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CLARA BOW: My Life Story

as told to Adela Rogers St. Johns

NOTE: This is the original article as it appeared in PHOTOPLAY issues 2/28, 3/28, and 4/28. The text is broken into the three original parts, and the original introductions and illustrations are included.

PART ONE: 2/28

First Installment of the touching human document of a tragic child who became the very spirit of gayety

* * * * * * * * * *

When I write down at the very beginning that I am twenty-two years old, I can hardly believe it.

I feel much older than that. I feel as though I had lived a long, long time. That is because I have suffered so much, and suffering makes you feel old inside, just as happiness makes you feel young even when your hair is white.

I think this story will surprise you very much. It isn't at all the sort of life story you would expect to belong to Clara Bow. For you know the Clara Bow who has been driven by misery and loneliness to clutch at joy and merriment almost wildly.

There is only one thing you can do when you are very young and not a philosopher, if life has frightened you by its cruelty and made you distrust its most glittering promises. You must make living a sort of gay curtain to throw across the abyss into which you have looked and where lie dread memories.

I think that wildly gay people are usually hiding from something in themselves. They dare not be quiet, for there is no peace nor serenity in their souls. The best life has taught them is to snatch at every moment of fun and excitement, because they feel sure that fate is going to hit them over the head with a club at the first opportunity.

I don't want to feel that way. But I do. When I have told you about my short life, maybe you will understand why, in spite of its incongruity, I am a madcap, the spirit of the jazz age, the premier flapper, as they call me. No one wanted me to be born in the first place.

And when I was born, at first they thought I was dead. They thought every spark of life had been strangled out of me during my long and stormy entrance into this world. They fought for hours, fanning the poor, feeble little flame of life that was in me, and it would flare up and then die down again, quite as though I didn't want to stay.

Everything was against my coming here at all, everything was against my staying here.

There have been a great many times when I wish they hadn't fought quite so hard to keep me here. But I don't feel that way any more.

I don't know an awful lot about my ancestors or relations. It isn't really strange if my memory is not good, if I am not very definite about facts and dates. I have been trying all my life to forget, not to remember. Besides, young people aren't much interested in family history. At least I wasn't. I don't like my relations, anyway. They never paid any attention to me until I was successful and they weren't kind to me or to my mother when we needed it so much. I try not to have resentment against them, but I don't care anything about them.

My father is the only person I care for, really.

My mother was a very beautiful woman. She came of a good family in New York State and her mother was French and her father was Scotch. They lived on a country place a few hours from New York City. I was never there, because it was gone before I was born. But from what my mother told me it must have been quiet and beautiful and prosperous.

Perhaps that was the reason that my mother didn't want to marry. She idolized her father and loved the home where she had been born and brought up, and that was all she wanted from life. Marriage frightened her. She felt no need of anything more in her life than her father and mother and the quiet life she lead in the country.

On an adjoining farm lived a family named Bow. They had always been neighbors. The Bows were Scotch and English, of the kind I guess that make landed farmers and squires in the old country. There were thirteen children in the Bow family and my mother had always played with them. The youngest of them was a boy, Harry Bow. And he was the darling of the family and just about my mother's age. He was a handsome, talented boy who captivated everybody. He just made people like him so much that they didn't stop to think much else about him. He had a merry laugh, and he could ride and play and was always good-natured and happy.

My mother's mother adored him. When she knew that she was dying, she called my mother to her and told her that this young man had asked for her hand and that she must marry him. My grandmother was very old-fashioned, very French in her thoughts and traditions, and she did not believe that a girl could be happy unless she was married. She said she couldn't die happy unless she knew that her daughter had a husband to care for her and provide for her later years.

They promised.

They were married shortly after she died.

I do not know all the story of what happened here and it is too painful for my father to speak of.

But you see my father had been terribly spoiled. He had neglected his opportunities for education and training. He often speaks sadly now of his wasted youth and I know that is what he means. He had a quick, keen mind, he had imagination, he had all the natural qualifications to make something fine of himself. But he just didn't.

His people thought him too young to marry; they realized he was not able to face the world and take care of himself and a wife. They were very unjust it seems to me, for after all his life had been in their hands. But they cast him off after his marriage.

My mother's people had gradually lost what money they had - they had never been rich -and I think my grandmother must have been the business head of the family, for after her death things went to pieces very quickly, and the home my mother had loved had been sold.

So soon after they were married, my father and mother and her father moved to Brooklyn and my father started a small business there. They lived in a very small place to begin with, only two rooms, and it was hard on them both. My mother had always been accustomed to country life and she always hated the city. My father had never worked and he had always had money and attention. My grandfather was unhappy over the loss of his wife and his home and over being dependent upon them.

I do not think my mother ever loved my father. He knew it. And it made him very unhappy, for he worshipped her always. His devotion to her, his unfailing gentleness and kindness all through the years of her illness is like a miracle to me.