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Wednesday, November 28, 2012


Clara Bow enjoys spreading her wings in the glowing light of her celebrity.

Who knew??

Clara Bow wasn't always the "it" girl. In fact, during her youth, she probably felt more like the "ain't" girl. No money, no affection, no reason to keep going... All she had were her dreams. Her only fuel was her love of the movies and her hopes of one day being a movie star. As such, some of the celebrities that kept her mentally and emotionally nourished during her harsh, tender years became heroes in her mind and heart.

Movie stars quickly learn of their unnatural appeal to the public. Fan letters, autograph hounds, screaming pedestrians, et al, tip an actor off that he has accrued some level of worship. There is no way of calculating the number of fans that Wallace Reid, for example, encountered during his life. Certainly, he would give a smile and a handshake, offer his John Hancock, wave his hand, and move on his merry way when meeting a fan. These moments were touching, of course, but they were also frequent, and thus anonymous, drops in the bucket-- too many faces to recall. Therefore, Wally had no way of knowing that one of the gushing girls waiting for him outside a Brooklyn theater during one of his publicity tours was none other than a thirteen-year-old Clara Bow, who had stood for eight hours just to catch a glimpse of him! This would have made a great story, had Clara ever had the chance to tell him after she became famous herself. Unfortunately, right as Clara was hitting Hollywood, Wally was drowning in his morphine addiction, which would claim his life within a year of her arrival. Ironically, Clara's future husband Rex Bell (George Beldam) would know Wally well, since the former caddied for him during his high school years. Of course, Rex had easier access to the star, since he grew up in California. He also started a charity rodeo with his classmate and future star: Joel McCrea. (Clara avidly read star publications, like the left example with her idol Wally gracing the cover).

Needless to say, when Clara hit it big, she took advantage of her resources. She was never a pushy nor selfish person, but she was incredibly warm and loved to make new friends. Being in close proximity to people that were so illustrious, after a life of living in the slums, must have made her feel like a very grateful sore thumb. Naturally, some movie stars were a bit too snobbish for her taste, and considered her earthiness and lack of pretension far too "low class" for their high-fallutin' ways. Her fans would still adore her and do almost anything to get a piece of her. One up and coming actor was very pleased when Clara showed an interest. The play "Dracula" was all the rage in the late '20s. As such, when Clara had a chance to catch a show, she grabbed her pals and high-tailed it to the Biltmore Theatre. She was particularly intrigued by the atypically handsome leading man, Bela Lugosi (right). The Hungarian actor barely spoke English but had somehow found a way to memorize his lines for the devilish role and would consequently sink his teeth into the American audience. After seeing him onstage, Clara was smitten. She used her clout to go straight to his dressing room and extend her praise for his performance. After some half-hearted and broken conversations, which neither probably understood, Clara invited the blushing actor over. Bela appreciated her kindness, and became an occasional visitor to her cottage, although in this case there was no funny business-- Clara gave him the spare room and shared her bed with BFF Tui Lorraine. Yet, there was a tryst of sorts at some point, for Bela, the world's most famous vampire, would sometimes pull a friend aside, lift up his shirt, and indicate a series of love bites on his body. He would then smile and utter one of the few English words in his vocabulary for clarification: "Clara... Clara..." Their love affair was short lived, but the starlet definitely left her mark.

Greta Garbo (left) could certainly relate to the strange disassociation that the foreign Bela must have felt on American soil. Being outside of one's native language and familiar territory can induce definite feelings of melancholy and loneliness. When Greta first started working at MGM, she struggled emotionally. She missed Sweden, and strangely, she missed the cold. New York was preferable to California, but she went where the contract was. Things hadn't much improved by the time she began filming The Temptress, her second American made movie. Her first film had not yet been released, no one knew who she was, she still hadn't made any real friends, and when she received word that her elder sister, Alva, had died, she was absolutely devastated. To her surprise, she received a consolatory bouquet of flowers from an unlikely source: Lillian Gish. Somehow, the senior screen phenom had caught wind of Greta's misfortune, and being an innately intuitive woman, she probably gleaned from all she knew of the strange young woman that she was feeling pretty lonesome, out of place, and could use a friend. In her vulnerability, Greta-- who was still the shy Greta and not yet the aloof Garbo-- approached Lillian on the set to offer her gratitude. As Greta was still uneasy with English, she and Lillian had trouble communicating, but they seemed to understand each other and soon were sobbing in each other's arms! Greta was eternally grateful, and she even hung around several times to watch Lillian work. Lillian taught Greta the ropes, and may have done too good a job. After Greta was nursed back to emotional health, her first release, Torrent, would totally overtake Lillian's La Boheme at the box office! Perhaps Lillian knew it was time to pass the torch.

Lillian's big heart and depth won her many friends in life and
many fans through her work.

Louise Brooks's (right) first love in life was to dance. As a teen, she signed up with the most prestigious dancing instructors of her time, Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn, who ran the Denishawn dancing company. Her talent, grace, and intensity, quickly moved her up the ranks in the troupe and got her noticed by her instructors. Ted adored her unique gift; Ruth was annoyed by her obstinacy. In any case, after finishing up a tour, the group of dancers settled down for a summer session at the infamous Meriarden arts colony in Peterborough, NH. There, Louise made her first real friend on the road. Barbara Bennett had been sent to Mariarden because her artistic family deemed her unfocused and undisciplined. Naturally, she and Louise gelled. Louise enjoyed Barbara's lack of phoniness. In fact, the first time Barbara spoke to Louise it was while Lulu was stuffing her face with pie: "Hello, pie face," Barbara quipped. They became thick as thieves. After the summer ended, Barbara and Louise both returned to New York, and Louise quickly found herself kicked out of Denishawn after she and Ruth locked horns in a final confrontation. As such, she turned to Barbara, who invited her into her posh family's life. Louise from Kansas absorbed all of their cultured, manicured ways, learning diction and table manners from them. They were happy tutors and she an apt pupil. Of course, she knew all of the Bennett family by reputation: Parents Richard and Adrienne were both big actors. Barbara's eldest sister, Constance (18), was already making waves with her acting talent as well, though her younger sister, Joan (13), hadn't yet had time to hit her stride. In time, both would enjoy fame that would eclipse their parents'. Barbara, the unruly middle child, never caught the entertainment boat, but Louise still liked her the best. She thought Joan was sweet too, but, to speak plainly, she thought Constance was a total b*tch.

Hollywood royalty: acting sisters Joan and Constance Bennett.

Ginger Rogers (left) was riding high after her stage success "Girl Crazy." The musical had earned her multiple kudos and also a contract in Hollywood with Pathe Studios. Things were certainly looking good! When she and mother Lela boarded the Twentieth Century Limited at Grand Central Station, neither believed that life could get any better. It could. No sooner had they arrived, than friend Harold Ross alerted them that the two most famous performers of the American stage were to be aboard with them: Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne. Ginger couldn't believe it! Of course, as she was an up-and-coming song and dance gal, she didn't think that she would have much to offer the acclaimed duo in the way of conversation. After all, she was just a newbie going to the low level Pathe, while they were signed at the OMG MGM! Yet, Harold still managed to set up a dinner for the two parties. Ginger was intimidated of course, but she found the husband and wife team delightful, and even felt that they were more nervous about their latest Hollywood venture than she was about hers. They were prepping to film their stage hit, The Guardsman, for the screen. They started asking her advice! What directors did she like, what kind of make-up tricks was she using, etc? Ginger offered whatever help she could, but admittedly, she knew little. Perhaps the Lunts had sensed her upcoming genius. Their talents would never translate to cinema, while Ginger was about to take the world by storm!

Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne: acting dynamos and soul mates.

Few would peg Clark Gable (right) as the sensitive type, but he had much more going on inside than he ever let his carefully crafted, macho image indicate. Many would assert that he based his future characterizations on his personal hero, tough guy Victor Fleming. On the screen, he tried to be the man he wanted to be. In life, he was much more insecure. For example, he had a love of poetry and literature that he kept a secret, because he didn't want it to tarnish his hard-edged demeanor. When "Clark Gable" was born on the screen, he was born big. After A Free Soul, his cocky bad boy with a side of charm was golden at the box-office. But Rome wasn't built in a day, and the struggling, self-doubting actor had had to work his way to the top like everyone else. Sometimes, progress didn't seem to come fast enough, and he would give up on himself. For example, he landed the lead role in the play "Scars" and received positive reviews for his performance in the boy to man story of a war draftee-fighter-survivor. However, when the play itself got negative feedback, he dropped it like a bad habit. Always second-guessing, he didn't have the confidence to see it through. If it weren't for the women in his life, Clark probably wouldn't have gotten anywhere. In the end, he had good reason to quit the play: it was far too choppy and uneven. Still, another actor picked up where Clark had left off when the play hit New York. The new leading man who stepped up to the plate? Spencer Tracy. The play's title was changed to "Conflict," but although Spence put his guts into the part, earning even better reviews than Clark, the play still folded by April of 1929. He would move on to "The Last Mile," a jail-themed play, which luckily turned out to be a hit. (Clara Bow allegedly was in the audience for one of his powerhouse performances, but no love bites this time). Spence and Clark would later become BFFs in Hollywood, and probably --as part of their competitive hijinks-- would tease about their earlier shared stage experience.

Spencer Tracy, looking oddly dapper in one of his theater publicity shots.

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