My biography, Barbara La Marr: The Girl Who Was Too Beautiful for Hollywood, was released by the University Press of Kentucky on November 15, 2017! Those who purchased the book directly from the University Press of Kentucky will receive their order any day now. Book shipments will be making their way to Amazon and other booksellers over the coming weeks. The University Press of Kentucky is running a 20% off holiday sale through January 31, 2018, on orders (for the cloth version) placed via their website. Be sure to enter the discount code provided when ordering.
Known as “the girl who is too beautiful” since 1914—-when law enforcement declared her, then seventeen, “too beautiful” to be on the loose in Los Angeles and subsequently banished her from the city—, silent screen legend Barbara La Marr has been the muse of many an artist. Indeed, in her time, her exquisite beauty and smoldering allure captured the imagination of painters, photographers, poets, and filmmakers—and continues to inspire today.
Modern-day artist Gregg Nystrom discovered Barbara in his teens, while indulging his passion for the renowned beauty icons of 1920s-1950s Hollywood, fashion, film, and drawing. Her “stunning,” exotic looks, specifically, her dark hair and green eyes,* “really spoke to me as an artist,” recalled Nystrom. Later, as a published paper doll artist who honors the timeless glamour of twentieth century film stars and models through his work, Nystrom recreated Barbara’s beauty and essence in paper doll form many times (his favorite renderings are pictured below; in the center photo, Barbara is depicted in her costume from The Prisoner of Zenda ). “Barbara has long been my favorite silent star!” Nystrom admits.
Considered works of art, Nystrom’s paper dolls feature hand-painted, textured garments immortalized by the wearer: designer gowns and movie costumes, often adorned with glitter, sequins, and, on occasion, feathers. Nystrom anticipates that his latest Barbara La Marr doll (pictured above on the right) will one day be available to Barbara’s fans and “will have her gorgeous film wardrobe.”
Whether in her surviving films, in photos, or as one of Nystrom’s paper dolls, Barbara certainly lives up to her epithet. “To me,” Nystrom says, “Barbara La Marr truly is ‘the girl who is too beautiful.'”
*Amazingly, Barbara’s eyes were said to change color, at times appearing green, blue-gray, deep blue, and hazel.
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My upcoming biography, Barbara La Marr: The Girl Who Was Too Beautiful for Hollywood, to be released in December 2017, is now available for pre-order at 30% off through June 30, 2017! Use discount code FS30 on the University Press of Kentucky’s website.
As I complete my Barbara La Marr biography (refer to the Book Updates section for more information), blog entries are temporarily on hold. Rest assured, however, that they will be back! Many exciting things are happening behind the scenes and there is much I am looking forward to sharing (including many more images of the lovely and talented Miss La Marr).
For now, I leave you with the striking portraiture of Herold Rodney Eaton Phyfe (better known as Hal Phyfe). Phyfe utilized his background in sculpting and painting to produce sketches for magazines and film studios throughout the 1920s. His renderings, often done in pastels, melded his dramatic flair with his ability to capture the subtle intricacies of his subjects’ personas. “If the eyes have ‘it’,” he believed, “everything else will be forgotten in their vivid, compelling attraction. Eyes create individuality, they are the spokesman for the soul, the character, the mind.”
“If the eyes have ‘it’,”: Shields, David S., “Hal Phyfe,” http://broadway.cas.sc.edu/content/hal-phyfe
The vamp first emerged on the screen in 1915. She came in the form of Theda Bara in A Fool There Was, a film inspired by Rudyard Kipling’s poem, “The Vampire.” She was a shocking figure: a woman who deliberately uses her femininity to ensnare men. To some, she was a titillating deviation, the antithesis of the standard saccharine heroine. To others, she was cause for alarm, an additional threat to society’s diminishing Victorian morals. To film producers, she was gold, the precursor to a new breed of screen goddess.
In 1922, Barbara La Marr secured her launch to superstardom when she played a vamp in Rex Ingram’s Trifling Women. Her portrayal of a cruel sorceress who plays men like pawns solidified her image as one of the silent screen’s leading temptresses. At first, Barbara welcomed the opportunity to play vamps. “I’m not silly enough to pretend I’m an ingénue,” she conceded. “It isn’t my line—on or off the screen. I don’t want to be an ingénue. I just want to be a woman.”
Barbara could indeed vamp with the best of them. Director Fred Niblo once marveled that even a bad dressmaker couldn’t make her look virtuous. Barbara likewise quipped that a true vamp was not dependent upon her bee-stung lips or the clinging gowns, trailing hemlines, and jeweled headpieces in which she was typically costumed. “It’s the look in the eye that does it,” she insisted. Yet Barbara’s style of vamping went beyond the popular conception of the vamp as a dimensionless caricature. An actress of true substance, she alternately infused her roles with sprightly comedic touches and, more often, gripping, heartfelt emotion. She, like the women she portrayed, was enshrouded in an aura of mystery. “She is made for lurking tragedy,” writer Willis Goldbeck mused in the November 1922 issue of Motion Picture Magazine, “…one feels the beat of ravens’ wings about her…her radiance is that of moonlight in the heavy shadows of the night…Calypso she is, burning with the flame of subtle ecstasy.”
Even so, reporters and magazine columnists, upon meeting Barbara in the flesh, were pleasantly startled. They were hard-pressed to find the slightest trace of the wicked ladies she enacted in films. Adela Rogers St. Johns recalled how Barbara’s genuine charm and captivating wit disarmed even the most hardened newspapermen. When one interviewer pressed Barbara to reveal something unusual about herself, she offered to stand on her head. Los Angeles Times reporter William Foster Elliot, struck by her sincerity and directness, commented, “She is remarkably straightforward and man to man in her attitude,” and “…really human despite the exotic bunk.”
Barbara eventually tired of playing wayward women and shunned vamp roles altogether. She yearned to play the more sympathetic roles she had proven herself capable of in such films as Louis B. Mayer’s production, Thy Name Is Woman (1924). By 1925, public tastes were similarly shifting and fun-loving flappers began eclipsing vamps as the newest idols of the silver sheet. Barbara, inextricably linked to her naughty onscreen image and declared washed-up in the trade magazines, fought for one final chance.
With her health failing and less than a year to live, she was given that chance. She was determined to see it through…
©2013 Sherri Snyder
“I’m not silly enough”: La Marr, Barbara, “Why I Adopted a Baby,” Photoplay, May 1923, pg. 31.
“It’s the look in the eye”: Drummond, Joan, “Beautiful Barbara,” Pictures and the Picturegoer, April 1924, pg. 44.
“She is remarkably straightforward”: Elliot, Foster William , “Not Like the Fan Stories,” Los Angeles Times, September 17, 1922.
In the months to come, I will post entries commemorating the life and times of Barbara La Marr.