It's easy to assume, perhaps cynically, that it's merely the unfamiliarity of their images that gives them so potent and so alien a life force on the screen: the black and white, the unnatural speed of the footage, the disintegration of the image. But I think it's more complicated than that. I think it's also the magic, as it has ever been between true stars and cameras, and the silence itself. Movies are not only projected but they invite projections. We transfer our own ideas and needs and dreams onto stars. Ever notice how well people think they know celebrities? The silence only invites more of this, more projection. We also decide, subconsciously or otherwise, what the star sounds like when they cry, when they whisper sweet nothings to their lover, and how loudly or infectiously they laugh.
Curious about Bow's long-forgotten prominence I read a bunch of good stuff over @ Gilda's Attic including this tidbit from the book Clara Bow, Running Wild.
Instinctively Clara had grasped the essence of stardom: individuality. The girl who had spent hours imitating Mary Pickford sensed that to be special, she must be herself, and artistic credo that Clara maintained for the rest of her career.Hundreds of technological inventions have completely altered the movies since the talkies first disrupted the barely formed movie star hierarchy in the late twenties. But the essence of true stardom is still the same. Clara had it right.