If you love the style and fashion of the 1920s and the cute Flapper dresses have caught your eye then you’ll love what we have in this gallery.
The 1920s Charleston dance is so quick and busy that people thought it was only for professional dancers when it first emerged. But the “roaring twenties” flappers had it down in no time. The following steps will help you grasp the ragtime jazz rhythm of the Charleston. [Read more...]
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Louise Brooks is one the most famous fashion icons of the 20th century and of the 1920s. You may not know her name, but you will know her face. Her distinctive Dutch bob, which she became famous for, framed a face of astonishing beauty. Fair skinned and freckled, Brooks appeared on film as something almost luminous. Her sleek black hair defining a face both inviting and enigmatic. Her’s was a “face that the camera loved.”
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|Birth Name:||Clara Gordon Bow|
|Born:||July 29, 1905|
|Died:||Sept 27, 1965 (60)|
|Raised in:||Brooklyn, NY|
Clara Bow doesn’t look like a relic. She doesn’t look like she belongs in the ‘20s, or even in black and white. She looks nothing like the other stars of the silent era, who either seemed frozen in puberty (Mary Pickford, Lillian Gish), outrageously “exotic” (Theda Bara, Pola Negri), or untouchably glamorous (Gloria Swanson). Look at her.
She looks so … MODERN. Like she could be a star today, right?
Walk up to any person on the street and mention the name Clara Bow you would get blank stares and the question, “Who’s that?” With virtually no showings of her films on TV or elsewhere, it is difficult for anyone in the general public to really know who Clara Bow was or what she did. Poster companies frequently tantalize us with images of Harlow, Monroe, Chaplin, Keaton, Garbo, Wayne, etc., but not Clara Bow.
To those few silent movie fans who do know about Clara Bow, she is the spunky shopgirl in the film “It”. She’s that red-headed girl who personified the roaring twenties and was described as its leading sex symbol, failed in talkies, and had several nervous breakdowns. Still fewer people know her as the “Flapper-par-Excellence” or “The Royal Canadian Mounted Policeman of sex, who always gets her man.”
Why Was Clara Called The “IT” Girl?
The dresses we now think of as “flapper dresses” were shorter and looser, and allowed their wearers to move: to dance, to play sports, even just to walk in a way that didn’t imply a constant state of constipation. And the appearance of knees, shoulders, and necks — along with a certain kinetic animation of those parts — suggested something that Elinor Glyn, the best-selling author who single-handedly paved the way for the likes of Danielle Steele, coyly referred to as “It.”
According to Glyn, “It” was …
that strange magnetism which attracts both sexes … a purely virile quality … belonging to a strong character … entirely unselfconscious … full of self-confidence … indifferent to the effect … producing and uninfluenced by others.
But Photoplay, the leading fan magazine of the time, was still baffled:
“What is this quivering – pulsating – throbbing – beating – palpitating IT? Undeniably IT is a product of this decade. Indeed, you might say IT is a product of this hour. But what is IT?”
So in 1927, Paramount offered a definitive answer, placing Bow in a film very subtly titled … It.
Girls wanted to be her, boys wanted to date her, and old people thought she was a sign of the apocalypse, which obviously meant she was star material. When the fan magazines revealed that her hair was red — isn’t that weird, that they wouldn’t know? Black and white, you so crazy! — sales of henna exploded. (Take that, Jennifer Aniston and your Rachel shag.) The only contemporary analog would be Julia Roberts circa Pretty Woman, before you were like, “oh Julia Roberts, put your teeth and postfeminism away.” Think of how you felt the first time you saw her in the bubble bath? Or in the red off-the-shoulder dress! Julia Roberts in 1990: That’s how people felt about Clara Bow.
In his book “Seductive Cinema” (1994: Knopf Pub.), James Card says:
“…Clara Bow should more properly be compared with Greta Garbo than with any other film actress. Both Bow and Garbo were determined to be film actresses from childhood. Both were observant filmgoers as teenagers and studiously imitated the techniques as practiced by those players they admired.”
Over the next three years, Bow appeared in several films, most notably Wings (1927), which won Best Picture, and The Wild Party (1929). She managed to weather the transition to sound, despite her dislike of the “talkies” (she thought they were stiff, which the early ones totally were) and her very, very strong Brooklyn accent.
But Bow flamed out fast, embroiled in several scandals that would earn her the nickname “Crisis-a-Day-Clara.” The causes were straightforward: MEN
Clara Liked boys and they liked her back
Like many female stars of the time, she treated the boyfriends that she (most likely) slept with as “engagements.” This led to a series of quickly formed and broken “engagements” to the likes of Gary Cooper (so, so hot when young, trust), the director Victor Fleming, and “Latin Lover” Gilbert Roland. When she had a “case of nerves” in the late ‘20s, she was treated by a Hollywood doctor. She developed a crush on the doctor, but who knows if they just played MASH or made out or what. But when the doctor’s wife sued for divorce, she named Bow as cause for “alienation of affection.”
Clara liked boys who were football players
In the 1920s, Los Angeles was still a bit of a cowtown, and USC football was the best and biggest thing going. Bow made friends with the football team, went on a double date with a player, and regularly hosted post-game parties at her house with food, energetic dancing, and (supposedly) no drink. This known association would make it particularly difficult to counter later rumors about her involvement with the team.
1920s Hollywood was trying really f-ing hard to prove that it had the same sort of class as New York. After a series of scandals and concerted clean-up efforts in the early 1920s, the image rehabilitation program seemed to be working. But Bow, by refusing to dispose of her attitude and accent, was the embodiment of all that was “new money” and “trashy” about Hollywood. She was gorgeous, sure, but she was gauche and an embarrassment. She wasn’t invited to who’s who parties in Hollywood, so she made her own (which, duh, were probably much more awesome — do you want to go to the stuffy classy party or the one with the football players, dancing, and flesh impact?) She was the beautiful, beguiling new girl in your circle of friends who you want to like, but who threatens the integrity of the group so you exclude her.
As a result, Hollywood stars, reporters, and others intent on preserving a specific image of the “movie colony” had little compunction tarnishing Bow’s image and/or keeping silent with the rumors started. Mean-girling, slut-shaming, class-snobbery — all in ample doses.
The first serious scandal broke in 1930, when Bow’s secretary and confidant Daisy DeVoe absconded with a large pile of Bow’s personal records following an argument over the handling of the star’s finances and future. (DeVoe had originally served as Bow’s hairdresser at Paramount — Devoe was to Bow as Ken Paves is to Jessica Simpson, only less prom hair.)
DeVoe attempted to blackmail Bow, but Bow called the police and took her to court. This was a spectacularly poor PR move, as a trial ensured that the specific stains on Bow’s dirty laundry would be made public knowledge. DeVoe also put on a dramatic show on the witness stand, insinuating Bow’s constant drunkenness, her hook-ups, and the number love letters she had destroyed at Bow’s behest (which, apart from the love letters, actually just sounds like freshman year in college, but bygones). DeVoe went to jail, but the damage was done.
Now, Paramount could have hushed this up. It could’ve given DeVoe hush money and made the case go away. But by Fall 1930, Bow’s star was already fading, and her troubles for the studio were such that the studio heads were eager for a reason not to renew her contract.
Soon thereafter, the suggestions made in the trial were amplified, made abject, and put in print in a three-week series in the Coast Reporter. These articles suggested what other “upright” publications, such as the fan magazines, had merely whispered: namely, that Clara Bow got around. She drank like a fish. She spent money, she took drugs, and she had sex with men, women, and, when neither of those was available, dogs. She had threesomes. She had sex in public. She was a living, breathing Dan Savage column.
I AM NOT KIDDING; THIS WAS IN PRINT. Sure, this was a tabloid — but not a News of the World bat-boy tabloid, more like a New York Post tabloid. People read this; people re-circulated this. And because her image was that of a joyful, hedonistic woman with which you would like to have sex, people believed it — if not the bestiality, then the wanton sexuality. Even when the editor of the paper was put in jail, the remainder of the suggestion stuck to her image like lint.
The articles demanded that Paramount cancel Bow’s contract, and after the middling success of Kick In and No Limit, the studio released her.
Bow made a few more films with Fox, but her career was over. Even a film lampooning the rumors about her (Call Her Savage), which featured Bow wrestling with a very large and virile Great Dane, couldn’t resurrect her career. By 1932, with the nation deeply mired in the Depression, the joy in consumption Bow had embodied — and that had resonated so profoundly — seemed excessive, even perverted.
Bow slipped from stardom, retreated, married a seemingly nice man, had some children, battled depression, and lived in relative obscurity for the next three decades. She died in 1965, purportedly while watching an old Gary Cooper Western. (That detail, however concocted, is totally the saddest. If I’m watching a YouTube video of my college boyfriend playing beer pong when I die, that will be the second saddest.)
To further comment on Clara Bow’s acting genius, Adela Rogers St. Johns had some very interesting comments on Clara. The following is quoted from her article, “The Salvation of Clara Bow” , as it a appeared in “The New Movie Magazine”, Dec., 1930:
“…She should be the greatest dramatic actress if Paramount would…give her stories worthy of her genius. Poor Pictures have dimmed the blazing light of her success, but with one real story she would come back. I have studied Clara Bow closely. I have had opportunity to talk with her for hours. She has always interested me intensely, because, as I say, I honestly believe the girl has genius.” She adds, “…We find her living only in the moment, only in the present… Of course that is what makes her a very great actress. Since only the moment has reality, her acting becomes intensely real to her. She is so glad to get away from reality that her parts seem real to her. She loves to have them seem real. Her greatest joy is her work. When she is being someone else, living vicariously, getting away from herself and being some girl when she would much rather have been.” She concludes, “I believe her (Clara) capable of reaching heights as an actress not yet reached by anyone in pictures.”