Think celebrity financial scandals are a recent phenomenon? Travel with us back to the 1930s — the dawn of the Great Depression and the twilight of legendary Hollywood "It Girl" Clara Bow's career.
Bow was Hollywood's original sex symbol and the star of "Wings," the first film to win the Academy Award for best picture. Famously exploited for years by Hollywood studios, blackmailing publishers and ne'er-do-well relatives alike, Bow found a trusted friend in her personal secretary, Daisy DeVoe. She also found love in her boyfriend and eventual husband, Rex Bell. And Bell and DeVoe despised each other.
As author David Stenn recounts in his 1988 book "Clara Bow: Runnin' Wild," DeVoe took care of Bow's finances and appeared to do a good job, turning a $16,000 bank balance into $249,000 — or nearly $4 million today.
But Bell was deeply suspicious about DeVoe's "unorthodox" bookkeeping, and DeVoe was convinced Bell was scheming to invest $10,000 of Bow's money in a "get-rich-quick counterfeit racket." So DeVoe moved to block Bell's access to Bow's finances, and the rivalry grew into open warfare.
At Bell's urging, Bow pressed embezzlement charges against her former confidante, alleging DeVoe had been diverting the star's funds for her own use. A grand jury indicted DeVoe on 37 counts of grand theft. A sensational trial ensued, with Bow and DeVoe taking the stand and lobbing scurrilous allegations at one another.
While the prosecution's case has since been widely discredited, one of the counts — involving an $825 check — stuck. DeVoe was sentenced to 18 months in prison, Bow's career never recovered, and the idea that movie stars were prime targets for scam artists was cemented in Hollywood lore.