Clara Gordon Bow was an American actress who rose to stardom in the silent film era of the 1920s. Her acting artistry and high spirits made her the premier flapper and the film It made her world famous as the “It Girl”. Bow came to personify the “roaring twenties” and is described as its leading sex symbol.
Bow was a third child; the first two, also daughters, born in 1903 and 1904, died in infancy. Her mother, Sarah Bow, was told by a doctor not to become pregnant again for fear the next baby may die as well. Despite this, Bow was conceived in fall of 1904. According to Bow her mother became “almost mad with apprehension and fear.” The delivery proved to be as difficult as feared; “At first, they thought I was dead. I don’t suppose two people ever looked death in the face more clearly than my mother and I the morning I was born. We were both given up, but somehow we struggled back to life.” Bow was born 1905 in a tenement in Brooklyn slums, New York.
At sixteen, Sarah fell from a second-story window and suffered a severe head injury. Later she was diagnosed with “psychosis due to epilepsy”, which apart from the seizures can cause disordered thoughts, delusional ideas, paranoia and aggressive behavior.
From her earliest years, Bow learned how to care for her mother during seizures and how to deal with psychotic and hostile episodes. She said her mother could be “mean” to her, but “didn’t mean to.she couldn’t help it”. Still, Bow felt deprived of her childhood, stating “As a kid I took care of my mother, she didn’t take care of me”. Sarah worsened gradually, and when she realized her daughter was set for a movie career, she told her she “would be much better off dead”. One night in February 1922, Bow awoke with a butcher knife against her throat; when her mother hesitated, Bow fended her off and locked her up. In the morning, Sarah had no recollection of the episode and was later committed to a charity hospital.