bow’s performance in It and suggests that her dynamic physical movements and gestures had the effect of disturbing traditional feminine proprieties with a performance style that “depicts the strength of an independent modern woman.” [17] Media scholars such as Landay, Potter, Petersen, and others trace how the flapper “embodies and articulates the kinetic powers and pleasures – a new kinesthetic- of the modern body in motion in the early twentieth century” that female fans could mimic as sophisticated consumers of media. [18] This article considers fan response only minimally, and I focus almost entirely on the star persona produced by the film industry and related media. I detail how Bow’s star persona played on, and helped to shape, the image of the modern woman, but also how the ongoing cultural sanctions functioned against women’s sexual freedom.

Performing the “It Girl”
It was part of the cycle of flapper films released in the 1920s by film studios as a means of capturing an adolescent audience, particularly girls and young women. The film flapper’s performance confirmed a new ideal of youthful femininity with an emphasis on the feminine body, fashion, style, and movement. In the 1920s, film studios used “types” in classifying film stars. Clara Bow was typecast as a flapper actress based on her previous performances, most notably, Black Oxen (1923), The Plastic Age (1925), and Dancing Mothers (1926), before she was elevated to stardom with her performance It[19] A studio press release, the writing of which was attributed to Elinor Glyn, declared that she had selected Bow for the part because she perfectly embodied what she meant by “It”: “Had the entire world been searched, there could have been no better example of a possessor of “IT” than this vivacious creature.” Glyn continued:

Miss Bow has that remarkable quality of unselfconsciousness. Her eyes flash like a young fox terrier looking for rabbits. She is filled with life. She is thinking of nothing else in the world but her work and how she is expressing it. [20]

Later in 1931, Glyn recalled her first meeting with Bow, and stated that her “roguish face” and “intelligent acting” delighted her, and “[s]he expressed vitality.” [21]

Film reviewers described Bow’s performance in It as “vivacious,” “dynamic,” “abundantly vital,” “spontaneous,” “peppy,” “bubbling,” “effervescent,” “spirited,” “flirtatious,” and “saucy.” Historian Liz Conor argues that the flapper was imbued with notions of movement, “often loose, uncontrolled, erratic and situated outdoors or in the public eye.” [22] The emphasis on movement did much to associate the flapper with the modern cinematic image and bring movement to the consumption of sexualized images. Critics read Bow’s movements in sexual terms and generally agreed that Bow’s kinetic performance was the highlight of the film. Laurence Reid in Motion Picture News raved, “Clara Bow Gives You an Eyeful of It.” Reid wrote: “There is nothing to it but Clara Bow. But she is so dynamic, so sure of her stuff, so abundantly vital – that she makes the film entertaining in spite of itself.” [23] Variety commented, “you can’t get away from this Bow girl. She certainly has that certain “it” for which the picture is named, and she just runs away with the film.” [24] Picture Play Magazine described Bow’s flapper character Betty Lou as “A Delicious Little Devil.” [25]

Variety praised the film as “a pretty little Cinderella tale.” [26] Bow’s performance communicates a knowing sexuality and reconfigures the conventions of the flapper movie and the Cinderella myth that informed it. From the outset Bow’s performance blends sex appeal with consumer desire reflecting the changing nature of women’s roles in the workplace. The audience is introduced to Betty Lou for the first time as Cyrus Waltham and his friend Monty conduct an inspection of the store. Monty walks down a line of shop girls looking for someone who has “It.” He comes upon Betty Lou and confirms that she has “It.” Betty Lou stands behind the lingerie counter displaying a sexy lace night gown held up to her own body. This has the effect of tying consumer desire to sex appeal. Far from being an object of visual display, or a commodity among commodities, Betty Lou selects and chooses what she wants. The scene proceeds as a series of shot/reverse-shots, which recognizes only Betty Lou’s acquisitive desire through her use of facial gestures and eye-play. She gets wide-eyed and stares directly at Cyrus, and the intertitle reads, “Sweet Santa Claus, give me him!”[27] As a modern day Cinderella, she covets the merchant prince, not an aristocrat as in Glyn’s novels, and she goes after him on her terms. Throughout the film Betty Lou is characterized as a smart, independent, modern working girl.

Bow’s performance combines the established conventions of the flapper type with masquerade and posing and sexual self display. A notable feature of Bow’s performance style was the rapidity with which she changed her moods, expressions, and movements. The sequence in the film where Betty Lou prepares for a date with Monty at the Ritz was pivotal in the reworking of the film flapper and the Cinderella story. Like Cinderella, Betty Lou undergoes what is now described as “a makeover,” where fashion was fundamental to the shift to the kinetic body and intensified movement of the erotic body. Fashion was integral to reshaping the ways women could move and hold their bodies, and in It, fashion was used to confirm women’s visual locomotion and a more visible sexuality. [28] In the scene, Betty Lou arrives at her flat in “Gastown Gables,” which she shares with her friend Molly and Molly’s illegitimate child. She realizes that she does not have a dress. Unlike Cinderella, who is magically transformed by her fairy godmother, Betty Lou is transformed with the assistance of her working-class roommate demonstrating her playful qualities and the flapper’s propensity for self adornment and making a spectacle of herself. In a rapid sequence of shots, Betty Lou boldly cuts into the day dress that she is still wearing, convincing Molly to assist her in converting her plain work dress into a revealing cocktail chemise.

Throughout the scene, Bow is constantly in motion, dancing, striking sultry poses, and fluffing her hair, in playful sexual self-display, in contrast to her demure and haggard roommate who serves as a warning about the perils of single motherhood. In the sequence Betty Lou is compared to Cyrus’s society girlfriend Adela. Unlike the lively Betty Lou, Adela is aloof and in a brief cutaway scene in her boudoir remains nearly motionless as her maid dresses her. Adela is adorned in a sleek evening gown, suggesting the glamour and sophistication of a society girl, and her blonde hair is styled in a sleek bob in contrast to Bow’s flaming red, untamed bob, the colour of which was known to film fans through the pages of fan magazines. Along with fashion, the light skin of the actress and the use of bright lights suggest a purity and nobility about Adela. [29] This contrasts with Bow’s performance. As Betty Lou departs for the Ritz, she raises her hand striking a haughty pose and turns around slowly pretending to be an elegant and sophisticated society woman. She breaks into a laugh as Molly curtsies and announces that “Mademoiselle’s car has arrived.” Her sexual self-display, as Sara Ross argues, is presented in jest, but the rapidity of her gestures, moods, expressions, and movements, does not allow for a clear demarcation between the pose and her character’s “real” self. [30]

The extent to which class and desire are interwoven in the film is indicated when Betty Lou and Monty arrive at the Ritz. The maître d’ sizes up Betty Lou and he is not fooled by her attempts to masquerade as a society woman. He leads them to a secluded table in the corner while Betty Lou scours the restaurant for Waltham with a gaze that “is searching and predatory.” Consistent with the flapper’s attention-seeking behaviour Betty-Lou insists upon a table where she can be seen and solicits the desirous gaze of Cyrus. When the flapper cast the “glad eye,” she enacted a specifically female power that revealed the erotic possibilities and acquisitive desires of modern femininity. [31] The flapper understood how to use men’s eyes, and this was part of her sexual power. This was another aspect of Bow’s performance of the flapper as a smart, independent, working girl. The scene at the Ritz confirms that Betty Lou has “It.” Elinor Glyn makes a cameo appearance as herself and provides Cyrus with an interpretation of the term. Adela asks Cyrus if he believes in “It.” Cyrus looks across the room at Betty Lou and responds, “I certainly do.”

The kinesthetic power of Bow’s performance is demonstrated in another sequence where Betty Lou and Cyrus go to Coney Island on their first date. There is a humourous montage that shows Betty Lou and Cyrus spinning on a huge turntable called the “Social Mixer,” which dissolves class and gender barriers as the millionaire department store merchant and the shop girl are literally thrown together. Cyrus complies when Betty Lou asks him to hold her tight as they tumble down a giant slide with her legs flying everywhere and with her garters and undergarments clearly visible. Betty Lou is not bothered by her sexual self display, and indeed enjoys it. The physical clowning in Bow’s performance, Kristen Anderson Wagner argues reveals the sensual and sexual possibilities of the female body and the flapper’s resistance to normative definitions of femininity. [32] At the end of the date, however, Betty Lou returns Cyrus’s kiss with a slap and the intertitle states, “So you’re one of those Minute Men- the minute you know a girl you think you can kiss her!” Despite her rapid changes in emotions and her provocative behaviour we see that Bow’s flapper is a “good girl.” As Orgeron suggests, Betty Lou’s slap is a nod to “the real world” and reveals the contradictions and limitations surrounding the flapper’s otherwise liberated behaviour. [33] In another scene Betty Lou rejects Cyrus’s proposal that they have affair, and quits her job.

Unlike the conventional flapper film which typically ended with marriage or the moral redemption of the flapper, the final sequence of It emphasizes the strength of the independent, self-assured Modern Girl. Departing from the conventional Cinderella premise, Betty Lou “hooks” Cyrus on her own terms without regard to conventional feminine proprieties. When Adela is tossed into the sea when Cyrus’s yacht unexpectedly capsizes Betty Lou jumps in to rescue her. After saving her, Betty Lou swims to safety alone. She climbs onto the yacht’s hoisted anchor and attracts Cyrus’s attention by dropping her shoe on his head. He joins her on the anchor where they share their first kiss. Felando writes: “In terms of her performance specifically, Bow appears more highly eroticised here than at any other time in the movie: precariously perched on the anchor, her wet, light-coloured dress clings seductively to her body, and is hiked up to reveal her thighs, which are highlighted by her apparently half-hearted attempts to pull the dress down.” [34] The couple pulls apart briefly revealing the name of the yacht- “Itola.”

Elinor Glyn’s definition of “It” was transformed through Bow’s performance of the working girl flapper, with her kinetic sex appeal and youthful exuberance, made possible by the power of the cinema to reimagine the modern female body with a dynamic feminine style where physical comedy made it possible to imagine female sensuality and bodily pleasure. Bow’s impulsive sexuality, with her use of eye play and her “come-hither smile,” took the performance of the film flapper in a new direction. Bow’s on-screen performance as the sexually assertive working-class flapper Betty Lou had significance in manifesting itself in her star persona as the “It Girl.”

The Construction of Clara Bow’s “It Girl” Star Persona
The gestures in Bow’s on-screen performance extended to her off-screen public persona as the “It Girl.” The star system was built in part to bridge the gap between the performer and the illusion that stars were simply being themselves on screen, and that they simply mimic their film performance off screen. [35] The biographical narratives surrounding the construction of Bow’s “It Girl” identity as a rebellious and flirtatious flapper were interwoven with her cinematic performance. Several themes emerged in these narratives, notably a difficult path of self development stemming from her childhood of poverty with a mentally ill mother, a Cinderella story about her rise to fame by winning a fan magazine beauty contest, the femininity and sex appeal of the “It Girl,” her romances, and fashion. These star biographies were situated in contemporary discussions and concerns about the new public visibility of young women in the 1920s. Bow’s star story was part Cinderella tale and part cautionary tale about the pleasures and perils of the flapper. These narratives attest also to the dilemmas of female celebrities. In the late 1920s and early 1930s Clara Bow became perhaps more famous for her lifestyle than her on-screen performances.

In the mid 1910s the American film industry began presenting adolescent actresses as embodiments of fairy-tale princesses. [36] Diana Anselmo-Sequeira writes: “The idea that everyday, untried girls became movie stars because of a male producer’s transformative action participated in the rags-to-riches myth of female stardom created by the star system in the mid-1910s.” [37] Clara Bow’s narrative of discovery and her rise to movie stardom as the “It Girl” was anchored in such fantasies of metamorphosis. Her star texts typically begin with her childhood in a Brooklyn tenement marked by indelible tragedies including the sudden death of her grandfather as he pushed her on a swing, her playmate Johnny was burned to death, poverty brought about by her father’s unstable employment, and the need for her to care for her fragile, mentally ill mother. Bow’s Cinderella transformation was attributed to her participation in fan magazine publisher Eugene Brewster’s third “Fame and Fortune Contest” in 1921, which she won at age sixteen. Movie fan magazine publishers, in conjunction with film producers organized star search contests to capitalize on the desires and fantasies of “movie struck girls” for stardom, fame, and fortune. [38]

Bow’s path to stardom was bumpy, but an emphasis on hope and determination were interwoven through fan magazine stories. As Bow built a reputation playing flapper types, Motion Picture Classic journalist Alice Tidesley, remarked that Bow was “[a] human dynamo, overcharged with ambition and energy – a frank and amusing child possessing the grit and determination of an army.” Tidsley wrote: “Clara Bow has one goal-Fame. Nothing else counts.” Bow’s success in the fan magazine star search and her vitality and dynamism were interwoven with her performances in Down to the Sea in Ships, Black Oxen, and Dancing Mothers. Tidsley noted that Bow was described variously as “a little roughneck,” “the screen’s madcap,” and the “flappiest flapper of them all.” [39]

In June 1926, Motion Picture Classic proclaimed, “Flaming Youth Conquers,” and announced that Clara Bow was about to be “starred” by Paramount. Classic writer Elizabeth Greer commented that, Bow “probably suffered more than any other girl on the screen from bad taste in clothes and in make-up, bad roles, and lack of restraint,” but her “flaming personality” had triumphed. Greer wrote: “Clara has an earthy quality that is rare among our screen luminaries.” She possessed “what in a man would be termed virility,” thereby pushing the boundaries of female sexuality into the public, and traditionally, masculine realm. [40] In a press release Elinor Glyn stated: “The personality and character of Clara Bow in “IT” is not a motion picture personality. It was written entirely with Miss Bow in mind.” [41] The publicity campaign for the film was designed to hold up Bow as the embodiment of the “It Girl.” A movie promotional poster underscored that “Clara Bow has “IT” more than any girl in the world!” [42]

Journalist Helen Carlisle commented that she was surprised by the selection of the “Flaming Flapper,” Clara Bow for the role in the film since she was not “the Elinor Glyn type,” with aristocratic manners who “might have played the Lady on the Tiger Rug with a Rose in her Teeth,” like Glyn’s infamous seductresses played by Gloria Swanson, Aileen Pringle, Pauline Starke, and Lilyan Tashman. Any one of those actresses could play the “Elinor Glyn type” with their regal manners, long skirts, and sleek hair. Carlisle associated Bow’s public persona with the self-determination and dynamism of the flapper, “with her orange hair,” her “take-it-or-leave it attitude,” and her “need to always be doing something.” “Clara would eat the rose, and the tiger rug, too, just to be doing something.” Carlisle commented: “If working in “IT” makes an Elinor Glyn type of Clara, we’re against it.” She found her “take-it-or-leave-it attitude” enchanting: “The youngster has lifted herself right up by the boot straps, and Hollywood has loved her for it.” According to Carlisle, Clara Bow “reigns alone in the Glyn kingdom of “It,” hence the title of the article, “Tag, Clara…You’re IT!” [43]

Adela Rogers St. Johns interviewed Bow at the peak of her stardom for a three-part serial biography in Photoplay in February-April 1928, and again the following year for Liberty Magazine, a weekly general interest magazine. [44] St. Johns added depth to the characterization of Bow as the “It Girl,” but she was critical of the flapper overall and drew on prevailing social concerns about young women’s new public freedoms and desire to create identities out of the experience of the moment rather than out of a life course determined by tradition. [45] Her narratives about Bow were cautionary tales about the dangers posed by the uninhibited sexuality of the flapper. She described Bow as typical of the “flaming youth” of her generation with their immense capacity for fun. She commented: “Clara, being by nature an extremist, grabs laughter with both hands, from anyone, anywhere, under any circumstances.” [46] Bow told Rogers St Johns that around the time Glyn conferred the term “It” on her she was “running wild,” trying to have a good time. [47] The star’s propensity for fun was attributed to her childhood of poverty and tragedy, where misery and loneliness drove her to clutch onto any merriment she could find.

In the article for Liberty, St Johns wrote: “They call her the IT girl. In Clara’s case there is much more than mere sex appeal back of that word.” Bow’s “It Girl” persona was derived from “a primitive passion for living,” and a “vividness of emotion, a vital current that has been dimmed in most of us by civilization and conformity.” While modernity could be cold and alienating, primitivism offered the possibility of connecting with something authentic, natural, and sensual. She described Bow as “[a] reckless, lawless, honest, rebellious young pagan, with a primitive mind and a beautiful body, both of them capable of every fundamental emotion at its peak.” Bow’s public identity was wedded to the independence and new forms of self expression of the Modern Girl. As St. Johns stated, “Her whim is her law.” Bow possessed “a mind entirely untrained, raw and strong.” “Her one law is to cheat her enemy, life, out of every moment of fun and feeling that she can get.” Her childhood had created a need in her to live fast and furiously and seek forgetfulness in mad gayety. St. Johns revealed that she couldn’t help feeling pity for Bow and that she tried to “tame her,” “[b]ecause I couldn’t help loving her, I wanted to show her that the best protection from life is a certain conformity.” [48]

St. Johns associated Bow’s non-conformity with the fashion and bodily self expression of the flapper and her desire for personal pleasure. She wrote: Her dress isn’t loud; it’s barbaric– and rather beautiful.” St Johns observed that when Clara Bow attended a football game the year before “wearing a sport suit of the brightest lip-stick red, a red tam over one ear, no stockings, and bright red slippers with high gold heels and buckles,” there “wasn’t the slightest use telling her that one doesn’t wear slippers and high gold heels with a sport costume to a football game.” Bow responded, “Why not?” “I like ‘em. They make me feel good.” [49] The stylized images in fan magazines used costume to bridge the gap between on-screen and off-screen narratives of stars. [50] Two photographs of Bow are linked to the Bow’s dynamic, flirtatious, and sexual flapper Betty Lou in the film It. In one image Bow flashes her trademark flirtatious “come-hither” smile, which the caption reads “has won her renown as the “It Girl,” and she is wearing a gypsy costume, which “goes with the smile,” pointing to Bow’s performance as the sexually knowing flapper in the film and associating Bow’s sexualized flapper with an exotic Otherness. In another image Bow appears in “a characteristic beach ensemble: white blouse, blue scarf, orange trousers. Her hair is red.” [51] The fashion and film industries combined to promote the dynamic feminine style of the flapper and a more visible sexuality.

The emphasis on Bow’s hair colour in the construction of her star persona is significant. Red hair suggested a wild, carnal, earthy, and dangerous version of womanhood which was a component of Bow’s public image as the “It Girl.” In March 1928 Red Hair, starring Bow was released. The film was shot partly in technicolour revealing for the first time on film, the flaming tresses of the star. Paramount’s publicity for the film tied Bow’s red hair to her “It Girl” identity as “the American girl of today, vivacious, care-free, warm-hearted, capable of sustaining her own place in her own sphere and choosing.” [52]

In the 1920s romantic relationships emerged as an important component of a star’s public identity as they were elaborated not only on film but also in movie magazines. Sociologist Eva Illouz argues that in the early twentieth century romantic love and sex were incorporated into the culture of consumer capitalism. Hollywood emerged as a “romantic utopia” where romance was swept up in a new emphasis on beauty, youth, glamour, and fame. In star biographies, the star’s personal life echoed the themes of the movie romances in which they appeared. [53] The modern definition of romantic love included fun and personal happiness. Ultimately the patriarchal paradigm persisted, however, and marriage was the desired outcome. Movie magazine readers were fed a steady diet of stories about Bow’s off-screen romances, some planted by Paramount’s publicity department. Celebrity journalists suggested that “gossip never hurts,” and it even added lustre to a star’s reputation. [54] Ruth Biery described Hollywood as the home of “misinformation,” where rumours ran rampant. To reinforce her point she commented, “If Clara Bow is seen twice with the same man, it is a love affair. Three times means an engagement. Because she is young and lively, Clara is a target for the gossips.” [55] It didn’t matter whether these stories were true or not, they planted the idea that Bow as the “It Girl” was not only “fast” in terms of her physical mobility, but also sexually “fast” in her pursuit of men.

By the late 1920s film stars who were typecast as ingenues, such as Mary Pickford and Dorothy and Lillian Gish were at the end of their careers. Hollywood sold a new sexualized female star quality to audiences where nonconformity, impulsiveness, boisterousness and sex appeal were put on a pedestal, and fans turned to new female stars, such as Clara Bow, Greta Garbo, Lupe Valez, and Joan Crawford who played “bad girls” on the silver screen. [56] In using the title, “The Playgirl of Hollywood,” Adela Rogers St. Johns implied that Bow’s romances were fleeting, and described her as the “huntress.” She remarked: “All women are natural born sisters of Diana, but few are, dare to be, or can be, so frank about it as Clara Bow. She looks the field over, selects what she wants, and goes after it.” [57] While there is a strong suggestion in St Johns narrative that she viewed the flapper’s sexuality as unruly and out of control, she also gave Bow more sexual agency than was found among most women of the era. She noted that Bow made no effort to please men; they must please her. The contradiction lies in St. Johns’ assertion that underneath Bow was seeking a master who would not bend to her will. St. Johns predicted, “she will probably make him a marvelous and devoted wife, if he continues always to be her master.” [58]

With the numerous sex scandals, affairs, and divorces in Hollywood in the 1920s, stars attempted to hide their romances. Bow, however, was eager to discuss her love life with celebrity journalists – perhaps too willing, as her openness ultimately turned her into a hazardous commodity for the studio. In telling her “heart life story,” to Ruth Biery for the November 1928 issue of Motion Picture Magazine, the tagline announced, “The Ittiest Girl of the Screen Tells Every Detail.” Biery’s story of Bow’s romances, beginning in adolescence, pointed to an underlying tension between her career and marriage, suggesting that the film star owed her heart to the public. [59] In a Photoplay essay published earlier in the year, Biery asked why film stars dodged the wedding ring, citing the prevalence of divorce in Hollywood, jealous husbands, long hours at the studio, and a need to be loved for themselves, and not because they are rich and famous. She interviewed Bow, who revealed: “It may not be the real me they love; it may be Clara Bow the screen actress.” [60] The dilemma for Bow, therefore, was the chasm between her inner self and the external self that others imagined for her.

Bow’s unusual frankness about her love affairs and other matters turned to media condemnation as journalists sought to explain, “Why can’t the “It” girl keep her man?” Even for Hollywood, Bow had too many lovers. Celebrity profiles in fan magazines commented on her romances with actors Gilbert Roland and Gary Cooper, director Victor Fleming, and Broadway performer Harry Richman, as well as a rumoured romance with a member of the USC football team. Further, Bow was the target of a scandal that erupted in 1926 over her affair with wealthy young college graduate Robert Savage who attempted to commit suicide when Bow rejected his romantic overtures. In an article published in Silver Screen in November 1930, Laura Benham wrote, “On the screen she’s sex triumphant but off screen, why can’t Clara’s beaux stay tied.” [61] In a similar vein, Ruth Waterbury commented, “Clara’s beaux and Cupid’s bow. Why can’t Clara, the “It” girl of the screen, the girl who most perfectly typifies flaming youth and fierce desire, why can’t Clara Bow stay in love?” [62] Benham and Waterbury argued that the restless, discontented, and lonely Clara Bow wanted love, but “she runs away from romance when she discovers it near her.” Waterbury wrote, “Clara Bow has not stayed in love because to date she has never yet been there.” [63] Journalists used the narrative of her childhood of poverty and adversity at the hands of a shiftless father and a mentally ill mother to explain Bow’s “heart hunger.” They claimed that it was during her childhood that Bow developed a mask of gaiety while the fear and loneliness underneath made her unable to find true love.

The “It Girl” Exposed: Scandal and the Dilemmas of Female Celebrity
Clara Bow’s highly publicized romances and her broken engagements were extratextual sources of her stardom. In the 1920s the problems of celebrity fell on the private lives of film stars. Female celebrities, in particular, accentuated emotion and scandal, and their moral transgressions replaced the ideal of the wholesome female star of the 1910s. [64] As Liz Conor argues, furthermore, the flapper more than any other type of Modern Girl embodied scandal. [65] Bow’s highly publicized romances reinforced the image of the flapper as irrational, excessive, and lacking self-discipline. Bow’s sexy flapper Betty Lou in the film was put on a pedestal and transferred to her private life as she ascended to stardom, but by the end of the decade her private life and “It Girl” appeal were a source of condemnation and adverse publicity, and sometimes pity. Photoplay journalist Leonard Hall asked: “Will the Immortal Flapper Learn Self-Discipline? Or Is She Fated to Dance Her Way to Oblivion?” Hall was concerned that not only was Bow the “immortal flapper,” but she might be destined to be the “eternal flapper,” since she had not learned discipline and self-governance. Hall wrote: “Will she not soak up the indisputable fact that the didoes and fumadiddles which are cute and cunning at eighteen are only sad and unpleasant aberrations in a woman of twenty-five?” Nevertheless, Hall declared, it was impossible to “blame” Bow given the death of her mother when she was a young girl, leaving her without “a firm and trusted hand at the reigns.” [66] This star text situates Bow’s story with a framework of a lack of agency or control over her life. [67]

The “It Girl” image which made Bow a star, also made her a target of media scrutiny. The narrative shifted between 1929 and 1932, and movie fan magazines and newspapers publicized not only Bow’s string of romances, but also her gambling, her exhaustion, and her mental health problems, which were attributed to her childhood in Brooklyn and to overwork and the changing nature of the industry with the advent of the “talkies.” [68] Further, in January 1931, Bow’s former secretary, Daisy De Voe, went on trial for embezzlement and extortion. De Voe was charged with larceny of some $16,000 from Bow who had her arrested. Photoplay journalist Mildred Spain blamed “Those Awful Reporters,” for the scandal that ensued. Bow’s action in having De Voe arrested meant that newspapers could publish Bow’s intimate letters and telegrams, and Bow was forced to testify at the trial. [69] On 28 March 1931, just as she was returning to work following her emotional testimony at De Voe’s trial, the headline “Clara Bow IT Girl Exposed” blared across the front page of the Coast Reporter, a Los Angeles tabloid published by Fred H. Girnau. Over three issues, the Coast Reporter claimed that Bow and her boyfriend Harry Richman had sex in public, that she had participated in an orgy in a Mexican brothel, that she had seduced young and innocent persons of both sexes, that she had been treated for sexually transmitted diseases, and that following a trip to Mexico she argued with Richman and went into hysterics and threatened to commit suicide which required an injection of narcotics to calm her down. [70]

As media criticism mounted, and Bow failed to meet her contractual obligations, the narrative of the boisterous, energetic flapper became a crushing story of the perils of the flapper and the problems of female celebrity. Photoplay journalist, Paul Jarvis declared that Bow had never understood the cycle of newspaper publicity, and as a result she was “licked.” Jarvis commented: “And a more frail, crushed, self-pitying little soul you never did see than the tempestuous “IT” girl.” [71] In “An Open Letter to Clara Bow,” published in the November 1930 issue of The Modern Screen, Adele Whitely Fletcher wrote that although Bow has been “described as an exaggeration of an already too heedless generation, as sophisticated, and a girl of the world,” she was “too soft to rule Fame.” According to Fletcher, the “It Girl” type that Elinor Glyn bestowed on her made her a “boomerang.” Fletcher remarked: “If she gave you an immediate colorful importance she also made you a target for every reporter out for a story.” [72] In her response, Bow claimed that she had been unable to reconcile herself with fame, and she had been unlucky to win the fan magazine contest that transformed Clara Bow the person into Clara Bow the film star. [73]

In the early 1930s the scandals and the state of Bow’s mental health mobilized her star story. Louella Parsons began her serial biography published in Hearst’s LA Examiner in May and June 1931 with a description of Clara Bow in the Glendale sanitarium, where she was ill and defeated:

Poor, unfortunate Clara Bow, the little girl who has helped everyone else but herself, is lying desperately sick in a sanitarium. Broken in health, crushed in spirit and racked with grief over the recent articles written in the vicious Coast Reporter, Clara is wondering whether life is really worth the struggle. [74]

The de-glamorization of the film star guided Parsons’ biography and other fan magazine profiles about Bow in 1930 and 1931. “In Defense of Clara Bow,” Gladys Hall wrote that Bow had never been happy and that “the long nightmare,” went back to her difficult childhood, and continued on with her failed romances, scandal, and her unhappiness with having to be the “It Girl,” both on and off the screen. Work too had failed and disappointed her and she longed to play dramatic roles. As a result, “Clara doesn’t care anymore.” According to Hall, Bow did not have the upbringing or the influences to make herself the person she might want to be. [75] Another journalist predicted that there was “Danger Ahead for Clara Bow,” unless she grew up and abandoned her flapper ways. [76]

Fan magazine journalists turned to the question of the salvation of Clara Bow. In August 1931, Sydney Valentine interviewed Bow for Screenland. Bow stated: “Oh, I’m so tired of being the It Girl! So sick of this flapper stuff. I want to play a woman’s role now. I believe I am capable of better work if given the chance.” [77] Valentine declared that it was up to the fans to help save Clara Bow because they were responsible for what had become of the actress with their insistence that she play only “It Girl” roles. [78] Adela Rogers St Johns claimed that Bow’s days as the “It Girl” were over and that art must be placed above personality: “And upon her chance as an artist depends her salvation as a person.” The salvation of Clara Bow was in her work, provided she was given dramatic roles with strong characters. [79]

Louella Parsons complicated the narrative that Bow was broken and defeated and commented on the courage she had shown, and her service to Hollywood, which had been plagued by blackmailers from the beginning. Parsons declared that, “Clara Bow was a martyr in a miserable group of leeches.” Bow terminated her contract with Paramount, bleached her trademark red hair blonde to disguise herself from reporters, and went to the isolated Nevada ranch in the desert belonging to her boyfriend cowboy and actor Rex Bell to recover her health and her reputation. Parsons predicted that a “Greater Future Looms If Clara Gets Better.” [80]

In a September 1931 Photoplay article, Harry Lang described the simple, board shack without conveniences that she was living in at Rex Bell’s ranch. According to Lang, Clara was definitely “roughing it,” but out of these living conditions a new reclusive version of herself had emerged. Lang reported that far from Hollywood she was happier than she had ever been in her life. He quoted Bow in the article: “It’s the first time in years, that I’ve been able to be just myself. No people, so I don’t have to act…I can do as I please, look as I please.” She stated: “I’m Clara Bow, and I’m going to be Clara Bow, no matter what they want me to be,” indicating the conflict between her inner self and her public persona as defined by others, but also her agency. [81]

A few months later, Harry Lang reported in Movie Mirror that, “The “It” Girl Has Found Her Man,” making public in a fan magazine her two-years long romance with Rex Bell. In finding her man, Clara Bow found herself. Although Lang used the “It Girl” label familiar to film audiences, he wrote: “Gone is the hot-cha-cha radiator of the red-haired flapper days,” and she had stepped over “the threshold of real womanhood.” According to Lang, Clara was experiencing “love,” not the type where she was photographed with her current boyfriend, and mixed with “whoopee,” sex, and publicity. With Bell she spoke of herself not in the singular, but in the plural and talked about “our home,” and “our future.” [82] The couple planned to marry, when he had enough money to support them to avoid allegations that he was only interested in latching onto her fame and fortune. Lang observed that a new, restrained Clara had emerged, and it was now possible to imagine her in a dramatic role rather than the flaming flapper.

Clara Bow and Rex Bell married on 3 December 1931 in Las Vegas. Historian Estelle Freedman argues that the dominant discourse of the era did not undermine the centrality of marriage, but continued to emphasize the dualism of career and marriage. [83] Fan magazines followed this discourse and discussed the transformation of Clara Bow from impulsive, devil-may-care “It Girl” into “Mrs. Rex Bell” – poised wife and companion to her husband. Bow told Movie Classic writer Sonia Lee that, “Marriage has given me – myself!” Fame passes, but she believed that her marriage would endure. The fan magazine discourse surrounding the Bow-Bell marriage drew on 1920s ideas of companionate marriage with its emphasis on romance. Bow claimed that marriage had made her “safe and peaceful and complete,” and brought “her a companionship she never had before.” [84] She returned to Hollywood and completed two films for Fox studios, the comedy-drama Call Her Savage in 1932, and Hoopla in 1933, before retiring permanently at the age of twenty eight. Her star story was transformed into one of maturity, solitude, and fulfillment, where she chose marriage over career.

Conclusion and the Legacy of the “It Girl”
The strategic construction of Clara Bow’s star persona as the “It Girl,” hinged on her performance as the working-class shop girl Betty Lou in the film It. Bow’s flapper character had the effect of disrupting traditional feminine proprieties with a sexual desire that demonstrates the strength of the working-class flapper as an independent, modern girl. The technology of film making introduced a new public visibility to women’s sexuality with the flapper’s dynamic, spirited and rapidly changing movements, and her use of eye play. Bow’s innovation was her ability to unite sex appeal, innocence and a playful sexiness with rapid changes in expression, mood, movement and eye gestures using comedy in her performance.

Bow’s performance in It and her “IT Girl” persona promoted the possibilities of the Modern Girl of the 1920s, but also showed its limitations. The fan magazine narrative of the boisterous, energetic “It Girl” became a devastating story of the perils of the flapper and the problems of female celebrity, which fell onto the private lives of film stars, and on women more often than men. Bow’s highly publicized romances, her gambling, and her failure to meet her film obligations shifted her star narrative towards that of the flapper as irrational and lacking in self discipline. Long before she left Hollywood, however, Bow claimed that she was tired of “That Awful IT” that had made her famous. [85]

The flapper representation which made Clara Bow a film star did not transfer into the next decade. Bow’s film career started to diminish alongside the decline of the jazz-age flapper with the economic downturn of the 1930s. Elinor Glyn, who had previously promoted Bow as the “It Girl,” wrote: “The virtue of the women of a nation depends upon the exigencies of the men.” The strain of Depression conditions demanded a new type of “It,” and girls began to wear longer dresses and grow their hair, and “took on all the demure of womanliness of the old-time Southern belles.” [86]

Historians have characterized the flapper as a trivial historical figure because her visibility is emblematic of the way modern women made spectacles of themselves. The flapper is a more complicated cultural and social type. The enduring image of the flapper, as Conor and Ress argue, led to the construction of a feminized youth culture with its roots in the flapper costume and attitude. “Being a young, pretty, semi-independent, precocious female is always in vogue.” [87] Every decade has produced a new “It Girl,” all sharing beauty, celebrity, sex appeal, and that je ne sais quois that is difficult to place from Marilyn Monroe in the 1950s, to Bianca Jagger in the 1970s, Madonna in the 1980s, Kate Moss in the 1990s, and Paris Hilton in the early 2000s. The “It Girls” of the late 2010s and early 2020s, include fashion models and reality television stars such as Gigi Hadid, Cara Delevigne, Kendall Jenner, and the Kardashian sisters, all of whom are representatives of multiple brands, have a ubiquitous presence on social media, and have turned their celebrity into multi-million dollar empires. [88] The “It Girls” of every generation share a legacy from the original “It Girl” of the 1920s – the working-girl flapper turned silent film star Clara Bow.

Acknowledgements: Many thanks to Christina Simmons, Carol Reader and Ann Sprague who read and commented on previous drafts of this article and endured my endless ramblings about the flapper with good humour and kindness.


[1] Dorothy Spensley, “What is IT?” Photoplay, February 1926, pp. 30-31, pp. 140-41.
[2] Margaret Reid, “Has the Flapper Changed?” Motion Picture Magazine, July 1927, pp. 28-104. The term “hardboiled” was used for both female and male stars in the 1920s. Being hardboiled, “meant that an individual was entirely at home in their environment, the modern urban city, and able to function within it; they were necessarily smart, self-reliant, and self assured.” The ease with which they existed in the modern urban environment meant that they were comfortable with the new rituals of courtship in the commercial sphere. See Nickianne Moody, “Elinor Glyn and the Invention of “It,” Critical Survey, 15, 3 (January 2003): p. 102.
[3] Malcolm H. Oettinger, “The Kid Herself,” Picture Play, June 1928, pp. 34-5, p. 98; “The Quest for IT,” Photoplay, April 1927, p. 109.
[4] Hilary A. Hallett, Go West, Young Women! The Rise of Early Hollywood (Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press 2013), pp. 110-53.
[5] Sara Angus Ross, “Banking the Flames of Youth: The Hollywood Flapper, 1920-1930,” Ph.D. dissertation: University of Wisconsin-Madison 2000; Mary P. Ryan, “The Projection of a New Womanhood: The Movie Moderns of the 1920s,” in Decades of Discontent: The Women’s Movement, 1920-1940, ed. Lois Scharf and Joan M. Jensen, (Westport, Connecticut and London, England: Greenwood Press 1983), pp. 116-17.
[6] Richard Dyer, Stars, New Edition (London: British Film Institute 1998).
[7] Hilary A. Hallett, “Histories of Celebrity: The Gender of Celebrity in Historical Perspective,” Feminist Media Histories,” (Fall 2016): pp. 1-14.
[8] Liz Conor, The Spectacular Modern Woman: Feminine Visibility in the 1920s (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press 2004), pp. 209-52.
[9] Marjorie Rosen, Popcorn Venus: Women Movies and the American Dream (New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan 1971), 73-93; Molly Haskell, From Reverence to Rape (New York, Chicago, San Francisco: Holt, Rinehart and Windsor 1974), pp. 42-89; Sumiko Higashi, Virgins, Vamps and Flappers: The American Silent Movie Heroine (Montreal: Eden Press Women’s Publications 1978), pp. 105-09.
[10] Higashi, Virgins, Vamps, and Flappers, p. 105.
[11] Haskell, From Reverence to Rape, p. 79.
[12] Rosen, Popcorn Venus, p. 86.
[13] Ryan, “The Projection of a New Womanhood,” pp. 116-17.
[14] Rosen, Popcorn Venus, p. 86, p. 101.
[15] Sara Angus Ross, “Banking the Flames of Youth,” Lori Landay, Madcaps, Screwballs, and Con Women: The Female Trickster in American Culture (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press 1998), pp. 75-93; Marsha Orgeron, Hollywood Ambitions: Celebrity in the Movie Age (Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press 2008), pp. 99-135; Mary Desjardins, “An Appetite for Living: Gloria Swanson, Colleen Moors, and Clara Bow,” in Idols of Modernity: Movie Stars of the 1920s, ed. Patrice Petro (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press 2010), pp. 108-36.
[16] Sara Ross, “’Good Little Bad Girls’: Controversy and the Flapper Comedienne,” Film History, 13, 1 (2001): pp. 409-23.
[17] Cynthia Felando, “Clara Bow is It,” in Film stars: Hollywood and beyond, ed. Andy Willis (Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press 2004), pp. 8-24.
[18] Lori Landay, “The Flapper Film: Comedy, Dance, and Jazz Age Kinaesthetics,” in A Feminist Reader in Early Cinema,” ed. Jennifer M. Bean and Diane Negra (Durham and London: Duke University Press 2002), pp. 221-48; Christina Petersen, “Just Once I Want My Life to Be Like an 1980s Movie!’: Female Adolescence and the Flapper Youth Spectator,” Rhizomes, 22, 1 (2011): pp. 1-11; Susan Potter, “Mobilizing lesbian desire: the sexual kinaesthetics of Dorothy Arzner’s The Wild Party,” Screen, 54, 1 (Winter 2011): pp. 442-60.
[19] For a discussion of typecasting by 1920s Hollywood studios see, Agata Frymus, Damsels and Divas: European Stardom in Silent Hollywood (New Brunswick, Camden, and Newark, New Jersey and London: Rutgers University Press 2020), p. 39.
[20] Paramount Studios, Pressbook “It,” 1927. Margaret Herrick Library, Los Angeles.
[21] Elinor Glyn, “My Friend Clara Bow,” Modern Screen Magazine, June 1931, p. 27.
[22] Liz Conor, “The flapper in the heterosexual scene,” Journal of Australian Studies, 26 (2002): pp. 46-7.
[23] Motion Picture News, 18 February 1927.
[24] Variety, 9 February 1927.
[25] Picture Play Magazine, May 1927, pp. 71-2.
[26] Variety, 9 February 1927.
[27] Felando, “Clara Bow is It,” 15; Landay, “The Flapper Film,” 238; Orgeron, Hollywood Ambitions, 115; Nicholas Daly, Literature, Technology, and Modernity, 1860-2000 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), p. 99.
[28] Felando, “Clara Bow is It,” p. 105; Potter, “Mobilizing lesbian desire,” p. 446.
[29 ] Stephen Gundle, Glamour: A History (Oxford: Oxford University Press), 181.
[30] Ross, “Good Little Bad Girls,” p. 418.
[31] Liz Conor, ‘The flapper in the heterosexual scene,” p. 52; Orgeron, Hollywood Ambitions, p. 122.
[32] Kristen Anderson Wagner, Women and Comedy in American Silent Film (Detroit: Wayne State University Press 2018), pp. 167-8.
[33] Orgeron, Hollywood Ambitions, p. 123.
[34] Felando, “Clara Bow is It,” p. 18.
[35] Richard de Cordova, Picture Personalities: The Emergence of the Star System in America (Urbana and Chicago: University of Chicago Press 1990), p. 87; Frymus, Damsels and Divas, pp. 6-11; Dyer, Stars, p. 20.
[36] Frymus, Damsels and Divas, 65; Diana Anselmo-Sequeira, “Blue Bloods, Movie Queens, and Jane Does: Or How Princess Culture, American Film, and Girl Fandom Came Together in the 1910s,” in Princess Cultures: mediating girls imaginations & identities, ed. Miriam Forman and Rebecca C. Hains (New York, Bern, Frankfurt, Berlin, Brussels, Vienna, Oxford, and Warsaw: Peter Lang), pp. 163-89.
[37] Anselmo-Sequeira, “Blue Bloods, Movie Queens, and Jane Does,” p. 179.
[38] Moya Luckett, Progressivism, Exhibition, and Film Culture in Chicago, 1907-1917 (Detroit: Wayne State University Press 2014), p. 94; Orgeron, Hollywood Ambitions, pp. 104-5.
[39] Alice L. Tildesley, “She Wants to Succeed,” Motion Picture Classic, June 1926, p. 37. 90.
[40] Motion Picture Classic, June 1926, p. 61.
[41] Pressbook “IT,” Paramount 1927, Margaret Herrick Library.
[42] Motion Picture News, 21 January 1927.
[43] Motion Picture Magazine, February 1927, 42-43, 116.
[44] Clara Bow, as told to Adela Rogers St. Johns, “My Life Story,” Photoplay, February 1928, pp. 30-1; p. 78, pp.104-6; Photoplay, March 1928, pp. 38-9, pp. 116-20; Photoplay, April 1928, pp. 56-7; p. 108, pp. 124-27; Adela Rogers St. Johns, “Clara Bow: The Playgirl of Hollywood,” Liberty Magazine, 3 August 1929, pp. 15-18, pp. 21-8.
[45] Paula Fass, The Damned and the Beautiful American Youth in the 1920s (Oxford: Oxford University Press 1977); Laura Davidow Hirshbein, “The Flapper and the Fogy: Representations of Gender and Age in the 1920s,” Journal of Family History, Vol 26, no. 1 (January 2001): pp. 112-37.
[46] Rogers St. Johns, “The Playgirl of Hollywood,” p. 18.
[47] Clara Bow, “The Story of My Life,” Photoplay, April 1928, p. 125.
[48] Rogers St. Johns, “The Playgirl of Hollywood,”16.
[49] Ibid., p. 21.
[50] Frymus, Dansels and Divas, p. 134.
[51] Rogers St. Johns, “Clara Bow: The Playgirl of Hollywood,” p. 15, p. 17,
[52] Paramount Pictures, Press Sheets Red Hair, 1928, Margaret Herrick Library, Los Angeles, CA.
[53] Eva Illouz, Consuming the Romantic Utopia: Love and the Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press 1997), p. 32.
[54] Adela Rogers St. Johns, “Gossip Never Hurts,” Photoplay, October 1927, pp. 28-9, pp. 134-36.
[55] Ruth Biery, “Misinformation,” Photoplay, June 1928, pp. 40-1, pp. 139-40.
[56] Jan Olsson, “National Soul/Cosmopolitan Skin: Swedish Cinema at the Crossroads,” in Silent Cinema and the Politics of Space, ed. Jennifer M. Bean, Anupama Kapse, and Laura Horak, (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2014), p. 249.
[57] Rogers St. Johns, “The Playgirl of Hollywood,” p. 22.
[58] Ibid., p. 22.
[59] Ruth Biery, “The Love Life of Clara Bow,” Motion Picture Magazine, November 1928, pp. 44-5, pp. 104-06.
[60] Ruth Biery, “Dodging the Wedding Ring,” Photoplay, February 1928, p. 33, pp. 140-41.
[61] Laura Benham, “Why Can’t the “IT” Girl Keep Her Men?” Silver Screen, November 1930, p. 31, p. 58.
[62] Ruth Waterbury, “Why Clara Bow Can’t Stay in Love,” The New Movie Magazine, December 1929, pp. 62-3, pp. 122-23.
[63] Ibid., p. 123.
[64] Hallett, “Histories of Celebrity,” pp. 1-14; Karen Sternheimer, “Enduring Dilemmas of Female Celebrity,” Contexts, Vol. 10, no 3 (2011): pp. 44-9.
[65] Liz Conor, “The flapper in the heterosexual scene,” Journal of Australian Studies, p. 26, (2002): p. 26.
[66] Leonard Hall, “What About Clara Bow?” Photoplay, (October 1930), p. 60, p. 138.
[67] Mary Desjardins, “The perils of “It”: Clara Bow, experience, agency, and the scandalous life story,” Celebrity Studies, 8, 4 (2017): pp. 510-526.
[68] Ruth Biery, “Clara’s Microphone Fright,” Photoplay, July 1931, 31, pp. 120-21.
[69] Mildred Spain, “Those Awful Reporters,” Photoplay, May 1931, pp. 40-1; pp. 138-40.
[70] The Coast Reporter, 28 March 1931; 4 April 1931; 18 April 1931, Margaret Herrick Library, Los Angeles, CA.
[71] Paul Jarvis, “Quit Pickin’ On Me!” Photoplay, January 1931, pp. 32-33.
[72] Adele Whitely Fletcher, “An Open Letter to Clara Bow,” The Modern Screen, November 1930, pp. 40-3; p. 112.
[73] Clara Bow, “Clara Bow Replies,” The Modern Screen, February 1931, p. 29, p. 118. Italics in original.
[74] LA Examiner, 18 May 1931.
[75] Gladys Hall, “In Defense of Clara Bow,” Motion Picture, January 1931, pp. 28-30.
[76] Sydney Valentine, “Danger Ahead for Clara Bow,” Screenland, May 1931, pp. 19-21, p. 113.
[77] Sydney Valentine, “Help Save Clara Bow!” Screenland, August 1931, p. 18.
[78] Ibid., p. 118.
[79] Adela Rogers St. Johns, “The Salvation of Clara Bow,” New Movie Magazine, December 1930, p. 106.
[80] LA Examiner, 3 June 1931.
[81] Harry Lang, “Roughing It with Clara,” Photoplay, September 1931, pp. 30-31, pp. 102-04.
[82] Harry Lang, “The ‘IT’ Girl Has Found Her Man,” Movie Mirror, January 1932, pp. 12-13, p. 121.
[83] Estelle B. Freedman, “The New Woman: Changing Views of Women in the 1920s,” Journal of American History 61 (1974): p. 388; Frymus, Damsels and Divas, p. 103.
[84] Sonia Lee, “Clara Bow’s First Interview Since Her Marriage,” Movie Classic, April 1932, pp. 20-21, pp. 81-2.
[85] Michael Woodward, “That Awful IT!” Photoplay, July 1930, p. 39, p. 133.
[86] Elinor Glyn, “The New IT,” Modern Screen, November 1930, pp. 16-7, p. 123.
[87] Conor, The Spectacular Modern Woman, 220; Stella Ress, “Finding the Flapper: A Historiographical Look at Image and Attitude,” History Compass, 8, 1 (2010): p. 125.
[88] Grace Cordon, “What Makes and “IT” Girl an “It” Girl?” Savoir Flair, 9 December 2019,, accessed 26 May 2021; Lindsay Baker, “Got IT?” The Guardian, 21 April 2021,, accessed 26 May 2021; Michael Thompson, “The “IT” Girls,” Vanity Fair, (September 2000),, accessed 26 May 2021; Sophia Shabbott, “The IT Girls of Every Decade,” Vanity Fair, (October 2016),, accessed 26 May 2021.

About the Author

Christina Burr

About the Author

Christina Burr

Christina Burr is an Associate Professor in History at the University of Windsor, in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. Her research interests are in North American Popular Culture. Her recent research focusses on the Modern Girl of the 1920s. She published "Why the Flapper Matters: Feminist Pedagogoy, the Modern Girl and the Women Artists of the Beaver Hall Group" Historical Studies in Education. She was lead investigator in a local history project that compiled a digital archive pertaining to the Modern Girl in Windsor, Ontario which is available at She is currently working on a manuscript that focusses on the persona of six flapper film stars of jazz age Hollywood.View all posts by Christina Burr →