Those who were unable to attend my performance as and lecture on Barbara La Marr; the signing of my biography, Barbara La Marr: The Girl Who Was Too Beautiful for Hollywood; and the screening of The Three Musketeers (1921), starring Douglas Fairbanks Sr., Marguerite De La Motte, Nigel De Brulier, Barbara La Marr, and Adolphe Menjou, on March 24 at Hollywood’s Egyptian Theatre may view The Three Musketeers for free online (see link below).
When The Three Musketeers premiered in New York City in August 1921, it was hailed by critics as “a thrilling, gripping, unadulterated success”; “the greatest achievement since the birth of the motion picture industry”; and, “in the words of D’Artagnan”—the film’s gallant hero played by Douglas Fairbanks—, “Marvelous.” House records were shattered worldwide as crowds stormed theaters, literally fighting their way to box office windows and necessitating calls for police protection.
The Three Musketeers marked the end of Barbara’s time in the shadows of obscurity as an actress. The thought both exhilarated and frightened her. While still employed as a storywriter at Fox in 1920, Barbara first met Fairbanks on the set of his film The Mark of Zorro, after Marguerite De La Motte—Barbara’s friend and Fairbanks’s leading lady in that film and The Three Musketeers—invited her to accompany her to work one day. Barbara’s beauty, charisma, and talent so impressed Fairbanks that he gave her a small part as a tempestuous gangster’s moll in his film The Nut (1921), then offered her the much-coveted role of the iniquitous spy Milady de Winter in The Three Musketeers, a film which was already anticipated to be an international sensation. Fearful of being recognized as notorious Reatha Watson on the big screen, and the subsequent exposure of her infamous past, Barbara nonetheless accepted the role. She became disheartened, however, when vaudevillian and film actor Ben Deely, her husband at that time, and various others close to her discouraged her from pursuing an acting career, instead advising her to stick with writing. Fairbanks refused to hear of it. When filming for The Three Musketeers concluded, Fairbanks made a prediction. “You are going to be one of the biggest girls on the screen,” he told Barbara. “Wait and see.”
Indeed, critics applauded Barbara’s supporting performance in The Three Musketeers, declaring her “dazzling,” a “fiery” actress, and worthy of stardom. More film offers rolled in for Barbara, and within two years she was an established star. At the height of her fame, she credited the encouragement she received from Fairbanks and director Fred Niblo on the set of The Three Musketeers with preventing her from quitting and fueling her determination to succeed as an actress.
*** Watch Barbara in The Three Musketeers here.
Bridgeport Times and Evening Farmer, November 2, 1921, image of Barbara as Milady de Winter in The Three Musketeers.
(To learn more about the films Barbara wrote and appeared in, visit the Filmography section of this site.)
“a thrilling, gripping, unadulterated success”: “‘Three Musketeers’ Has Greatest Reception Ever Accorded a Film,” Moving Picture World, September 10, 1921, 190.
“the greatest achievement”: “Praise ‘Three Musketeers,'” Motion Picture News, September 17, 1921, 1514.
“in the words of D’Artagnan”: “In the Words of D’Artagnan—Marvelous!!,” Wid’s Daily, September 4, 1921, 2.
“You are going to be one of the biggest”: La Marr, Barbara, “The True Story of My Life,” Movie Weekly, January 24, 1925, pg. 20.
“dazzling”: “Girl of ‘Too Much Beauty’ Wins Fame,” Salt Lake Telegram, October 23, 1921.
“fiery”: untitled photo caption, Picture Play Magazine, March 1922, pg. 42.