When the picture came to Brooklyn I was so excited I couldn't sleep. I asked some of the girls from school to go with me to see it. I guess maybe I wanted to show off a little. I wanted to prove to them what I could do. I thought of those five scenes and I felt sure they'd respect me after that. I'd be a real movie actress.
We went. They ran the picture. There wasn't a single shot of me in it anywhere.
The girls certainly made life miserable for me. You can't blame them. But it was a bitter blow to me.
But not the worst one.
Mother was growing steadily worse and her thoughts seemed to center on me.
She came up to me one day on the back porch where I was doing some washing and she said, "I think I'll kill you. You would be much better off dead. This is a terrible world. Motion pictures are terrible. I think it is my duty to kill you."
I was frightened but - it was more than that. I was so sorry for her, I loved her so. I knew she loved me. I never mentioned pictures to her after that, but every once in a while she would start talking about how it was her duty to kill me. I told Dad and it worried him terribly and we had a new doctor but he said there was nothing he could do.
Things weren't breaking for me at all. Winning the contest hadn't seemed to mean a thing. I wore myself out trying to find work, going from studio to studio, from agency to agency, applying for every possible part. But there was always something. I was too young, or too little, or too fat. Usually I was too fat. When I told them that I'd won this contest, they only laughed. They said the woods were full of girls who'd won some bum beauty contest and they were mostly dumb or they wouldn't have been in any beauty contest in the first place. Which I guess maybe was right. And I couldn't wear clothes and I wasn't pretty enough.
But finally I got a job. Elmer Clifton was going to make a picture called Down to the Sea in Ships. He wanted a small, tomboy type of girl to play a second lead. He hadn't much money to spend and he couldn't afford to pay much salary for this part. He had been at a casting agent's office and they had been going over all the people they knew without hitting the right one. The contest manager had sent Mr. Clifton copies of the magazines containing my picture. After the agency visit he happened to open one of them to a picture of me. It was one in the red tam and was part of the publicity from the contest, so you see it did do me some good.
He said, "Who the dickens is that? Clara Bow. Cute name. That's what I want. Send for that kid."
They sent for me.
But I was terribly discouraged by then. I was so sick of being told I was too young or too small. So I decided to take a desperate chance. I put my hair up, sneaked one of mother's dresses and went over done up like that.
When Mr. Clifton saw me he said, "Great heavens, you're not the girl I saw in the picture. I wanted a kid, to play a tomboy part. You won't do at all."
Just think. I had guessed wrong and nearly missed my chance. I started explaining so fast the words stumbled over each other. I said, "Oh, I'm the girl all right. But I've lost so many parts because I was too young that I put on mother's clothes to see if I couldn't look older."
That made him laugh and I went home and got my own clothes and came back and got the part at fifty dollars a week. That was more money than I knew there was in the world.
But we had to go away. They were going to make the picture up in New Bedford. I'd never been away from home a night in my life and I knew mother wouldn't let me go. But Mr. Clifton arranged for the cameraman's wife to go along and be with me as a chaperon - so Clara Bow went on her first location with a chaperon.