Happy Birthday to the Lovely Barbara La Marr (July 28, 1896 – January 30, 1926)!

“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.”

Barbara in one of her Prisoner of Zenda costumes, 1922.

(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.)

Notes:

“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.

“Barbara La Marr: The Girl Who Was Too Beautiful for Hollywood” Performance, Lecture, and Book Signing Event in Rancho Palos Verdes, California, July 18, 2018

Silent screen actress Barbara La Marr was a legend in her time, leading an astounding life described by newspapers of the day as “a wilder story than she ever helped to film.”  Join me, Sherri Snyder, on Wednesday, July 18 at the Fred Hesse Community Park, 29301 Hawthorne Blvd., Rancho Palos Verdes, California 90275, as I portray Barbara in a self-authored performance piece, then lecture about her, detailing her oftentimes scandalous life from her humble beginnings to her tragic death at age twenty-nine in 1926.  Barbara’s banishment from Los Angeles at age seventeen for being “too beautiful”; her notable careers as a dancer, a vaudevillian, a screenwriter, and an actress; her impact upon cinematic history; and her fierce determination to forge her own destiny amid the constant threat of losing it all to scandal and, ultimately, death will be spotlighted.  I will also answer questions about Barbara and sign copies of my book, Barbara La Marr: The Girl Who Was Too Beautiful for Hollywood.  The event, beginning at 10:30 a.m. and roughly an hour and a half long, is being held in the park’s McTaggart Hall and is FREE to attend.

(Photo: [left to right] Barbara La Marr; me as Barbara; my Barbara La Marr biography.)

Barbara La Marr’s Whitley Heights Home is for Sale!

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.

(Photo: [left to right] Barbara La Marr in the living room of her Whitley Heights home in 1924; me beside the same fireplace in 2018.)

Film Matters Interview

When I was recently interviewed about Barbara La Marr and my biography, Barbara La Marr: The Girl Who Was Too Beautiful for Hollywood, for Film Matters Magazine, my interviewer, Lily Frame, kindly told me, “To say I had the time of my life reading this book is truly an understatement.”  Lily’s review of Barbara La Marr: The Girl Who Was Too Beautiful for Hollywood will run in an upcoming print issue of Film Matters.  My interview, meanwhile, is featured on the Film Matters website.

On This Day in 1923…

On this day, May 5, in 1923, tall, handsome, red-headed actor and stuntman Jack Daugherty arrived at the Whitley Heights home of screen siren Barbara La Marr for a dinner date and received one of the shocks of his life.  “You’re going to be married tonight,” Barbara informed him when she greeted him at the door.  Her declaration rendered him virtually speechless; “Huh!” he exclaimed.  Jack later confessed to being so “insane about Barbara” after meeting her through their respective film work in 1921 that “I couldn’t even think of the [films] I was doing—and was desperately trying to marshal up enough courage to propose.”

True to Barbara’s word, she and Jack were wed the evening of May 5 in Ventura, California, at the officiating reverend’s home.  A Los Angeles Times reporter, somehow learning of their sudden, secret elopement, was in attendance alongside Barbara’s mother and brother, and writer, director, and producer Paul Bern (Barbara’s friend and Jack’s best man).  “At noon today,” Barbara proclaimed to the reporter, “I had no more idea of marrying [Jack] than—well—than of marrying you. Then—well—I just decided.”

Barbara would soon speak to other reporters of the considerable heartbreak, scandal, and scathing publicity she had endured while searching for her ideal man—including serial relationships and marriages, a bigamous marriage, and the bitter dissolution of her affair with homosexual actor William Haines three days before her marriage to Jack.  Reminded by one newsman of her oft-repeated avowal that she would never marry again, Barbara declared, “Any woman who says she won’t marry again is just a plain fool—of course she will, when something like Jack’s adorable hair strikes her.”

View Barbara in The Three Musketeers (1921)

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.)

 

NOTES:

“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.