Monday, January 02, 2006

Funnier Than Hamster Cancer

Like always, I was talking about the “Baby Doll” episode of the animated “Batman” show I watched when I was a kid. Spencer pointed out that her deliberate baby babble speech was appropriate to the setting of the show, since this version of Gotham City evokes 1920s art deco like it’s going out of style — which it did. Anyway, Spencer said that speaking that way was a trend among the flapper set and that perhaps actress Clara Bow had popularized it. So I hopped online and looked up Clara Bow, about whom I knew very little.

Here’s a snippet from one of her biographies that I found so relentlessly tragic that I started laughing.
Bow was born in a tenement in Brooklyn, New York, the only surviving child of a dysfunctional family afflicted with mental illness, Dickensian poverty and physical and emotional abuse. She was the third daughter born to her parents. The first two children were stillborn. Clara’s mother had hope that Clara would also die at birth and didn’t bother with a birth certificate. Her mother, Sarah Gordon, a sometime prostitute who was mentally ill as well as an epileptic, was noted for her public and frequent affairs with local firemen. Her father, Robert Bow, was rarely present and may have been mentally retarded; he reportedly raped Clara when she was a young girl. When Clara expressed a interest in being an actress, her mother came to her in the middle of the night and stood over her bed with a knife and threatened to kill Clara. Clara then hid in her closet until her father returned home.
I fancy my addition to be something like, “As a child, Clara’s cobbled her clothes together out of spiderwebs until she developed an allergy to human skin and became too weak to do so. A family of voles then lived in her anus for six years. Eventually her parents found out, beat Clara and ate the voles while Clara sat in the corner.”

This reminds me quite a bit of a poem I read back in my Victorian literature class — I think — in which the narrator meets a girl who sells wilted watercress on the street corner and is too poor and abused to understand the concepts of a public park or leisure. That made me laugh too. I wish I knew the name so I could read it again and laugh.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous5:10 PM

    It wasn't a poem. It was Henry Mayhew's London Labour & the London Poor. The section subtitled--conveniantly enough--"Watercress Girl."
    And it is kind of funny in a sad sort of way. For some reason, the way he describes the child laborers seems just a teensy bit predatory and I just kept imagining that Mayhew took home that "Boy Crossing-Sweeper" in the next section. Sample line: "He was a good-looking lad, with a pair of large mild eyes, which he took good care to turn up with an expression of supplication as he moaned for his halfpenny... in my pants!"