About three years ago, I wanted to write a book about silent film actress, Clara Bow. I have been fascinated by Clara for many years, and the thought of writing her biography was extremely exciting. Unfortunately, while my agent received a great response from editors, the marketing and sales teams were less impressed. They thought that Clara Bow was no longer relevant and many wondered who she actually was! 🙁 As you can imagine, this was deeply disappointing, but there wasn’t much I could do.
Since then my proposal for the book has been gathering metaphorical dust on my laptop, but I thought it might now be time to share the sample chapter with you all. It revolves around Clara’s relationship with her secretary, Daisy DeVoe. It’s quite long, so I’m publishing part one today and part two tomorrow. I hope you enjoy it. 🙂
In 1929, Clara Bow met Daisy DeVoe on the set of her movie, Wild Party. DeVoe had been assigned to take care of the actress’s hair. “Although I had had a speaking acquaintance with her,” recalled Clara, “it was not until she was assigned to my production that any friendship started between us.” It wasn’t long before DeVoe was asked if she would like to become Clara’s full-time personal assistant and companion. “Daisy appealed to me. She filled a gap which hitherto had been missing in my life. Daisy was witty, gay, and effervescent. She was always a sure cure for the blues. She was capable and efficient. With me continually during the day, she was always doing something nice which did not come under her duties as a hairdresser.”
DeVoe was sceptical about taking the job. She had been told that Clara was a difficult woman to work for, so really did not want to become involved with someone she may not be able to handle. However, after being assured of decent money and job security for five years, Daisy agreed, but only on the condition that she would receive a pay rise imminently. It was a rise that never actually materialised, however. “I asked her for it numerous times,” Daisy later complained. “She always said no.”
Despite being employed as an assistant and companion, DeVoe took offense at some of the things she was asked to do, such as taking care of Clara’s hair and nails, along with dressing her and inspecting clothes for any tears or other damage. Shooing away unwanted male admirers, picking up clothes from the floor, and shopping for groceries were all things DeVoe was assigned to take care of, and she quickly came to resent it. “Clara is a funny child,” she later said. “She wanted my companionship and everything.”
While Clara was happy to have the woman look after her, she was not prepared for the liberties DeVoe began to take. Once, while the actress was out of town for six weeks, Daisy decided to have the house cleaned and reorganized from top to bottom, without her employer’s consent. “Her house was terribly dirty,” she said. “I had the drapes taken down and the rugs taken out and cleaned; floors polished; furniture gone over and everything.”
Another time DeVoe found love letters belonging to her employer from ex-boyfriends Dr Earl Pearson, Harry Richman, Gary Cooper and Victor Fleming. How she discovered the possessions is questionable, but the secretary decided they would not be in the house much longer. “She had two drawers of letters,” explained DeVoe. “I knew she would want them but I took them and burned them because I didn’t think it was advisable for a woman in her position to have things like that lying around.”
What she hadn’t bargained for, however, was for Clara to arrive home just as she was burning the items in the back yard. The actress was incensed, but DeVoe was not in the least bit concerned, and certainly not apologetic. The two women fought for days about the episode, but this did not stop DeVoe from going through her employer’s possessions once again and finding more letters. This time she managed to destroy them before Clara came home. “As far as I know she doesn’t know [about] it,” DeVoe later said. “She would be as mad as the devil about it.”
Despite the obvious intrusion into her life, Clara made a tremendous mistake by setting up a bank account with Daisy DeVoe. Called “The Clara Bow Special Account,” it was opened with $1,500 of Clara’s money and gave the secretary authorisation to take cash out for household expenses. “I couldn’t draw anything on Clara’s personal account unless I had a cheque with her signature,” DeVoe later said, “and each week I would take a cheque with her signature to the bank and put money into the special account for the household expenses. Almost all the money Clara spent was out of the household account. She very seldom wrote her own cheques.”
“Daisy was more than a secretary,” said Clara. “As time went on she became companion, advisor and confidante. Having a taste in clothes and being about my exact size, I allowed her to purchase frocks for me. I have no head for figures and before long Daisy, in addition to her other duties, had complete charge of my accounts… If I had only been able to foresee the results! I would have given anything gladly to have avoided such events, but as usual, with my trusting nature, I could not see the danger signals.”
Before long, Clara was returning home to find her home filled with people she did not know and DeVoe at the centre of attention. “Her friends were the ones who frequented my house,” said Clara. “And, at times I wondered whether she was the motion picture star and I her secretary, or vice versa. However, there was no outward rupture. I remained silent principally because I was too weary and ill to argue about anything. But finally things came to a crisis.”
With DeVoe continuously turning her attention to things that had little or nothing to do with her, Clara’s boyfriend Rex Bell grew to dislike her immensely. He suspected that DeVoe was stealing from her employer, and she in turn believed Bell was trying to persuade the actress to invest money in a phoney get-rich-quick scheme. There was no love lost between the pair, but Clara quickly became agitated with the atmosphere in her house.
On 29 July 1930 – Clara’s twenty-fifth birthday – DeVoe gave the actress a silver dresser set with the initials CB engraved on it. Bow was absolutely delighted. “I thought she was being sweet and kind to me,” she later told police. However, the gesture wasn’t so thoughtful when it was claimed that it had been paid for out of Clara’s “Special Account,” using a cheque authorized by the actress herself.
As well as buying her own birthday present, Clara also had to contend with various rumours that kept popping up, which she was sure were started by Daisy. “Daisy began to talk. I don’t believe to this day that she maliciously and deliberately set out to hurt me. But talk travels rapidly in Hollywood, and before it gets very far the original comment has been distorted and twisted to suit the taste of the gossiper. Rumours, ugly rumours, began to spring up about me.”
Rex Bell told Clara she had no option but to let her secretary go. However, while the two were discussing the issue, neither knew that DeVoe was in the next room, listening to the conversation and taking mental notes. She was then fired by Rex, but she had long decided that it would not be an exit she made quietly. During this time, Clara’s accountant began looking into DeVoe’s activities, and did not like what he found. On looking into her safe deposit box, it was noted that several of Clara’s personal items had gone missing. “Daisy, when she left, had several belongings of mine in her possession,” Clara said. “These I endeavoured to recover.”
While looking into the possible criminal behaviour, the actress had more worries to contend with. DeVoe was talking to the press, and she was not being kind. According to the secretary, when she was ready to leave the Bow house, her employer was so drunk that DeVoe decided not to announce her departure, for fear that Clara may kill her. As wild as that sounded, Daisy insisted that the actress had actually tried to do that on a previous occasion, while they were in the middle of a fight.
“Daisy was using the newspapers to tell her side of the story,” Clara wrote. “Knowing publicity as I did, I remained silent, keeping my counsel, and wishing above all that the entire affair could be forgotten. I held nothing against Daisy. I was the one to blame. So why all the uproar?”
While Clara’s sensitive nature ensured she blamed herself, DeVoe was happy to play the victim. At one point she actually turned up at the Bow residence to demand her job back. Clara turned her down flat, and then the secretary headed straight to her attorney’s office in a furious attempt to blackmail her. DeVoe demanded $125,000 for the return of the safe deposit box items, and if they chose not to comply, things could get “complicated.” When that didn’t work, she returned to Bow’s mansion and once again demanded her job back. Unknown to DeVoe, however, Clara had been advised of the blackmail attempt and stopped the woman in her tracks. Unbelievably, DeVoe then admitted everything – or at least her side of everything.
“Before I knew it, the matter was in the hands of the District Attorney,” Clara later wrote. “This is the first time I have mentioned Daisy DeVoe in print, and I would like to say now that at no time did I desire to have my former secretary prosecuted. I felt sorry for Daisy then, and I feel sorry for her now. But the law stepped in and took everything out of my hands.”
Investigators interviewed DeVoe and she was adamant that Clara’s belongings only ended up in her possession for safe-keeping. Officers demanded she open her safety deposit box to let them see what was inside, and on doing so, retrieved a stash of jewellery, a large amount of personal papers, telegrams that had escaped the bonfire and a cashier’s cheque. “I was never going to cash the cheque myself,” DeVoe cried. “Clara knows as well as everybody else that I could never have cashed it. I intended giving it back the same as everything I had that belonged to her.”
Part two coming tomorrow!
If you would like to find out more about Clara Bow, there is a wonderful biography by David Stenn, entitled Runnin’ Wild. You can also visit the fantastic Media History Digital Library, for articles written in Clara’s lifetime. Many of the quotes and photos for this article were found there. You can find the website, here.