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Who Is Clara Bow? All About the Actress Named in Taylor Swift's “Tortured Poets Department” Album

Swift's album 'The Tortured Poets Department' features a song titled 'Clara Bow,' who was an actress in the 1920s and nicknamed 'The It Girl'

<p>Eugene Robert Richee/John Kobal Foundation/Getty; Gilbert Flores/Billboard via Getty</p>

Eugene Robert Richee/John Kobal Foundation/Getty; Gilbert Flores/Billboard via Getty

Get to know the woman who 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 immediately sparked conversation among Swifties.

One song in particular garnering attention is titled “Clara Bow,” the name of an actress who rose to stardom during the silent film era of the 1920s.

Through the track, Swift draws parallels between her and Bow's respective careers and highly publicized lives in the spotlight.

Here’s everything to know about Bow.

Related: All the Easter Eggs in Taylor Swift's Tortured Poets Department Spotify Exhibit

Who was Clara Bow?

<p>Donaldson Collection/Getty</p>

Donaldson Collection/Getty

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?

<p>Bettmann/Getty</p>

Bettmann/Getty

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.

Related: 10 Ways Taylor Swift Teased The Tortured Poets Department with Her Outfits

Was Clara Bow married?

<p>Bettmann/Getty</p>

Bettmann/Getty

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?

<p>John Kobal Foundation/Getty</p>

John Kobal Foundation/Getty

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?

<p>Eugene Robert Richee/John Kobal Foundation/Getty; Gilbert Flores/Billboard via Getty</p>

Eugene Robert Richee/John Kobal Foundation/Getty; Gilbert Flores/Billboard via Getty

The new song on The Tortured Poets Department evokes a similar narrative to her Red song “The Lucky One” in which Swift sings about a starlet who came before her and how they were scrutinized under the spotlight.

In the first verse, Swift sings, "You look like Clara Bow / In this light, remarkable / All your life, did you know / You'd be picked like a rose?" She notes how exciting it must be to be plucked from obscurity and how she might "die" if that happened to her.

She continues with the name-dropping mentioning Stevie Nicks in 1975 and how the crowd went "wild at her fingertips," noting again how she might "die" if she ever "made it" big in Los Angeles.

However, the song takes a twist in the bridge as Swift notes that fame and success isn't all its cracked up to be. "Beauty is a beast that roars down on all fours / Demanding more," she sings, adding, "Only when your girlish glow flickers just so / Do they let you know? / It's hell on earth to be heavenly / Them's the breaks, they don't come gently."

What has Clara Bow's family said about Taylor Swift's new song?

<p>Bettmann/Getty; Christopher Polk/Penske Media via Getty</p>

Bettmann/Getty; Christopher Polk/Penske Media via Getty

Following the song's release, Bow’s great-granddaughters, Nicole Sisneros and Brittany Grace Bell (who are the granddaughters of Bow’s son Rex Bell Jr.) shared their thoughts exclusively with PEOPLE, noting the song gave them "chills" when they first heard it. Sisneros added that the track “poetically draws parallels between Clara Bow and Taylor.”

In reference to the track's lyric “All your life, did you know / You'd be picked like a rose?” Bell notes, “Clara was a ‘rose’ that was picked by the men of Hollywood who capitalized on her fame and talent. I think it perfectly encapsulates how she would feel as the ‘It’ girl of Hollywood.”

Before the song's release, Sisneros and Bell reflected on the many parallels between Bow and Swift, noting how they were "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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