Author Archives: Sherri

Official Title of My Barbara La Marr Biography

I have now finalized the title of my Barbara La Marr biography with my publisher, the University Press of Kentucky.  Look for Barbara La Marr: The Girl Who Was Too Beautiful for Hollywood to be released sometime in the Fall/Winter of 2017.  UPK’s design team is currently working on the cover design and I should have a photo to share early in the new year.  Meanwhile, I have been working away on a preliminary index in order to get a leg up for when things move into the proof stages.  This has been a thrilling (albeit all-consuming) process these past many years, and I dare say that the end is in sight!

My Barbara La Marr Biography Will Be Published by University Press of Kentucky!

The acquisitions editor at University Press of Kentucky informed me this afternoon that their board members “wholeheartedly approved” my completed manuscript, The Girl Who Was Too Beautiful: The Extraordinary Life Story of Silent Screen Vamp, Barbara La Marr, at their quarterly meeting today and are thrilled to publish it.  The book will be published in their Fall 2017 Screen Classics series, perhaps as soon as August.

Since submitting my completed manuscript to University Press of Kentucky as soon as I finished it around January, it has been evaluated by their panel of readers; I sincerely thank the readers for their time and wonderful feedback.  I thank UPK for taking me on; I am honored to be working with them.   Many thanks to Christina Rice, author of Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel (also published by UPK), for suggesting that I submit my manuscript to them in the first place.  Thank you to all who have offered much-appreciated encouragement and expressed interest in this biography and Barbara.  Finally, I thank Barbara’s son and only child, the late and greatly missed Donald Gallery, for asking me to write this biography.  It was Donald’s dream that his mother’s full life story be published; it has been a dream come true for me to fulfill that dream.

I have truly been putting a tremendous amount of work and research, my heart, and my soul into this project these past so many years and am extremely excited to get Barbara’s incredible story out there!

I will post periodic updates here on the blog and in the “Barbara La Marr Book Updates” section of this site.  For now, for a teaser and some commentary on the book, here’s a link to my earlier blog post:  http://barbaralamarr.net/?p=929 .

 

Exciting News About My Barbara La Marr Biography!

On the anniversary of Barbara’s birthday (July 28, 1896), I am very happy to report that, after submitting my completed biography,  The Girl Who Was Too Beautiful: The Extraordinary Life Story of Silent Screen Vamp, Barbara La Marr, to an esteemed publisher several months back, they distributed it to an anonymous panel of expert readers (authors, film historians, etc.) and it has received wonderful feedback thus far.

Here’s what a couple of non-anonymous readers have to say:

“Sherri Snyder digs deep into the life of Barbara La Marr, giving an in-depth look at the intelligence and talents of the “Girl Who Was Too Beautiful.”  We see the real three-dimensional La Marr for the very first time, a thoughtful, generous, and creative woman who died much too young.” —-Mary Mallory, film historian and author (Hollywood Celebrates the Holidays: 1920-1970, Hollywoodland: Tales Lost and Found, and Hollywood at Play: The Lives of the Stars Between Takes)

“Snyder’s completed manuscript is impressive in both its scope and detail…a fluid and captivating narrative.” —Christina Rice, author (Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel)

Meticulously compiled from myriad sources—including never-before-released information from Donald Gallery (Barbara’s son) and descendants of people close to Barbara, Barbara’s private diary, memoirs of those who knew and romanced her, and an extensive collection of Barbara’s poetry—The Girl Who Was Too Beautiful: The Extraordinary Life Story of Silent Screen Vamp, Barbara La Marr presents an intimate look at Barbara’s life story, told in its entirety for the first time.  I thank everyone from around the globe who has expressed avid interest in the book and offered kind encouragement throughout the years!  It was Donald Gallery’s lifelong dream that his mother’s complete, long overdue biography be written;  I sincerely thank him for entrusting me with that dream.  I am honored and excited to present this book to the world and will post publication details as soon as I have them.  Meanwhile, I offer an overview of the book below.

*  *  *

In 1914 at age seventeen, strong-willed, already infamous Reatha Watson was declared by juvenile authorities to be “too beautiful for the city” and banished from Los Angeles.  She soon returned, only to become further mired in scandal and subsequently barred by the film studios from working as an actress.

Unwilling to stifle her burning ambition and manifold talents, she pressed forward, reborn as Barbara La Marr.  An innately gifted dancer, she achieved renown in the foremost cabarets throughout the country and on Broadway at the height of the pre-WWI dance craze.  Then she toured the vaudeville circuits, acting in headlining comedy skits to general acclaim.  Still under the guise of her assumed name, she next became a storywriter for the Fox Film Corporation in the same town that cast her out, earning the modern equivalent of a six-figure salary.  Her exotic beauty, curvaceous form, and potent presence, epitomizing an ascending breed of 1920s screen idol—a shameless, volatile woman who ensnared men with her femininity—, enticed film producers.  She temporarily averted association with her increasingly turbulent past long enough to reign as a preeminent sex goddess of the silent screen.

Through it all, her tumultuous private life striped the pages of newspapers and film magazines.  After her death at age twenty-nine caused a furor in downtown Los Angeles in 1926, her publicist confessed, “There was no reason to lie about Barbara La Marr…Everything she said, everything she did was colored with news-value.  A personality dangerous, vivid, attractive; a desire to live life at its maddest and fullest; a mixture of sentiment and hardness, a creature of weakness and strength—that was Barbara La Marr.”

Her extraordinary life story is one of tempestuous passions and unbending perseverance in the face of inconceivable odds.  It is of a woman’s fierce determination to forge her own destiny amid the constant threat of losing it all to scandal and, ultimately, death.

B19

“Lest you forget—Barbara La Marr”

 

Remembering the “Too Beautiful” Girl; Newly Added Photographs of Barbara

January 30, 2016

Although more extensive blog posts are on a temporary hold as I ready my Barbara La Marr biography, The Girl Who Was Too Beautiful: The Extraordinary Life Story of Silent Screen Vamp, Barbara La Marr, for publication (click here for details: http://barbaralamarr.net/?page_id=28 ), enjoy these freshly added photographs of Barbara in honor of the anniversary of her passing at the age of twenty-nine.

Strangers of the Night (1923)

Barbara with Pat O’Malley; The Eternal Struggle (1923)

Barbara, Conway Tearle, and Charles De Roche in The White Moth (1924)

The Eternal Struggle (1923)

Barbara in one of her costumes from The Prisoner of Zenda (1922)

Barbara in Screenland Magazine, 1924

Barbara Photo Rare

The Eternal City (1923)

Barbara and William V. Mong in Thy Name Is Woman (1924)

Barbara and Charles De Roche in The White Moth (1924)

Barbara in Quincy Adams Sawyer (1922)

Barbara and Lewis Stone in The Girl From Montmartre (1926)

Just Because…

Barbara La Marr gained widespread notoriety at the age of seventeen, emerged as a cabaret sensation during the pre-WWI dance rage, and achieved superstardom as one of the silent screen’s leading actresses by defying the rigid conventions of her day.  Sinuous and sultry, she charted her own course through life, did things on her own terms.  Her love life was no exception.

She candidly confessed that she loved to live because she lived to love.  “No woman,” she insisted, “who has not known love can have a soul.”  She shamelessly declared that she liked her men by the dozen—like roses, she said—, and wed nearly half as many in her passion-filled, heartbreak-laden life of twenty-nine years.

“I’ve always been in love,” she explained to her fans on the pages of Photoplay magazine, “in love with the great ideal of love itself—something too many men and women experience; something that makes us go on seeking through personalities and the years. The world calls us fickle, but that isn’t true. We are merely the idealists of love, who search and very rarely find that for which we look.”

In honor of the anniversary of Barbara’s birthday and, “well, just because,” I present the following selection of one of her love poems:

 

Because

by Barbara La Marr

When I met PEDRO, I was thankful that my
hair was like pale sunshine through a golden
mist at dawn, BECAUSE—His was black and soft
as a moonless summer night!

When I met DAVID, I was thankful that my eyes
were dark and deep, and veiled, BECAUSE—His
were clear and grey, and searching!

When I met BILLY, for the first time in my life,
I was thankful that my nose was retroussé, BECAUSE—
Well, Billy had a sense of humor!

When I met NAIFE, I was thankful that my
mouth was tender, with a wistful childish expression,
BECAUSE—His was red—too red—and just a bit cruel!

BUT—when I met YOU: I was thankful, oh, so
thankful, that my skin was soft, and white, BECAUSE—
WELL, JUST BECAUSE!

* * *

B portrait A3

Happy Birthday, Barbara!

Barbara La Marr

July 28, 1896 – January 30, 1926

* * *

*** Read more of Barbara’s poetry in a previous blog entry here: http://barbaralamarr.net/?m=201307

*** View the latest update on my Barbara La Marr biography, The Girl Who Was Too Beautiful: The Extraordinary Life Story of Silent Screen Vamp, Barbara La Marr, here: http://barbaralamarr.net/?page_id=28

 

 

 

 

 

Notes:

“No woman who has not known love”: Ferguson, Helen, “Unquenchable Ardor, Pitying, Wise—,” Motion Picture Classic, May 1924, pg. 76.

“I’ve always been in love”: La Marr, Barbara, “My Screen Lovers,” Photoplay, November 1923, pg. 63.

Ascending Star

The news was received with astonishment and sorrow from the front pages of newspapers worldwide: Barbara La Marr, dead at twenty-nine on January 30, 1926, her death attributed to tuberculosis.

As a young girl named Reatha Watson, she performed in various stock theater companies throughout the Pacific northwest and dreamed of one day becoming a great tragedienne.  In the brief span of her life, she accomplished considerably more.  Her dream had not come easily.  Strong-minded and impetuous, she was implicated in several well-publicized scandals and subsequently banned from acting in films by the Los Angeles studios at the age of seventeen.  Dejected but undeterred, she achieved renown as a dancer in some of Broadway’s foremost cabarets by nineteen.  Four years later, in 1920, Barbara was back in Los Angeles, earning the modern equivalent of a six-figure salary as a storywriter for Fox Film Corporation.  Director Bertram Bracken encouraged her to try out for a bit part in Louis B. Mayer’s Harriet and the Piper that same year.  She won the part, and her rise to ascendancy as a superstar of the silent screen was nothing short of spectacular.

Throughout 1956 and 1957, committees including the likes of Hollywood heavyweights Samuel Goldwyn, Cecil B. DeMille, Mack Sennett, Hal Roach, and Jesse Lasky convened at Hollywood’s Brown Derby restaurant to determine whom to honor with a star on the newly-proposed Hollywood Walk of Fame.  Barbara La Marr was among the 1,558 motion picture, television, radio, and audio recording artists selected.  Her official induction occurred at the groundbreaking ceremony on February 8, 1960.  Today her star may be seen at 1621 Vine Street, a lasting testament to the twenty-six films in which she is known to have appeared, the respect accorded her by her peers, and the artistic excellence with which she inspired the world.

Barbara's star on the Walk of Fame, located at 1621 Vine Street (near the intersection of Hollywood Blvd. and Vine) in Hollywood.

Barbara’s star on the Walk of Fame, located at 1621 Vine Street (near the intersection of Hollywood Blvd. and Vine) in Hollywood.

Barbara was every inch the film star.  She exuded an explosive magnetism that lured men and fascinated women.  Her shapely figure, exotic beauty, and smoldering sultriness earned her the distinction of being one of the silversheet’s most celebrated sex goddesses.  Frequently cast in the role of a stereotypical vamp—a depraved seductress who uses her feminine wiles to undo men—, Barbara, with her versatility, inherent sensitivity, and emotional depth, transcended her typecasting with compellingly “human” characterizations.

Below are but some of the highlights and pivotal points in Barbara’s wide-ranging career as a screen actress.

***

The Three Musketeers (1921) – Handpicked by swashbuckling action hero Douglas Fairbanks himself, Barbara portrayed the sinister Milady de Winter in Alexandre Dumas’s classic tale of D’Artagnan (played by Fairbanks), a lowly young Frenchman whose gallantry gains him a place in the king’s regiment of musketeers.  Eternally grateful for the faith Fairbanks and Fred Niblo, the film’s director, placed in her, Barbara credited them with bolstering her determination to succeed as a film actress.  Fairbanks and Niblo weren’t alone in their assessment of her potential.  When The Three Musketeers burst into theaters worldwide, Barbara’s beauty and screen presence evoked gasps and stunned silence.  Critics also took note; “…dazzling…,” “…unusual…,” “…fiery…,” they wrote, applauding her vivid, wholehearted interpretation of the role.

Barbara as Milady de Winter in The Three Musketeers, preparing to steal the queen's jeweled buckle from the unsuspecting Duke of Buckingham (Thomas Holding) before D'Artagnan can retrieve it.

Barbara as Milady de Winter in The Three Musketeers, preparing to steal the queen’s jeweled buckle from the unsuspecting Duke of Buckingham (Thomas Holding) before D’Artagnan can retrieve it.

***

The Prisoner of Zenda (1922) and Trifling Women (1922) – Not long after The Three Musketeers premiered the end of August 1921, director Rex Ingram was scouring Hollywood for an actress capable of embodying the wicked Zareda in Trifling Women.  After auditioning Barbara in November, his search was over.  He offered her the part with the proviso that she first prove herself capable of handing a leading role by making good in a smaller part in The Prisoner of Zenda, a film he would direct before Trifling Women.  Both thrilled and scared to death, Barbara realized that these films could either make or break her.  She threw herself into the role of Antoinette de Mauban, the adventuress in The Prisoner of Zenda.

Barbara as Antoinette De Mauban in The Prisoner of Zenda; pictured with Stuart Holmes (as Black Michael, on far L) and Ramon Novarro (as Rupert of Hentzau, on R in foreground). As a component of one of the film's subplots, Antoinette ultimately betrays her traitorous lover (Black Michael) and enables the rescue of the king---all the while evading Rupert's impassioned advances.

Barbara as Antoinette De Mauban in The Prisoner of Zenda; pictured with Stuart Holmes (as Black Michael, on far L) and Ramon Novarro (as Rupert of Hentzau, on R in foreground).  As a component of one of the film’s subplots, Antoinette ultimately betrays her traitorous lover (Black Michael) and enables the rescue of the king—all the while evading Rupert’s impassioned advances.

Ingram, filmgoers, and reviewers were impressed by Barbara’s performance.  One journalist deemed her an actress of uncommon ability.  Another contended that, in the midst of a stellar production that in all ways approaches perfection, she alone was worth the admission price.

Trifling Women, a film widely considered to be gruesome and overtly erotic
in its day, earned Barbara similar plaudits.  Among the divergent, often heated reactions the picture generated, she was hailed as one of the most brilliant of the newer screen actresses and the most beautiful vamp on the screen.  She was further noted for delivering an exceptional, flawless performance.

Barbara as Zareda; pictured with Lewis Stone (as the Marquis Ferroni, her husband in the film) and (in upper R corner) Ramon Novarro (as Ivan de Maupin, her lover in the film). Beautiful, beguiling, and fiendish, Zareda plays her lovers like pawns, seeking wealth at any cost---until she meets her match.

Barbara as Zareda; pictured with Lewis Stone (as the Marquis Ferroni, her husband in the film) and (in upper R corner) Ramon Novarro (as Ivan de Maupin, her lover in the film).  Beautiful, beguiling, and fiendish, Zareda plays her lovers like pawns, seeking wealth at any cost—until she meets her match.

***

The Hero (1923) and Poor Men’s Wives (1923) – Following Barbara’s electrifying performance as a vamp in Trifling Women, director Louis J. Gasnier sensed more in her than her screen characterizations had heretofore revealed.  He snapped her up for two films, affording her the opportunity to shine in non-vamp roles.

As Hester Lane, a loving, dutiful mother and respectable woman in The Hero, Barbara was entrusted with the task of creating the inner conflict of a woman torn between her feelings for her brother-in-law and remaining faithful to her pallid husband.  Many expressed regret over her appearance in a so-called “drab” role, minus the elegant gowns to which her mounting fan base had grown accustomed.  Others were struck by her.  Critics argued that she was every bit as beautiful in lackluster garments and lauded her dramatic range.  One journalist insisted Barbara was all anyone could desire onscreen or off.

Barbara repeated her success as the heroine in Poor Men’s Wives.  Her depiction of Laura Maberne—a lower-class drudge who envies her wealthy best friend’s pampered lifestyle but realizes in the end that love, not money, trumps all—won her more raves.  Journalists commended her naturalness and believability, citing her portrayal as further validation of the breadth of her talent as an actress.  A few reviewers believed her work in the picture to be the best she had yet done.

A glass promotional slide featuring Barbara as Laura Maberne (with [L to R] Muriel McCormac and Mickie McBan, her children in the film).

A glass promotional slide featuring Barbara as Laura Maberne (with [L to R] Muriel McCormac and Mickie McBan, her children in the film).

***

Thy Name Is Woman (1924) – The Hero and Poor Men’s Wives, to Barbara’s eventual dismay, didn’t open the way for her to consistently create more of the reality-based characterizations she most enjoyed.  Audiences adored her as the vamp and she obliged them by playing vamp roles, particularly after inking a starring contract with Associated Pictures in August 1923.  Thy Name Is Woman provided one of her few reprieves.  Barbara lost herself in Guerita, a tormented woman who, in love for the first time—and with a man other than her husband—must summon the strength to follow her heart.  The highly-charged, emotional part both fascinated and exhausted Barbara.

Accolades for her efforts streaked the trades and newspapers.  Her performance in Thy Name Is Woman was said to be one of the most powerful witnessed in any film that year.  Perhaps her highest commendation came from the San Francisco Chronicle newspaperman who likened her portrayal to “having the soul of a woman on the dissecting table, where the scalpel has been used ruthlessly.”

Barbara as Guerita in Thy Name is Woman. She considered the role her favorite, and her work in the film to be the best she had ever done.

Barbara as Guerita in Thy Name Is Woman. She considered the role her favorite, and her work in the film to be the best she had thus far done.

***

The Girl From Montmartre (1926) – Sadly, Barbara’s career was waning by 1925.  Mismanagement of her talent, a series of flops, and public backlash against screen vamps were the main contributing factors.  Her health—undermined by severe weight loss practices, emotional distress, late nights spent in clubs, and excess drinking—was also fading.  Rallying valiantly, she severed ties with Associated Pictures and resolved to reclaim her career.

For her final vehicle under her starring contract with Associated Pictures, she cast her slinky gowns, feathered fans, and bejeweled headpieces aside, insisting upon a genuine character and a story with heart interest.  Against doctor’s admonitions, her parents’ pleas, and all odds, she forced herself to the studio each day, considerably frail and often crippled by pain.  She put her soul into the role of Emilia, a Spanish peasant of noble birth whose past as a cabaret dancer prevents her from marrying the man she loves until the film’s end.

Hellbent on completing The Girl From Montmartre and never one to let her colleagues down, Barbara declined the production team's offer to postpone filming for the sake of her health. (She is seen here with Robert Ellis, her villainous suitor in the film.)

Hellbent on completing The Girl From Montmartre and never one to let her colleagues down, Barbara declined the production team’s offer to postpone filming for the sake of her health.  (She is seen here with Robert Ellis, her villainous suitor in the film.)

While certain critics and exhibitors dismissed the story as weak and the film as ordinary, many saw something more.  People marveled at Barbara’s courage and perseverance.  Some remarked upon how an ethereal, spiritual beauty had surpassed the illness that had diminished her once voluptuous form.  Others attested to the presence of an underlying fire in her, the same vitality that had won her fame.  One journalist, applauding her poignant performance, asserted that her beauty and talent appeared to have blossomed; he assured Barbara she had nothing to regret.  A handful of reviewers called it the best performance she had ever rendered.

Their sentiments were lost on Barbara.  She had passed away a day before the release of The Girl From Montmartre.  Weeks before, the film’s producers, aware of her impending death, had alternately scrambled to get the picture into theaters and contemplated shelving it.  History had convinced them that the general public tended to avoid films featuring dead stars.  Barbara proved them wrong; numerous exhibitors nationwide reported packed houses and capacity business while showing the film.

***

Although the majority of Barbara’s film work is unfortunately lost or currently unaccounted for, some of her films (including The Three Musketeers and The Prisoner of Zenda) may readily be enjoyed today.  For a listing of her extant films and where they may be viewed, refer to the filmography page: http://barbaralamarr.net/?page_id=17

©2015 Sherri Snyder

***

Of course, much, much more will be told about Barbara’s career in film and every aspect of her incredible, accomplished, turbulent life in her upcoming biography, The Girl Who Was Too Beautiful: The Extraordinary Life Story of Silent Screen Vamp, Barbara La Marr.  For updates, visit: http://barbaralamarr.net/?page_id=28 

Notes:

“having the soul”: San Francisco Chronicle quoted in “Thy Name is Woman,” Film Daily, March 9, 1924, pg. 16.

Farewell to a Gentleman: A Tribute to Donald Michael Gallery

He was unwittingly thrust into the spotlight in February of 1923, when he was but seven months of age.  Barbara La Marr, rising star of the silent screen, had traveled from Los Angeles to Dallas, Texas under the guise of headlining the annual Southwestern Automobile Show.  While in Dallas, Barbara visited the Hope Cottage orphans’ home, emerging with an adorable blue-eyed infant in her arms and a cluster of awaiting reporters on her heels.  Beaming proudly, she introduced the child as Marvin Carville La Marr.  Newspapers and film magazines the world over were soon ablaze: “World’s Wickedest Vamp Adopts a Baby,” “A Little Piece of Texas Goes to Hollywood,” “To Barbara La Marr belongs the credit for staging the greatest surprise for the Hollywoodites this season…”

It was exactly what Barbara wanted the film industry, her fans, and the rest of the world to believe.  The reality, however, was something far different: having become pregnant after separating from her most recent husband, she herself had secretly birthed the boy in Los Angeles.  Concealment of his existence had been a necessary evil in a society where so-called immoral behavior was intolerable, in an era when studios guarded their stars’ reputations at all costs.  By staging her baby’s adoption in order to keep him, Barbara had risked everything.  Consummate actress that she was, she maintained the charade the rest of her life.

To a select few, Barbara confided the truth; to all who would listen, she proclaimed her adoration for her son.  Little “Sonny”—so nicknamed for his perpetual cheerfulness—made her life worth living, she said.  She joyously discussed her plans for his future: he would receive a fine, character-building education in a military school…the two of them would travel the world together…she would support him in whatever career he chose…  Above all, she explained, was her intention to bring him up to be the sort of man she had always wanted to marry, but had yet to find.

Don as Baby with Barbara

Barbara cuddling her pride and joy. To her detractors who deemed a film vamp unsuitable for motherhood, Barbara declared, “There is more motherhood in my little finger than in the whole body of the majority of mothers.”

Tragically, Barbara would not see the fulfillment of her dreams for Sonny.  She contracted tuberculosis and passed away on January 30, 1926 at the age of twenty-nine.  On her deathbed, she made one final plan for her cherished boy: she entrusted her dear friend, actress ZaSu Pitts, with his care and keeping.  In ZaSu’s home, Barbara knew, he would have a spunky sister his same age, a father figure in the person of Tom Gallery (ZaSu’s husband), and the love and tenderness she could no longer give him.  The Gallerys welcomed three-year-old Sonny as their own, legally adopting him that November and christening him Donald Michael Gallery.  Eight decades later, with a wistful tone in his voice, Donald would admit to having no memories of Barbara.

ZaSu and Tom Adopt Don for site

The Gallery family, circa November 1926: (left to right) Ann, Tom, ZaSu, and Donald.

Among Donald’s earliest recollections, originating in the innocent naiveté of his boyhood, was the notion that every child grew up as he did.  His home, nestled along Rockingham Road in the exclusive Los Angeles suburb of Brentwood, offered a view of the shimmering Pacific—as well as the occasional eyeful of Greta Garbo sunbathing in the nude by her swimming pool next door.  His sprawling backyard housed a pony he shared with his sister.  When ZaSu purchased a pet cow during the meager years of the Great Depression, he enjoyed fresh milk and homemade ice cream.  His neighborhood was a constellation of some of the screen’s most notable luminaries.  Shirley Temple, Judy Garland, and Leatrice Gilbert (daughter of John Gilbert and Leatrice Joy) were among his playmates.  Besides Garbo, the likes of Clark Gable, Joan Crawford, Elizabeth Taylor, Claudette Colbert, Barbara Stanwyck, Mary Astor, and Gloria Swanson lived nearby at various times.  Many of them were frequent guests in his home.  Young Donald also looked forward to weekly visits and gifts from Barbara’s friend and his godfather, MGM director and producer Paul Bern.

Like Barbara before her, ZaSu—who eschewed the words “adopted” and “step”—, never missed an opportunity to brag about her son to friends and inquiring journalists.  Inherently bright and dedicated to his studies, he was an honor student at Brentwood Town and Country School and, later, Webb Boarding Preparatory School for boys.  Mild-mannered and well-behaved, he considered his sister a friend and rarely—if ever—squabbled with her.  Sharing Barbara’s innate magnetism, he delighted all who met him.  “Don Mike,” decreed ZaSu to one newspaperman, “is an angel.”

ZaSu’s assessment was echoed by many, particularly as Donald grew into manhood.  The epitome of the handsome, all-American “boy next door” and ever the gentleman, he was one of the rare young men whom even the wariest parents trusted with their daughters.  Shirley Temple was one such daughter.  For years, Donald escorted the dainty superstar (by then a teenager) to parties, nightclubs, film premieres, and other social gatherings.  He later insisted that their dates were merely “friendly,” although Shirley regularly adorned herself in his college varsity sweater—even at her high school where, risking censure for having violated the uniform policy, she carried her books against her chest.  Donald was hand-picked by Elizabeth Taylor’s mother to distract Elizabeth, nine years Donald’s junior and already a budding bombshell, from what she considered to be a less suitable associate.  The scheme was a success: Elizabeth delighted in the frat parties they attended, the card games they played, and the long talks they shared.  Don, in turn, relished her company and—despite her crush on him—, made good on Mrs. Taylor’s request that he keep things on friendly terms.

In September of 1942, while his general inclination to date one girl at a time was surely breaking hearts, twenty-year-old Donald broke his “Mama ZaSu’s” heart.  Months earlier, her boy had been studying business, hitting tennis balls, and leading cheers with the squad team at Stanford University.  Now he had left college and taken his life into his own hands.  With the Second World War raging and the tragedy at Pearl Harbor still gnawing at the nation’s soul, Donald confessed to enlisting in the United States Army Air Corps.  After recovering from shock, fury, and terror, ZaSu drew upon her connections.  Following Donald’s completion of fighter pilot training at Luke Air Field in Arizona, he was transferred—to his dismay and owing to ZaSu’s string-pulling—out of the Air Corps.  He was instead given an assignment as a “spy catcher” in the Counter Intelligence Corps (the precursor to the CIA) and shipped to Liverpool, England.  The ultimate decision to employ Donald in such a capacity was not made lightly; CIC agents were meticulously chosen for their solid reputations as upstanding, reliable men.  Donald excelled at his duties and briefly remained with the CIC after the war’s end to help round up war criminals.

He returned to Los Angeles and his relieved mother in the spring of 1946.  His next step was Warner Bros. Studios and the silver screen.  During the day, he played small parts in films such as Wallflower (1948), and, in the early 1950s, The Boy Next Door.  He continued his studies at UCLA in the evenings.  By 1950, he had found a position as an “insurance eye”—that is, an investigator with an insurance company.  He had also found a bride.  Encouraged by studio heads who played him up as a war hero, he wed pretty Warner Bros. starlet Joyce Reynolds October 24, 1947.  The short-lived union ended four years later. “We were young,” Donald said politely in 2010—and let it go at that.

Copy of Don G and Joyce attending school, UCLA night classes

Newlyweds Joyce Reynolds and Donald pose for a publicity still while attending UCLA together.

Three decades passed before Donald laid eyes on the love of his life.  He was a newcomer to Catalina Island at the time, temporarily recruited from the California mainland by the owners of Guided Discoveries to teach sailing to children at their summer camp.  “They fell in love with him, like most people do,” his wife recalled years later.  When Guided Discoveries invited Donald to stay on, he accepted—quite possibly due to a lovely, elegant local he had met.  That woman, Patricia, became Mrs. Donald Gallery on May 7, 1985.  They remained on the island for many years, he with an ice cream store he had purchased, she with her jewel shop.  They traveled throughout the world; he even took her to a quaint town in the Swiss countryside where, long before, war-weary villagers had given him and his G. I. comrades a rousing ovation.  As Donald continued to satiate his acting bug with bit parts in film and television, Patricia and her jewelry store also got in on the action when The Bold and the Beautiful filmed in Avalon in the early 1990s. The happy couple retired to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico in 1993.  There, Donald served as president of a writer’s group and enjoyed twenty-one more wonderful years with, as he was fond of saying, “the greatest wife in the world.”

Don and Beautiful Patricia

Donald and Patricia Gallery.

On the afternoon of October 11, 2014, at the age of ninety-two years, Donald passed away quietly in his home during his usual afternoon nap.  “He had the most peaceful, beautiful look on his face…,” Patricia, who had been by his side watching television, remarked.

A few years before his passing, Donald professed to have “no regrets” over the way his life had turned out.  He did, however, harbor a persistent longing. “I wish I could have known Barbara,” he admitted.  ZaSu had been honest with him from the time he was old enough to understand, explaining that Barbara was his mother and that she had gone to heaven.  Throughout the years, as Donald collected Barbara’s photographs from memorabilia shops, gazed at her image upon withering cutouts from old film magazines, and viewed her few surviving films, his mind spun with unanswered questions.  His conversations with those who had known Barbara provided some answers—(among them, the tale of how she pulled off his mock adoption; “It’s like a spy novel,” he said).  Others were more elusive.  He wondered who his father was.  Several of Barbara’s friends offered him their own theories, but, ultimately, he would never know for sure.  Barbara had confided to one of her friends merely that her son was the product of a bitterly broken romance.  This heartbreak not only fueled Barbara’s growing disillusionment with men, it further prompted her to pour all of her love into her only child.  Certainly, it factored into her determination to make the best man of him that she could.  Had she but known the man her boy became, Barbara would be proud indeed.

Forever in our hearts: Donald Michael Gallery July 29, 1922 – October 11, 2014

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©2014 Sherri Snyder