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The History of 'It' Girls (And Their Predictable Downfalls)

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Heavy is the head that wears the "It" girl tiara.

Sure, it's all fun and games "“ or coke and threesomes "“ at first. But it seems that barely a day goes by without some misguided pop moppet lurching across the evening news: Onetime star, fulltime trainwreck Britney Spears continues to careen from one explosion to another; Lindsay Lohan's strung out, white-trash-on-meth mug shot remains a perpetual punch line; and Nicole Richie keeps forgetting to eat.

Sure, you could blame the spoils of fame, the permissive atmosphere of the cult of fame, or the poor decisions of the It girls. But I think it's much handier to blame the It Girl title itself. Whether the girl possesses some actual talent or simply a birthright that makes her notable doesn't exactly matter, all that matters is that she have some sort of indefinable quality that makes her fascinating to watch.

History has no dearth of young women who, once thrust into the limelight, manage to screw things up in astounding, stupefying ways. From extremely public and scandalous affairs to drug addiction to homelessness, It girls through the ages have been there, done that, and few have lived to tell the tale.

The Original "˜It' Girl

The "It girl" title was born with silent film star Clara Bow. Bow, whose diminutive size and glamour of barely concealed sexual voracity made her one of the first film sex symbols, was discovered while still in her teens, growing up in Coney Island. Bow's breakout role was in a film unsurprisingly called It "“ not, of course, the one about the scary clown, but a 1926 silent film based loosely on a provocative novelette by contemporary tastemaker, Elinor Glyn. Just to clinch the title for their very bankable new star, Bow's studio paid Glyn $50,000 to declare publicly that Clara Bow had It.

Bow's fame grew exponentially after It and later Bow vehicles tended not to vary from the prescribed formula: Insert Bow into some plot about poor girl trying to make her way in the world and let her take off as much clothing as censors would allow.

As Bow became the first real sex symbol of silent film, tales of her supposed sexual appetite outside of her films blossomed. The fledgling celebrity media followed with strict attention Bow's real extracurricular activities, which included public affairs with leading men, engagement after engagement, as well as her rumored activities. Those included having a threesome with two Mexican whores, bedding the entire starting line up of the 1927 USC Trojans football team, and knowing both her Great Dane and pet koala bear on extremely intimate terms.

In Hollywood, she was treated as a kind of pariah "“ a dirty joke telling, hard-drinking outsider with a thick Brooklyn accent "“ but to the public following her exploits in the papers, she was fascinating.

In truth, Bow's personal life was a straight up mess and her eventual pattern of self-destruction seemed to set a precedent for the It girls who followed. She had been sexually abused as a teenager by the father who later lived off and squandered her earnings in Hollywood; when she was a young girl, her schizophrenic and sometime prostitute mother had tried to slit her throat; later, Bow found herself feeling betrayed by friends and family alike, from the best friend who married her father to avoid deportation to the cousin who lived with her and regularly stole money from her. Under intense strain, Bow suffered a severe nervous breakdown in 1931, causing her studio, Paramount, to fire her. After some time off, she made a brief comeback before marrying, making babies, and gaining nearly 100 pounds. Bow's enforced retirement only got worse: A suicide attempt, severe depression and hypochondria, addiction to sleeping pills, electro-shock therapy, and finally, a diagnosis of schizophrenia.

"A sex symbol is a heavy load to carry when one is tired, hurt and bewildered," Bow wrote once, near the end of her life. She died a recluse in 1965, 32 years after her last film appearance.

The Blonde Bombshell, not so lucky in love

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Platinum blonde Jean Harlow succeeded Clara Bow as the silver screen's sexual It (and id) Girl.

Born in 1911, Harlow escaped her weird and controlling Mother Jean by getting hitched at age 16 and moving to Beverly Hills, only to find that Mother Jean's own lifelong ambition to become an actress had followed her. Her mother pressured her into finding work as an extra in films and soon after, Harlow starred in the curiously named Why is a Plumber? Not long after, Harlow was discovered by producers and consummate weirdo, Howard Hughes, who cast her in his film, Hell's Angels. The role catapulted Harlow into the sex symbol stratosphere.

As befitting a sex symbol, especially one barely 19 years old, Harlow stumbled through a well-publicized series of husbands, affairs and strange tragedies. Her second husband (there were three in total), producer and director Paul Bern, was found naked and dead in the bath at their Hollywood home. A coroner's inquiry determined that he had shot himself in the head. At first, Harlow was widely suspected of being responsible for or at least connected to his death, but, in the hopes of sidestepping what would surely be a scandal, MGM, Harlow's studio, spread the totally unscandalous story that he had killed himself because he was impotent.

In 1937 and at only 26 years old, Harlow died from renal failure after the onset of severe kidney disease. She was buried in the negligee she'd worn in the last film she made, Saratoga.

Interestingly, Nicole Richie recently gave birth to a little girl she named Harlow, after the troubled sex symbol.

The Next Blond Bombshell

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Before she died, Clara Bow wrote to several gossip columnists, bequeathing her It Girl crown to perhaps the best-known blond bombshell, Marilyn Monroe. Born Norma Jeane Mortenson and christened Norma Jeane Baker, Monroe's childhood was first spent with her psychotic mother. After her mother was institutionalized, Monroe grew up in foster care and state homes, before marrying out of the system at the age of barely 16.

While her young husband was off serving as a Merchant Marine in World War II, Monroe found work as a model. That led to a contract with a major studio, which led to a name change "“ Norma Jean became Marilyn "“ and a divorce from her first husband, but no real film work. Small parts in good and bad films alike made her a recognizable face, but her real ascent into stardom came with her 1953 role in Niagara. Classic Monroe films followed: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, How to Marry a Millionaire, The Seven-Year Itch.

Throughout, Monroe's personal life mirrored Bow's, though with some added twists: In addition to drinking, blundering from one ill-advised relationship to another (Joe DiMaggio, Arthur Miller), and being taken advantage of by people she trusted, Monroe was rumored to be involved with the mafia, as well as the Kennedy family. By 1960, Monroe was also no longer entirely bankable as an actress, either "“ her last two completed films, Let's Make Love and The Misfits, were failures, and she managed to get herself fired from her last movie after missing too many days of filming.

Not long after that, at the age of 36, Monroe died at home in her Los Angeles bungalow, an empty bottle of sleeping pills found next to her body. While rumors circulated "“ and continue to circulate "“ that she was murdered, the official ruling was of an overdose.

The Factory Girl

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Edie Sedgwick was an erstwhile actress and socialite who found her 15 minutes of fame in the originator himself, Andy Warhol, after he discovered her at a party in 1964. For nearly a year and a half, the two were practically inseparable "“ Sedgwick, 21, tall, slim and usually seen wearing glorified t-shirts as dresses, even tinted her short hair silver to match Warhol's wigs. As part of his gang and in her own right, Sedgwick was all over the Page Sixes of the day and in August 1965, Vogue went so far as to name her a "Youthquaker," whatever that means.

Because she was Warhol's latest superstar, Sedgwick also appeared in a number of his films including Restaurant, Kitchen and the appropriately titled, Poor Little Rich Girl. The latter seemed to be about Sedgwick being Sedgwick, in a very avante garde way, of course "“ a sometimes out of focus Sedgwick sort of wanders around her apartment and talks about how she spent her inheritance. Sedgwick was an actual heiress "“ she came from good Northeastern stock (her great-grandfather was the Rev. Endicott Peabody, founder of the Groton School), was raised in California, and grew up attending private schools. At the age of 21, she had moved to New York to become and actress and a model and partially succeeded.

But it didn't last long. Warhol, who had a habit of making "superstars" out of attractive young women and then replacing them after a little while, soon dropped Sedgwick. By that time, her life was unraveling at the edges "“ drugs, eating disorders, and self-destructive relationships propelled her through stays in psychiatric wards and hospitals and to her eventual death. Sedgwick died of an overdose "“ "acute barbitual intoxication," the Santa Barbara Coronor's Office declared "“ at 28 years old.

Interestingly, Edie Sedgwick's cousin is Kyra Sedgwick, who is married to Kevin Bacon, thereby proving that the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon is indeed gospel.

The Rolling Stone's Muse

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Marianne Faithfull was still in school "“ a convent, actually "“ when she met Rolling Stones' manager Andrew Loog Oldham at a party in 1964. Faithfull was an aspiring singer-songwriter with real talent and with his help, as well as from Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, her first hit, "As Tears Go By," made a respectable showing on both the American and British charts. Of course, at the time Oldham, Jagger and possibly even Richards seemed a bit more interested in Faithfull's 17-year-old breasts "“ according to one story, Jagger actually poured a glass of champagne between them to get the girl's attention.

But while her career seemed to have a promising trajectory, tales of sex and drugs began to eclipse those of rock n' roll. Though she married in 1965 and popped out a kid about six months after that, she quickly returned to the London rock, folk and drug scene, dropping the child off with her mother in a bit of very extended daycare. By 1966, she was divorced and Jagger's fulltime lady "“ meaning that virtually everything she did ended up in the papers. It was no exception in 1967, when Faithfull and Jagger were letting the good times roll at Richards' London home and the place was raided by the cops. Faithfull was found stark naked under a fur, which she conveniently let fall as soon as the cops burst in. Somewhere into this tale fits a Mars bar, which was allegedly used in a sexual context. In any case, a healthy amount of drugs were found upstairs and both Jagger and Richards were arrested. Later, the verdict was overturned, and then sense that they were all in fact invincible was reinforced.

Time passed, more drugs were consumed, and Faithfull became pregnant with Jagger's child. When she had a miscarriage "“ one day before Yoko Ono, carrying John Lennon's baby, also miscarried "“ both she and Jagger were destroyed. She began using drugs with a vengeance "“ before, it had been recreational, but now it was personal. By the summer of 1969, Faithfull swallowed a bottle full of barbiturates in a suicide attempt that left her in a coma for a day.

Their relationship staggered on for another year or so, and Faithfull did too, drinking, throwing herself wholeheartedly into the pursuit of a stupefying drug addiction: From passing out face first into bowls of soup at the homes of English gentry to arrests from drunken and disorderly conduct at Indian restaurants, Faithfull was truly messed up. Bouts of homelessness and hospitalization ruled the better of the "˜70s for her, until her transcendent 1979 punk-inspired album, Broken English, seemed to put her back on the map.

Still, she was a junkie and it took the better part of another decade before she could kick the habit. Faithfull has actually managed to recover from the swinging sixties (and seventies and eighties, really), although her career hasn't exactly hit the same heights of notoriety as it did when she was party-hopping with Mick Jagger. As the surviving matriarch of "˜60s rock-drug-folk scene Faithfull continues to make genre-pushing music as well as act, in films like Marie Antoinette and Gus Van Sant's Paris, I love You.

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10 Classic Books That Have Been Banned
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From The Bible to Harry Potter, some of the world's most popular books have been challenged for reasons ranging from violence to occult overtones. In honor of Banned Books Week, which runs from September 24 through September 30, 2017, here's a look at 10 classic book that have stirred up controversy.

1. THE CALL OF THE WILD

Jack London's 1903 Klondike Gold Rush-set adventure was banned in Yugoslavia and Italy for being "too radical" and was burned by the Nazis because of the author's well-known socialist leanings.

2. THE GRAPES OF WRATH

Though John Steinbeck's 1939 novel, about a family of tenant farmers who are forced to leave their Oklahoma for California home because of economic hardships, earned the author both the National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize, it also drew ire across America become some believed it promoted Communist values. Kern County, California—where much of the book took place—was particular incensed by Steinbeck's portrayal of the area and its working conditions, which they considered slanderous.

3. THE LORAX

The cover of Dr. Seuss' The Lorax
Google Play

Whereas some readers look at Dr. Seuss's Lorax and see a fuzzy little character who "speaks for the trees," others saw the 1971 children's book as a danger piece of political commentary, with even the author reportedly referring to it as "propaganda."

4. ULYSSES

James Joyce's 1922 novel Ulysses may be one of the most important and influential works of the early 20th century, but it was also deemed obscene for both its language and sexual content—and not just in a few provincial places. In 1921, a group known as The New York Society for the Suppression of Vice successfully managed to keep the book out of the United States, and United States Post Office regularly burned copies of it. But in 1933, the book's publisher, Random House, took the case—United States v. One Book Called Ulysses—to court and ended up getting the ban overturned.

5. ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT

In 1929, Erich Maria Remarque—a German World War I veteran—wrote the novel All Quiet on the Western Front, which gives an accounting of the extreme mental and physical stress the German soldiers faced during their time in the war. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the book's realism didn't sit well with Nazi leaders, who feared the book would deter their propaganda efforts.

6. ANIMAL FARM

The cover of George Orwell's Animal Farm
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

The original publication of George Orwell's 1945 allegorical novella was delayed in the U.K. because of its anti-Stalin themes. It was confiscated in Germany by Allied troops, banned in Yugoslavia in 1946, banned in Kenya in 1991, and banned in the United Arab Emirates in 2002.

7. AS I LAY DYING

Though many people consider William Faulkner's 1930 novel As I Lay Dying a classic piece of American literature, the Graves County School District in Mayfield, Kentucky disagreed. In 1986, the school district banned the book because it questioned the existence of God.

8. LOLITA

Sure, it's well known that Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita is about a middle-aged literature professor who is obsessed with a 12-year-old girl who eventually becomes her stepdaughter. It's the kind of storyline that would raise eyebrows today, so imagine what the response was when the book was released in 1955. A number of countries—including France, England, Argentina, New Zealand, and South Africa—banned the book for being obscene. Canada did the same in 1958, though it later lifted the ban on what is now considered a classic piece of literature—unreliable narrator and all.

9. THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

Cover of The Catcher in the Rye

Reading J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye is practically a rite of passage for teenagers in recent years, but back when it was published in 1951, it wasn't always easy for a kid to get his or her hands on it. According to TIME, "Within two weeks of its 1951 release, J.D. Salinger’s novel rocketed to No. 1 on the New York Times best-seller list. Ever since, the book—which explores three days in the life of a troubled 16-year-old boy—has been a 'favorite of censors since its publication,' according to the American Library Association."

10. THE GIVER

The newest book on this list, Lois Lowry's 1993 novel The Giverabout a dystopia masquerading as a utopiawas banned in several U.S. states, including California and Kentucky, for addressing issues such as euthanasia.

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Data Viz Project, Ferdio // CC BY-NC-ND 4.0
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Design
From Donut Charts to Bubble Maps, This Site Will Help You Choose the Best Way to Visualize Your Data
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Data Viz Project, Ferdio // CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

For many researchers, gathering data is the fun part of their job. But figuring out how to convey those numbers in a clear and visually appealing way is where they lose confidence. The Data Viz Project streamlines this step: With more than 150 types of data visualizations organized by different categories, finding the perfect format for your information is quick and painless.

According to Co.Design, the compendium comes from the Copenhagen-based infographics agency Ferdio and it took four years to develop. It started as a collection of physical graphs and charts posted on the walls of their office before moving online for all employees to use. Now, they’re making the project accessible to the public.

The website includes all the basic visualizations, like the line graph, the pie chart, and the Venn diagram. But it also makes room for the obscure: The chord diagram, the violin plot, and the convex treemap are a few of the more distinctive entries.

At first, the number of options can seem overwhelming, but narrowing them down is simple. If you’re looking for a specific type of visualization, like a chart, diagram, or table, you can select your category from the list labeled "family." From there you can limit your results even further by selecting the type of data you're inputting, the intended function (geographical data, trend over time), and the way you want it to look (bars, pyramids, pictographs).

Each image comes with its own description and examples of how it can be used in the real world. Check out some examples below to expand your own data visualization knowledge.

Alluvial Diagram
Alluvial Diagram

Arc Diagram
Arc Diagram

Hive Plot
Hive Plot

Hexagonal Binning
Hexagonal Binning

Violin Plot
Violin Plot

Packed Circle Chart
Packed Circle Chart

Kagi Chart
Kagi Chart

Sorted Stream Graph
Sorted Stream Graph

[h/t Co.Design]

All images courtesy of Ferdio // CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

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