Finally got the essay I needed to complete done on Friday. Of course, it was the Friday after the essay was due that I finally emailed it to the professor, but it is finally complete! In my email I told him that this semester taught me that three classes of graduate work on top of a son, a husband and a house and my fibromyalgia was just too much, so I am dropping down to part-time. I also had to tell him it was a class with him that I had to cull from my schedule next semester, for each of my other two scheduled courses for spring I would not be able to repeat in the fall, and the course he was teaching I could. I hate to admit that I was relieved when my adviser suggested that I drop that course, because I think my semester will go much better next year without trying to keep up with him and the workload he dishes out, and the performance he expects out of me in my writing is way beyond what any of my other professors–undergraduate or otherwise–expects out of me. I’m not the only one who was completely frustrated with the class this semester, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I find myself making a toast at a bar with a few of them celebrating the end of this course. I really like this professor and have enjoyed my talks with him in his office on film, but after one graduate course and two undergraduate courses with the same professor, and the same feeling that I didn’t accomplish anything worthwhile all semester long because I was too overloaded and I couldn’t write a bloody thing to satisfy the professor, no matter how I modified my work to fit what I thought he was looking for, it’s time to cut my losses and move on. I would rather have him as someone I still like to discuss films with, and I don’t think that would happen if I had another stressful semester with him. At least next semester if I struggle, I cannot point the finger back at his class as the origin of doom for the entire ball of wax. This semester I do that because his class is on Monday, the first class of the week, so when I get to the weekend I work for him first–and because I feel utterly incapable of doing anything right for him I freeze, screwing up my whole weekend and putting me behind with the other classes. I am not taking my chances with that again, so next term, this professor is not on my schedule and I will still like him and regard him highly, I will not have a Monday class, I will have one on Tuesday that I can only take in spring, and on Wednesday night I will have a class with a professor I am so happy to have again, doing Post-colonialist Women’s Literature.

Anyway, I consider my blog as a way to hold myself accountable to my readers and friends who check in on what I write, so I will share my essay here to let all know what I was struggling with the past week. That and I hate writing anything for an audience of one–the professor. I’m working on writing for a public forum, so here I will share my writing.

———————————————–

Clara Bow

 

Clara Bow as Betty Lou Spence in It, after her first date with Waltham

 

Clara Bow in It

 

Betty Lou with Waltham’s pal Monty, who unwillingly helps her to win his friend’s heart

 

Clara Bow on desk

 

Betty Lou, unaware of the flack caused by the baby drama, primps for Waltham’s attention.

 

 

 

 

screen shot of It opening

 

Clara Bow as Betty Lou Spence in It:

The Embodiment of Liz Conor’s City Girl

Women in the 1920’s were viewed through many different lenses, as stated by Liz Conor in her thought-provoking text The Spectacular Modern Woman: Feminine Visibility in the 1920’s. Conor describes many different labels that could be applied to the women of this era, such as the City Girl, the Screen Stuck Girl, or the Mannequin; labels which show how women have become both object and subject due to the rise in the consumer culture. Clara Bow in the 1927 film It exemplifies the descriptions put forth regarding the City Girl motif, showing the advantages and disadvantages of how society had changed in her own life.

Merriam-Webster defines “object” in regards to this subject as “something arouses an emotional response (as of affection or pity.)” The same source defines “subject,” as applicable to this reading, as “a person under the authority of another,” and “the person or thing discussed or treated: TOPIC, THEME. The lead character in It, Betty Lou Spence, shows both aspects of these words—she gets your attention with her joir de vivre, and especially her expressive eyes; yet you see how flamboyant or awkward she is, bold one moment and shy, demure and moral the next, and you don’t know what to think of her, thinking that she may be just as wild as “Sami Jo” down the street who ran off to the big city and ended up with the wrong people, getting knocked up, and now the “Jackson’s” are taking care of her illegitimate baby—becoming the subject of much gossip because of her bold attitude in the public arena.

The opening title card of the film declares, “’IT’ is that quality possessed by some which draws all others with its magnetic force. With ‘IT’ you win all men if you are a woman—and all women if you are a man. ‘IT’ can be a quality of the mind as well as a physical attraction.” The writer of the novel the film It was based on, Elinor Glyn, is shown in a cameo of herself in a scene where Betty Lou is taken by her suitor Monty to the Ritz, where her object of desire, Cyrus Waltham, the rich heir to the department store she works for, is to be dining with his girlfriend. Glyn responds when questioned as to just what is this “it” she’s been talking about is: That strange magnetism that attracts both sexes . . . entirely unself-conscious . . . full of self-confidence . . . indifferent to the effect . . . she is producing and uninfluenced by others.”

A film reviewer at a website entitled “Goatdog’s Movies” points out discrepancies with this definition of “it” that help highlight how Betty Lou, as portrayed by Bow, fulfills the definition of a City Girl, an urban woman who is wild and carefree. To begin the contradictions, this character is all about wanting to be noticed, from the flurry of restyling her dress and other preparations for the Ritz dinner date (even to the point of pinching her cheeks, if I recall correctly), to sprawling across the boss’s desk to checking her hair and make-up as much as possible to warranty her best appearance, both for her job fulfillment and unwritten rule that the shop-girl should be pretty and perky and for the prospect of landing a man so she wouldn’t have to work. The City Girl seems to have a boldness and lack of reserve that is attributed to the Country Girl who did not immigrate to the big city to try their luck. Betty Lou exudes charisma and self-confidence and a flair for drama that other women around her supposedly lack, and she is able to become the center of attention in her group based on this incredible aura that was wrought by being a shining example of a City Girl. Yes, Clara Bow as Betty Lou Spence does have that tendency to primp herself up in order to look good and vamp a little contrary to Glyn’s definition of “it,” the reviewer at Goatdog.com says quite appropriately, fitting Clara Bow herself, the character she played, and other City Girl’s out there in the 1920’s scene, “How, I ask, does this fit with a definition of ‘IT’ that demands indifference to whether you are pleasing or not? Of course, one look at Bow in the film clears everything up: Elinor Glyn’s elaboration on ‘IT’ is wrong. Bow has something, and that must be ‘IT.’” I agree with the reviewer and add that the City Girl, as defined by Liz Conor, also has this magnetism when she lets herself glow.

Betty Lou was an “out and about Modern Girl,” for which products like Kotex sanitary napkins were devised, to give these women security enough to be “entering public space and subject to multiple forms of scrutiny” (Conor 40). I can’t imagine Betty Lou even considering letting a silly thing like menstruation—which would normally have kept women home most of the course of their cycle—stop her from doing her job at Waltham’s to support herself and her little impromptu family that includes a former co-worker and her illegitimate baby. Menstruation certainly wouldn’t stop Betty Lou from that dinner at the Ritz with Monty, where she finally caught the eye of her new boss, Cyrus Waltham, who had caught her eye immediately when he went on a tour of the store. This tour leaves Monty yammering about how he saw this beautiful girl who had “It,” as he had read about in a magazine in Waltham’s office, and Betty Lou asking Santa Claus to bring Waltham to her for Christmas. After her wild search through her wardrobe and not finding an appropriate dress, she takes scissors to the dress she is already wearing and modifies it to fit her needs. A woman like that would manage to invent a product like a disposable napkin to suit her purposes enough to stop her from having to stay home like one of the Old-Fashioned girls who would lounge about in the parlor all week and let the “curse” dictate their activities. Not Betty Lou, and not the average City Girl, from the way Liz Conor presents them in her chapter, “The City Girl in the Metropolitan Scene.”

Liz Conor notes, “The meanings that accrued to women’s visibility in public space situated them in cultural proximity to the commodity spectacle. They were caught up in the exchange of looks that became as much a part of metropolitan traffic as the Model T Ford” (Conor 48-49). She continues, stating, that these ladies now entering the metropolitan scene had “a desire to enter into the cosmopolitan perceptual field as more than spectators—they wanted to be part of the scene as spectacles, reputedly shortening their skirts to excite more attention” (Conor 49). Betty Lou as a mere spectator in the fascinating world that swirled around her—of course not! She is a bold girl who has to be part of the action and part of the fun, whether it be in a fancy restaurant, an amusement park, or on Waltham’s private yacht where she with her magnetism and indubitable charm and vivacious attitude of not holding anything back managed to charm the “upper class” friends of Waltham that would normally be out of her reach Betty Lou would not sit by passively and just watch everything that was going on—she would create her own scene if there wasn’t one for her to enter into. And it is not just the people she has focused upon that Betty Lou as the epitome’ of the City Girl desires. Conor writes, “Part of the pleasure offered by the city lay in attracting attention within an anonymous and fleeting gaze. Pavements and offices became theaters to these types of City Girl, places where she distracted, displaced and visually overpowered men” (Conor 49). This is completely applicable to Betty Lou Spence, especially with the fantastic Clara Bow performing her, adding her own mystical charm and aura to the mix.

I have focused much on how Betty Lou fits the “object” definition of a City Girl, so now I turn to how she also exemplifies the “subject” nature attributed to the City Girl of the 1920’s. Betty Lou comes under subjective scrutiny because of a number of incidents in the film. When the crusading women decide to come in and take away her friend’s baby, claiming that she isn’t taking care of the child well enough, that she isn’t working and has no money to support the child, and that she is too sick to be a good mother,” Betty Lou storms through the crowd she finds in her apartment, grabs the baby, declaring it is hers, that she has a job to support her baby, and they have no right to take her child. This is all to the shock of Monty, Waltham’s friend that Betty Lou charms in order to bridge the gap between the lowly shop-girl of the department store and the newly-installed department store owner. Monty tells Waltham about this—and also does the local paper that found this woman’s stand worthy of print and the troop of women coming into the office to clarify Betty Lou’s employment with Waltham’s—and Waltham is disturbed by news that this girl, whom he just had a wonderful date with to the amusement park, is “loose” enough to have an illegitimate child. Instead of being the beautiful and vivacious woman, Betty Lou has become—in their eyes—a subject to be discussed and judged because she (in mistaken minds) does not live according to the patriarchal code that she is supposed to live under, where babies are only to be raised by a mother and a father.

When Betty Lou comes to see him in his office after this flurry of excitement, unaware that he had heard of this little drama and how it affected him, she drapes herself across his desk positively coquettishly, using all her charm and sexual magnetism in her attempt to attract more of his attention and also to apologize for how their date ended. Another aspect of the “subject” nature of the City Girl occurred in his car when he went to kiss her good-night, to which her response was to slap him and accuse him of being a “Minute-Man,” saying “the minute you know a girl you think that it is okay to kiss her” and she runs out of the car. She runs into her apartment building, muttering about his arrogance and making her stand that she is not a loose kind of woman. Afterwards, we see that even though she was truly offended, she was also in part instinctively playing “hard-to-get,” for she is then a dreamy girl with a massive crush on a man she adores, cuddling and nuzzling the stuffed puppy dog he won for her. Betty Lou didn’t want to chase him away or lose his affections—she just needed to put the man in his place and affirm her virtuousness in his eyes. Waltham, after their date, had seen her as a subject—a woman keen on his wishes and later someone to gossip about or judge because of her actions that were fueled by the City Girl instincts inside of her.

However, because of the little “baby drama” that has been brought to his attention, Waltham offers her a pseudo-marriage situation where she can have a place to live, clothes, jewelry—anything she wants, because in light of this “news” about her “motherhood,” she is not a woman he can officially wed, even though he is crazy about her and wants to keep her in his life. This is something that completely offends Betty Lou, for she will not be subjected to that kind of discrimination and subjection, and she leaves his office angry and in tears. Her honor threatened and her heart wounded, she decides to quit her job at Waltham’s and attempts to find another position to support her little make-shift family.

Betty Lou is not a woman to fade into obscurity, and bounces back much like a City Girl would. She finds Monty and manages to get him to take her on a yachting cruise with him on Waltham’s yacht, where she plans to get Waltham to propose to her in order to turn him down and really set him in his place, even more so than the slap he received when he defamed her by making a move on her in the car after their first date. She loves the man, but she demands respect and she sets out to get it! These City Girls do not let obstacles stand in their way!

While the newly inspired and refreshed Betty Lou manages to charm the fellow passengers on the yacht, she is not as effective in fitting in with the crowd at the Ritz. In fact, she is “subject” enough as a supposedly uncultured and flamboyant City Girl too ill-bred for dining in such a place, the maitre de of the establishment signals to the waiter that she and Monty be placed at a table to the side, out of the general view of the upscale diners the staff did not want to offend with this “riff raff” that evidently did not belong as shown through her haphazard attempt at elegance and awkward manners. However, bold girl that she is, commandeers a table within eyesight of Waltham and party—including his girlfriend—and through her ability to gain attention wherever she goes, she manages to attract his attention and enchant him completely, setting up the rest of the movie and their tumultuous and comedic romance.

Through this diatribe, I believe I have established Clara Bow’s portrayal of Betty Lou Spence in It to be a true City Girl based on Liz Conor’s definition. But the question remains whether this motif of life was an advantage or a disadvantage in how society had changed in her own life. Would Betty Lou have been happy following the life of the women before her, following along with the Country Girl motif, and would she have thrived in life despite the advantages of possible home security with her parents or a traditional marriage in a small quiet country town? Probably not, so for this reason she found an advantage in the movement of women from the country and the boldness of these women to not just be on the sidelines of the swirling mix of life in the city, but to make a splash enough to let the world know she was there and that she was incredibly happy to share her joy of this with them.

Liz Conor writes, “Young women symbolized the power of the city to transform, and their moral and visual mutability were disturbing indicators of social instability” (Conor 55). Betty Lou may be out there railing against the system and prejudice when the crusaders try to take her friend’s baby, upsetting the status quo of that society, but this was a good change for the society even though it took the general populace awhile to catch on to the changes in thought and practices of modern women, with City Girls at the head of the line heralding this change in society. It may have been a radical change to accept unmarried mothers and people bold enough to defend them, as it was radical to accept these ladies who paraded about the city streets. “Merely by their presence on the pavements, City girls befuddled and disoriented men who did not know how to assess them visually, and therefore morally” (Conor 50). While they shook up the scene and the minds of their spectators after they decided that they would not be merely spectators in the game of life and set themselves up as spectacles to push these changes through and make a change in how society expected them to live, these women were the heroines of the women today who are able to walk proud in society, assured of their right to be there as a mutable part of the stream of the city and of life everywhere.

Liz Conor draws on City of Dreadful Delights by Judith Walkowitz to support her theories, using this quote that also conveniently describes the qualities of modern woman that Conor discusses:

She discusses the charity worker and platform speaker of the 1870s not only as representational types, but as women who were “social actors” and “political actors,” who both inserted themselves into prevailing discourses of sexuality and social space and charted the city as space in which they could feel at home. By situating their home in the public space, such women breached the dichotomy of private and public as consigned to sexual difference and effected a powerful “new urban style” (Walkowitz in Conor 57).

This quotation could easily have been written about Conor’s City Girl, with her urge to live life to the fullest no matter what changes needed to be made in society, the world was going to be at her feet.

In conclusion, I reiterate my statement that these City Girls are largely the wave of the future to what we modern women live today. Clara Bow’s portrayal of Betty Lou Spence in It shows the strength of character and the will to be happy and share her joir de vivre with those around her, and to fight injustice and prejudice wherever she found it. She was not a crusader out to change the world, but by acting within her own personal sphere and living by her moral code of not letting a man taking advantage of her and protecting the friend who was being tortured for having an illegitimate baby she had trouble taking care of, Betty Lou managed to be a stellar example one of these City Girls we are indebted to for the beginnings of the advances in our society’s current gender structuring and climate. Betty Lou Spence, take a bow!

========================================================

I included this in my last post, but it was unrelated and most of my readers would not see these links, and they belong with this entry as well.

Thank you for reading my essay on Clara Bow’s character in It being a “City Girl,” as defined by writer Liz Conor in “The Spectacular Modern Woman.” Adieu!

Oh–I went looking for research on Liz Conor and stumbled upon her blog, and an incredibly thought-provoking post “Reporting on 9/11.” Please check it out!

 

 

Advertisements