Clara Bow was the screen's first sex symbol. Cinema's "It" girl exuded sex appeal, enticement and excitement.
Despite the adulation and love of her fans, Bow couldn't shake off the demons of her childhood, and when her on-screen life began to parallel her wild screen image, many in Hollywood turned their back on her. Washed up at 28, she died in seclusion in 1965.
"She had her moment in the sun," said Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, who was executive producer of the documentary "Clara Bow: Discovering the 'It' Girl." "But even at the height of her popularity, she was an outsider."
Audiences hadn't seen anyone quite like Bow when she burst upon the scene in the mid-'20s. Good girls like Mary Pickford and Lillian Gish were the top female stars of the day. Bow, though, was the epitome of the Roaring '20s flapper.
"Clara Bow was sexually aggressive and confident — a real role model," said David Stenn, author of "Clara Bow: Running Wild." "Marilyn Monroe sort of took that back because she was sort of a Barbie doll. Clara Bow was in charge. She domesticated the men. She taught men to come to her. She never gave up her autonomy or her independence."
One of Bow's earliest successes was the delightful "The Plastic Age" from 1925. Bow is at her jazz baby best in this rollicking little college comedy.
Bow's most famous picture was the sexy 1927 romantic comedy "It." Bow, who was called the "It" girl because of her sex appeal, stars in this tale inspired by writer Elinor Glyn, who coined the phrase "It."
In the film, Bow plays a high-spirited lingerie salesgirl who sets her sights on the handsome owner (Antonio Moreno) of the department store in which she works. The two fall madly in love during a date on Coney Island. But true love never runs smoothly and she nearly loses him when she's mistaken for an unwed mother.
But Bow's life soon began to mirror the racy exploits of the characters she was portraying.
Her rise was meteoric and so was her descent. Though she made more than 40 films from 1924 to 1929, she ended up quitting the movie business at age 28 in 1933, a victim of sound films, sex scandals and mental problems.
Bow spent much of the rest of her life in sanatoriums, often sending out Christmas cards with the pathetic handwritten query, "Do you remember me? Clara Bow."