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It and Celebrity Culture of 1927
June 23, 2013

Clara Bow in IT (1927)

I watched It on TCM the other day. It’s a 1927 silent starring Clara Bow (who became known as the “It Girl” from then on). The story is simple but executed with verve, which kept it watchable. Bow is a department store salesgirl who gets involved with Cyrus, the store owner (Antonio Moreno). Things get complicated when his buddy Monty (William Austin) thinks Bow has a “fatherless child”, due to her showdown with busybody social reformers.

William Austin in IT (1927)

William Austin in IT (1927)

Austin looks really weird in black and white, with his light eyes and excessive eyeliner. He reminds me a bit of an exaggerated John Waters. Turns out he played Alfred in the 1943 Batman serial, which would make sense.

Monty (William Austin) visits Betty Lou (Clara Bow, right) and her friend (Priscilla Bonner) in IT (1927)

Monty (William Austin) visits Betty Lou (Clara Bow, right) and her friend (Priscilla Bonner) in IT (1927)

Bow is very much the quintessential flapper. She rarely walks anywhere, instead running or breezing off. When given the chance to dine at the Ritz, without an appropriate dress, she takes scissors to her wardrobe and creates one. She’s not afraid to say what she thinks, and she’s magnetic to other people. Her performance feels modern and is inviting to watch.

Cyrus (Antonio Moreno) and Betty Lou (Clara Bow) go on a date to Coney Island in IT (1927)

Cyrus (Antonio Moreno) and Betty Lou (Clara Bow) go on a date to Coney Island in IT (1927)

It’s also fun to see how people interacted back then, with a date to Coney Island (and rides at the fun house involving moving floors) and a yachting trip later in the movie. What I found most interesting about this film, though, was the celebrity tie-in with Madame Elinor Glyn, author of the novel It.

As I understand it, Glyn was something of the Danielle Steel of her day, writing romantic novels thought risque at the time. “It” was considered to mean “sex appeal”, although it’s a bit more complicated in Glyn’s explanation, where she calls it a “strange magnetism which attracts both sexes”. In the movie, it’s described as “self-confidence and indifference as to whether you are pleasing or not and something in you that gives the impression that you are not all cold…. IT can be a quality of the mind as well as a physical attraction”.

IT title card

And the movie treatment is what I found most interesting, since Ms. Glyn has quite the influence. The novel and the film aren’t all that similar, although the movie serves as promotion for Glyn and her works. She’s given a production credit, as well as “story and adaptation by”. (Although two other people are credited with the screenplay and a third for “titles”.) Moreover, she appears in the film playing herself.

Elinor Glyn and Antonio Moreno in IT (1927)

Elinor Glyn and Antonio Moreno in IT (1927)

When we first meet Monty and Cyrus, Monty has swept into Cyrus’ office, where he picks up the latest issue of Cosmopolitan, which has an article on “IT” by Glyn. (This was an actual issue, although since it came out in February 1927, there had to have been some cross-promotion planning involved.) Monty wanders around evaluating the store employees for ‘IT’.

Betty Lou (Clara Bow) visits Cyrus (Antonio Moreno) in his office in IT (1927)

Betty Lou (Clara Bow) visits Cyrus (Antonio Moreno) in his office in IT (1927)

Later, as Cyrus, Monty, and Bow’s Betty Lou wind up at the Ritz for dinner, Glyn sweeps in (wearing a truly ridiculous rope of pearls), leading a character to remark, “Here’s Elinor Glyn herself! Let’s ask her to tell us something about ‘IT’.” So she does. It’s the kind of celebrity tie-in that we’re used to seeing these days, but back in 1927, I found it striking.

Dining at the Ritz in IT (1927)

Dining at the Ritz in IT (1927)

For more on the movie and more pictures, check out this blog. For a contemporary portrayal of the author, watch The Cat’s Meow, in which Joanna Lumley plays Glyn, although they look nothing alike. It’s an entertaining film, covering a scandal involving William Randolph Hearst and Charlie Chaplin.

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