Thank you to film journalist and historian Phil Hall for interviewing me about Barbara La Marr and my book, Barbara La Marr: The Girl Who Was Too Beautiful for Hollywood, on his podcast, The Online Movie Show with Phil Hall. I had a great time discussing Barbara’s accomplished careers as a stock company actress, dancer, vaudevillian, storywriter for the Fox Film Corporation, and silent film actress; her turbulent early years as “the notorious Reatha Watson”; and more. The podcast may be accessed here.
Barbara is pictured below as she appeared in The Shooting of Dan McGrew (1924), a film said to have been at least partially adapted by her from Robert William Service’s poem of the same name. Barbara portrayed “the lady that’s known as Lou,” a dancer who falls prey to a cunning gambler (Lew Cody) while trying to make a better life for herself, her husband (Percy Marmont), and her son (Philippe De Lacy). Oozing with sex appeal, Barbara’s heated, heartfelt performance was deemed a success by several critics upon the film’s release—though Film Daily warned that her “near-nakedness” would likely prompt scrupulous censors in certain areas to ban the film.
(This photo is among the many in my collection that weren’t included with the seventy-six allowed in my biography, Barbara La Marr: The Girl Who Was Too Beautiful for Hollywood . There will be more photos to come.)
Directed by Rex Ingram, The Prisoner of Zenda, a gripping tale of deceptions and ill-fated love affairs, was deemed a “sensational and instant triumph” and “Ingram’s best” by Moving Picture World, and near perfection by the Philadelphia Inquirer after its release. Barbara, appearing in the film in the supporting role of a cast-off woman who helps defeat a coup by betraying her deceitful lover, likewise garnered praise. Period trades commended her heartfelt performance, proclaiming her one of the screen’s most beautiful women and an actress of exceptional ability, and declaring that she alone was worth the admission price. Also featured in the film are the acclaimed performances of Lewis Stone, Alice Terry, and Ramon Novarro.
The Prisoner of Zenda airs at 12:30 a.m. EST. (To view the TCM schedule, click here.)
“The girl who was too beautiful,” “the world’s wickedest vamp,” “immoral woman”… Barbara La Marr wore many labels throughout her short, oftentimes scandalous life and meteoric career as one of the silent screen’s brightest stars. Yet to those who loved Barbara, she was far more than the debauched women she played, her demons, and the shocking headlines she spawned. Ramon Novarro, Barbara’s friend and costar in three of her films, saw beyond what he termed the “glittering, enchanting personality” Barbara erected around herself; he found in her a sincerity, humility, and “kindness that made her lovable.” Alice Terry, Barbara’s Prisoner of Zenda (1922) costar, affirmed, “[Barbara] was as lovely in her personality as she was in her ravishing looks…She was very big-hearted and generous and loved to please people.” Indeed, Barbara’s generosity knew no bounds; she routinely donated large sums to charities, allowed struggling artists to live with her until they found steady work, and bestowed lavish gifts upon friends and co-workers. Reporters and columnists, expecting Barbara to behave in person as her impious screen characters would, were pleasantly surprised when meeting her for the first time, encountering instead a charming, “regular girl” who “radiates good fellowship.” Directors, her castmates, and film crew members consistently spoke of what a joy she was to work with. A film critic, praising Barbara’s performance in her final film, The Girl from Montmartre (1926), noted that the picture depicts Barbara in her real nature, “a whole-souled and loving girl.” Writer Willis Goldbeck was said to believe Barbara’s virtues to be “of the mind and spirit,” and that her weaknesses were “all of the flesh.”
(To learn more about Barbara, check out my biography, Barbara La Marr: The Girl Who Was Too Beautiful for Hollywood, recently published by the University Press of Kentucky and also available on Amazon, from Barnes & Noble, and elsewhere.)
“glittering, enchanting personality”: Ramon Novarro, “Ramon Novarro Tells of His Screen Loves,” Movie Weekly, April 25, 1925, 5.
“[Barbara] was as lovely”: Terry quoted in Jimmy Bangley, “The Legendary Barbara La Marr,” Classic Images, May 1996, 17.
“regular girl”: Regina Cannon, “‘My Private Life’s My Own Affair,’ Declares Barbara La Marr,” Movie Weekly, May 31, 1924, 3.
“a whole-souled and loving girl”: New York Graphic quoted in “Newspaper Opinions,” Film Daily, February 28, 1926, 197.
“of the mind and spirit”: Goldbeck quoted in Adela Rogers St. Johns, “The Life Story of Barbara La Marr,” Liberty Magazine, December 15, 1928, 67.
What a thrill it was for me to visit Barbara’s former residence at 6672 Whitley Terrace in Los Angeles this past weekend. Nestled in the historic Whitley Heights neighborhood, an area that was once home to a constellation of some of the biggest stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age, the beautiful house is currently offered for sale at $1,595,000.
It was reported in early 1923 that Barbara had recently moved into the newly built home. She resided in the house—with her infant son, various struggling artists she often invited to stay with her, and, later, her final husband—until she leased it after leaving for New York the spring of 1924 to film a series of starring pictures. She returned to Los Angeles the summer of 1925, perilously ill but determined to complete one last film before being forced into seclusion in a temporary residence in Altadena, California, that October. Following her tragic death from tuberculosis and nephritis at age twenty-nine in January 1926, her Whitley Heights house was seized and sold by one of her creditors.
The home has been remodeled through the years (and is therefore slightly different than described in my book, Barbara La Marr: The Girl Who Was Too Beautiful for Hollywood), but many original features—including gorgeous stained glass windows, elegant hardware, doors, and spectacular views of the Hollywood sign—remain. Have a look.
Legendary silent screen goddess Barbara La Marr was known as much for her laudable career as for her infamy. Her tempestuous life, the scandalous headlines she generated, and her sultry screen image are only part of the story, however. Learn more in my guest article, “Barbara La Marr: Beyond the Legend,” on Midnight Palace, a website devoted to classic film culture. (NOTE: Due to technical difficulties on the Midnight Palace site, I have temporarily removed the link; until the link is up and running again, feel free to read the article I wrote for Classic Movie Hub, “Barbara La Marr: Life on Her Own Terms.”)
(Read Barbara’s complete story in my newly released biography, Barbara La Marr: The Girl Who Was Too Beautiful for Hollywood, available on the University Press of Kentucky website, on Amazon, and from other booksellers.)
A newly released set of six postage stamps, created for the Isle of Man Post Office in honor of celebrated British novelist Hall Caine, features Barbara La Marr, Pola Negri, Anny Ondra, Richard Dix, Conrad Nagel, and Norman Kerry—silent film stars who appeared in adaptations of Caine’s esteemed works!
Barbara La Marr’s stamp commemorates her starring role in The Eternal City (1923), a film based upon Caine’s bestselling 1901 novel of the same name. As the author of Barbara La Marr: The Girl Who Was Too Beautiful for Hollywood, I was honored to have been asked to provide photos for Barbara’s stamp, one of which (a portrait, not an image from the film) was chosen.