Before everyone was singing about being an “It Girl” on TikTok, Clara Bow was actually that girl.
In case your school curriculum didn’t cover “talkies” at length, Bow rose to fame as a silent film actress, flapper and sex symbol in the 1920s — decades before Taylor Swift wrote a song named after her for her 2024 album. While fans will have to wait until April 19 to hear the track on Swift’s 11th studio album, The Tortured Poets Department, Swifties are already drawing connections between Swift and Bow.
In the early 1920s, Bow dropped out of school after winning a “Fame and Fortune Contest” and earning a part in the 1922 film Beyond the Rainbow. She subsequently started meeting with studios in her native New York City and kicked off a silent film career.
“I was too young, or too little, or too fat. Usually, I was too fat,” Bow said in an interview with Photoplay. “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.”
Swift, for her part, spoke about dealing with commentary on her body in a candid scene from her Miss Americana documentary in 2020.
“I’ve learned over the years it’s not good for me to see pictures of myself every day, ’cause I have a tendency to — and it’s only happened a few times and I’m not in any way proud of it,” she said in the movie. “I tend to get triggered by something — whether it’s a picture of me where I feel it looked like my tummy was too big or, like, someone said that I looked pregnant or something — and that will just trigger me to starve a little bit. Just stop eating.”
Back to Bow, the actress signed a contract with Paramount in 1926, going on to star in films titled Mantrap, It, Children of Divorce, Rough House Rosie, Wings (the first film to win the Oscar for Best Picture), Hula and Get Your Man. During this era, Bow was dubbed “The It Girl,” based on her performance in the 1927 movie It. (Bow plays shopgirl Betty Lou, who vies for the affections of her manager, Cyrus. It’s not lost on Us that Swift has a song named “Betty” and shopgirl Betty Lou goes to Coney Island — which is also a Swift song name.)
When films started to advance and add sound, Bow reportedly struggled to adjust to working with the microphone. When her first talkie, The Wild Party, was released in 1929, however, it was met with solid reviews. Some historians report that she worried about how her Brooklyn accent would be received and that she felt “talkies” took away from her onscreen presence, but Bow’s films — including Dangerous Curves and The Saturday Night Kid — continued to top the box office in 1929.
Fans of Swift know that she successfully made the transition from country music to pop, but even with millions of records sold across both genres, she has reflected on the criticism of the move and the strength of her voice.
“When Fearless did win Album of the Year at the Grammys and I did become the youngest solo artist to ever win the award, with that win came criticism and backlash in 2010 that I’d never experienced before as a young new artist. All of a sudden people had doubts about my singing voice. Was it strong enough? Was I a little bit pitchy? All of a sudden they weren’t sure if I was the one writing the songs because sometimes in the past I had had cowriters in the room,” Swift said in her Billboard Woman of the Year acceptance speech in 2019. “Now they’re saying my album Red is filled with too many breakup songs? ‘OK, OK, I’ll make one about moving to New York and deciding that really my life is more fun with just my friends.’ Oh, they’re saying my music is changing too much for me to stay in country music? Alright. ‘OK, here’s an entire genre shift and a pop album called 1989.’”
As an “It Girl,” Bow’s personal life became the talk of the town, and she struggled with mental illness and navigating its ups and downs decades before there was real awareness about mental health. At just 28, Bow retired from Hollywood to attempt to find peace. Swift fans, meanwhile, are very familiar with the years leading up to her Reputation era — during which she wasn’t seen in public for months at a time — when she was 28.
In addition to being labeled a party girl, Bow was reportedly engaged several times, leading to more chatter about her reputation. She went on to marry actor Rex Bell in 1931, with conflicting recounts of how healthy their marriage was.
Those who follow pop culture in 2024 don’t need a full recap of Swift’s love life, as she’s fired back at criticism that she was linked to too many musicians and actors before dating Joe Alwyn for six years. After calling it quits with the man whom some outlets reported she hoped to marry, Swift started dating football star Travis Kelce.
“In the last 10 years I have watched as women in this industry are criticized and measured up to each other and picked at for their bodies, their romantic lives, their fashion. Or have you ever heard someone say about a male artist, ‘I really like his songs but I don’t know what it is, there’s just something about him I don’t like?’ No,” Swift said in that aforementioned Billboard speech. “That criticism is reserved for us.”
As a bonus fun fact, Swifties have discovered that Bow’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is located at Vine Street and Sunset Boulevard. In Swift’s song “Gorgeous,” she sings, “Whisky on ice, Sunset and Vine / You’ve ruined my life, by not being mine.” Other Swifties are drawing connections between “Clara Bow” and Poets song “But Daddy I Love Him,” which they believe is a play on the line from The Little Mermaid that Ariel says before she gives up her voice for a real shot at love with Prince Eric.
The countdown is on for the lyric analysis for “Clara Bow,” but it’s safe to say the two women would have had a lot to talk about if they were alive at the same time.
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