Swift's new album 'The Tortured Poets Department' features a song titled 'Clara Bow,' who was an actress in the 1920s and nicknamed 'The It Girl'
Get to know the woman who seemingly inspired one of Taylor Swift’s songs.
After announcing her 11th studio album The Tortured Poets Department at the 2024 Grammys (where she made history by taking home album of the year for the fourth time) the singer unveiled the official tracklist on Feb. 5, which already has many Swifites speculating about the inspiration behind the titles.
One song in particular garnering attention is titled “Clara Bow,” the name of actress who rose to stardom during the silent film era of the 1920s.
As fans theorize what the track could be about, they’ve drawn some parallels to Bow and Swift’s respective careers and highly publicized lives in the spotlight.
Ahead of the release of Swift’s new album, here’s everything to know about Bow.
Who was Clara Bow?
Bow was born in 1905 in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. Following a difficult upbringing, including a mother who reportedly struggled with her mental health and was later institutionalized, Bow pursued a career in film in her late teens.
At age 16, she entered a magazine's beauty contest which eventually led to her winning a small role in the 1922 film Beyond the Rainbow. Though her scenes were said to be cut, she later found success during the silent film era of the 1920s with roles in Mantrap (1926), It (1927) and Wings (1927).
What was Clara Bow known for?
Following her role in the aforementioned 1927 film It, Bow skyrocketed to fame and received the nickname "The It Girl." As her popularity in the film industry grew, Bow also made headlines for her personal life, as tabloids talked about her upbringing and gossiped about her romantic relationships.
The Guardian noted that Bow was much more “brazen” than her fellow actors, which secluded her from her peers.
“She wasn’t well liked amongst other women in the film colony,” fellow actress Lina Basquette once said about Bow, per the publication. “Her social presence was taboo, and it was rather silly, because God knows Marion Davies and Mary Pickford had plenty to hide. It’s just that they hid it, and Clara didn’t.
According to Elaine Shepherd, who produced a BBC4 documentary on Bow in 2012, Hollywood quickly took a toll on her, leading to her retirement from acting in 1933.
“The studios were working her to death,” Shepherd told the BBC , “She was on heaps of primitive pills to get her out of bed in the morning and to get her to sleep at night. Executives were trying to exploit her as much as possible, gossip magazines were writing the most awful lies about her, and she was dealing with all that on her own, as a woman in her twenties.”
“She just found it way too stressful,” Shepherd continued. “But it’s not true that she was thrown out of Hollywood. When sound came in, she was paid massive amounts of money to make a couple of talkies, and if she’d had more support early on, she could have carried on having a substantial career.”
Bow later received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in February 1960, which is located at the corner of Vine St and Sunset Blvd.
Was Clara Bow married?
In 1931, Bow married actor Rex Bell who was best known for starring in Western films. The couple first met on the set of their 1930 movie True to the Navy and tied the knot the following year. Together, they had two sons, Tony Beldam (who changed his name to Rex Anthony Bell Jr.) and George Beldam Jr.
After retiring from acting in 1933, Box and Bell lived on a ranch in Nevada with their children. The couple was married for over three decades before Bell died of a heart attack on July 4, 1962.
How did Clara Bow die?
According to BBC, Bow dealt with a "psychiatric illness" in her later years and reportedly attempted suicide in the 1940s when her husband “decided to re-enter public life as a politician,” per The Guardian.
Just three years after her husband’s death, Bow died of a heart attack on Sept. 27, 1965, in Los Angeles, as reported by The New York Times. She was 60 at the time.
How did Clara Bow inspire Taylor Swift’s new album, The Tortured Poets Department?
It’s unclear how Swift will weave Bow’s story into the new song on The Tortured Poets Department. However, given Bow’s complicated history with Hollywood, it's possible it could evoke a similar narrative to her Red song “The Lucky One” in which Swift sings about a starlet escaping the spotlight to pursue a private life.
Similarly, some fans think the new song could draw parallels to Bow and Swift’s lives and careers, like did with her Folklore hit “The Last Great American Dynasty.” In that song, she sings about American socialite Rebekah Harkness who lived (somewhat infamously) in the Rhode Island mansion Swift now owns.
What has Clara Bow's family said about Taylor Swift's new song?
Speaking exclusively with PEOPLE, Bow’s great-granddaughters, Nicole Sisneros and Brittany Grace Bell said they were "shocked" to learn about Swift's new song, noting that no one from their family had been contacted prior, but were "intrigued" to hear the track.
Though it’s unclear what Swift’s new song will be about, Sisneros and Bell hope the new track captures the “perseverance” of their late great-grandmother. “She came from a really tough background and she really made it happen for herself,” Bell said. “I hope she conveys a positive image of Clara Bow, which I think she will. I would imagine that Taylor uses this as a way to highlight her accomplishments, her accolades, her talent. They're both people that have really strong raw talent.”
Sisneros pointed out that there are many parallels between Bow and Swift, from their classic styles and signature red lips to how they dealt with intense media scrutiny in the spotlight. “Clara faced that as well and rose above and had to block it out. Her tenacity to focus on her career [is] very similar to Taylor.”
Noting how both Bow and Swift are "pioneers in their field," Bell added that she thinks her great-grandmother would have been very protective over Swift. Bell referenced a quote Bow previously made about Marilyn Monroe featured in Clara Bow: Runnin' Wild, where she said, "I never met her, but if I had, I would have tried very hard to help her, assemble as a heavy load to carry. Wouldn't one as tired, hurt and bewildered?"
Relating that same quote to Swift, Bell added, “I think Clara Bow would feel the same kinship and protectiveness over someone who's of the same level of fame as her in dealing with the media and how heavy the crown is to carry.”
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