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BBC Four: Hollywood’s Lost Screen Goddess – Clara Bow

Updated: Oct 12, 2020

On Sunday 30th December BBC Four will be screening a special documentary dedicated to one of our favoruite Hollywood Stars, Clara Bow (1905-1965). Called “Hollywood’s Lost Screen Goddess – Clara Bow” it will celebrate her life and work.

The films Producer and Director Elaine Shepherd has written up her thoughts on the making of the documentary and also her feelings about one of Hollywood’s forgotten icons!

The BBC Four Clara Bow documentary scheduled for December 30th 2012 is the first full length programme about her life and work to be made for UK television. The name Clara Bow isn’t very familiar to the general public in Britain. Even in the USA she is largely forgotten. In her day she was one of the biggest stars in the world, ‘The “It” Girl’ of 1927.

We tell Clara’s story of rags to riches to recluse; from her upbringing in a Brooklyn tenement to fame, scandals, mental breakdowns and her married life with actor Rex Bell.

With the arrival of talking pictures many of Clara Bow’s films suffered the same neglect as other silent movies and our challenge was to find good quality archive to bring the story to life.

For silent film fans I hope we are able to provide rare treats with a range of extracts of her work. We feature ‘Down to the Sea in Ships’ (1922) in which a teenage Clara first really demonstrated her natural acting talent. The restored version of Clara’s first Hollywood support role from ‘Maytime’ (1923) was sourced from the Library of Congress. Clips from ‘Rough House Rosie’, ‘Mantrap’ and ‘Hula’ are featured as is the newly released version of ‘Wings’ (1927). Sections of Photoplay’s version of ‘It’ with the impressive Carl Davis score feel fresh and entertaining 85 years after its release.

We also use some of the only colour footage of Clara Bow from the 1928 film ‘Red Hair’ which somehow brings Clara to life and emphasises what our interviewees say about her timeless and contemporary feel.

As many have said ‘the camera loved her’ and we show some of the thousands of fabulous studio portraits and intimate family photographs to tell Clara’s story. After making around a dozen talking pictures, including ‘Hoop La’ and ‘The Wild Party’, Clara’s career ended abruptly in 1933. There would be no more films. As biographer David Stenn says, ‘the love had left, she was done, and she walked away’.

Only one co-star of Clara’s still survives – the amazing former child star Diana Serra Cary – once know as Baby Peggy. Diana, now aged 94, gives first hand insight into Clara and Hollywood of the 1920s. We were able to feature Clara’s post Hollywood life on a cattle ranch in Nevada through access to the ranch house which has been restored and will soon open to the public . Daughter in law Jackie Bell Chavez tells us about Clara’s final reclusive years in an LA suburb until her death aged 60 in 1965.

Until relatively recently many of the people who have written about Clara did so disparagingly, painting an image of a wild and hedonistic film star. Having talked to those who knew her, her surviving family members or those whave thoroughly researched her life and work, we get a picture of a troubled but kind and generous woman, who gave some of the best silent screen performances of all time.

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