In the previous installments of this
engrossing story, Clara Bow told of her early
life in Brooklyn; of her love for her father;
of her devotion to her pathetic mother.
Clara was the tomboy of the neighborhood -
a strange, vivid but far from pretty child.
She entered a motion picture contest
and won a prize. But when she tried to find
work in the studios, she was snubbed and
ignored. Her mother, desperately ill, fought
against Clara's career. One night, in a fit of
insanity, she tried to kill Clara. After getting
her first chance in Down to the Sea in Ships,
Clara decided to give up pictures, for her,
mother's sake. Then, one night, she is called
home from a party by an urgent message from
* * * * * * * * * *
That night, after my father called me on the telephone at the party and told me to come home, we went through the dark streets in silence. All the laughter and gaiety had fled. We were just scared kids. I remember thinking then that fun didn't seem to last very long, that something terrible always happened, and maybe it was best to get all you could out of it when you could.
Mother was on a couch in the living room. She was white and still. She did not know me. She never knew me again, though I used to try so hard to make her. For days she lay like that and I cared for her, trying to ease the paroxysms of pain when they came.
And just then, with the particular way fate has of always bringing extremes into my life, my first chance in pictures came. They sent for me to play a little dancing girl in Enemies of Women. At first I didn't want to do it. I didn't think I could, my heart was so heavy. But there was nothing I could do for mother and Dad insisted that I go ahead. He saw that I was breaking down under those days of silent grief, of being shut up all the time in one room with mother like she was.
It was only a bit in the picture. I danced on a table. All the time I had to be laughing, romping wildly, displaying nothing for the camera but pleasure and the joy of life. As I say, it was only a bit, but no matter what parts I have been called upon to play as a star, or ever will be, not one of them could compare in difficulty to that role. I'd go home at night and help take care of mother; I'd cry my eyes out when I left her in the morning - and then go and dance on a table. I think I used to be half-hysterical, but the director thought it was wonderful.
One day when I was on the set working, in some sort of a little scanty costume, I looked up and saw father standing there. One look at his face told me that the end had come. I walked over to him and just stood staring. I was paralyzed. I don't think I had realized until that moment that mother was really going to die. And I don't think I had ever realized how much I loved her.
Looking back on it now, it seems to me that the day of my mother's funeral was the beginning of a new life for me. Perhaps it was the birthday of the Clara Bow that you know. The end of my kid life had come. Sorrow and disappointment had been my lot so much that I didn't believe in anything but trying to get what you could out of life. I've come to a saner philosophy now, But then I was just hard and bitter.
On that day, we went across to Staten Island on the ferry, and I sat absolutely motionless all the way, my hand cold and frozen in my dad's. All feeling had left me. Loneliness engulfed me. Even during the services, in the church and at the grave, I didn't cry. Dad said my face was like a piece of marble. Poor dear, he was weeping enough for two of us, but I couldn't cry. When they started to lower the coffin into the ground, my heart began to beat again. Then the clergyman turned and told me to throw the first pieces of earth down upon her I had so greatly loved.
At that, I came to life and went crazy. I tried to jump into the open grave after her. I screamed and cried out that they were all hypocrites, they hadn't loved her when she was alive, or cared for her, or done anything to make life easier. I raved and fought like a little wildcat. The thought of leaving her there in that hard, cold ground tortured my imagination beyond bearing.
And then I was overcome with remorse. Just think, when she felt the way she did about pictures, I'd actually been working, dancing on a table with just a few clothes on, when she left me for good. A deep knowledge, perhaps the deepest emotion I had ever had in my life, came to me then of how much she had loved me. I'd been the only thing she'd ever had to love, she'd poured all the frustration of her soul out upon me. And I'd disappointed her, gone against her wishes.
I felt that I never wanted to see another motion picture. I was very ill again after that. And for a while I stuck to my resolution about motion pictures. But Dad - who is so very sensible, who knows the world well and understands so much - talked it all over with me. I remember he came in and sat on the end of my bed one night and looked down at me.
"Little daughter," he said, "you're making a big mistake. You're very young and I know you think your heart is broken. But it isn't. You mustn't allow it to be. You have a long life ahead of you, and your mother - as she was before her illness changed her - would want you to go on and live it to the fullest. She was a very wonderful woman and she expected a great deal of you. It would make her so unhappy to know that your grief is ruining your life. And at the time when she was herself, she would have understood your ambition, your desire to be in pictures. She loved beauty and all expressions of it. So you must, for her sake and your own and mine - because after all, Clara darling, I'm still here and I need you, too - you must pull yourself together and do your work."
That woke me up. I hate a quitter and I saw that I was quitting. And I knew he was right, that if mother had been herself she would have understood my picture work. So I started in again looking for work. I don't believe anybody had a harder time getting started in pictures than I did.
You see, I had to make a niche for myself. If I am different, if I'm the "super-flapper" and "jazz-baby" of pictures, it's because I had to create a character for myself. Otherwise, I'd probably not be in pictures at all. They certainly didn't want me.
I was the wrong type to play ingenues. I was too small for a leading woman and too kiddish for heavies. I had too much of what my wonderful friend Elinor Glyn calls "It," apparently, for the average second role or anything of that sort. I got turned down for more jobs, I guess, than any other girl who ever tried to break into pictures.
Finally I did get a lead with Glenn Hunter. The girl was a little rough-neck, and somehow they thought I fitted into it. I guess I did. I'd always been a tomboy, and at heart I still was. I worked in a few pictures around New York and by that time Down to the Sea in Ships, which had been held up for such a long time, was released and that helped me.