After collapsing in a coma on the set of her final film, The Girl from Montmartre (1926), silent screen star Barbara La Marr, suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis, was forced into isolation in Altadena, California, by her doctor in October 1925. As the months passed, Barbara often worried that those in the outside world had forgotten her.
They hadn’t. Following her death at age twenty-nine on January 30, 1926, while she lay in state for four days in a Los Angeles chapel, an estimated 120,000 mourners—other Hollywood stars and friends who had worked with or known her intimately, fans who had worshipped her luminous image on film screens, and folks who had been touched by her kindness and unyielding generosity—filed past her golden velvet bier, paying their respects with tears and floral offerings.
Among the flowers engulfing her bier and filling the chapel to overflowing was a single red rose, tucked beneath her hand by a twelve-year-old girl. “To my Beautiful Lady,” the accompanying note read, “whom I have longed to meet in this life and whom I look forward to ‘knowing’ when my time is over here. May my life be as lovely and unselfish as yours has been.” The girl’s rose, considered by Barbara’s father to be the greatest tribute, was buried with Barbara.
(Photo above: Barbara La Marr, 1924)
decision to turn down the role of Doña Sol, the mistress opposite screen idol
Rudolph Valentino, in Blood and Sand (1922)
in order to appear in The Prisoner of
Zenda (1922) was a risky one. Director
Rex Ingram, in casting her in the supporting role of Antoinette De Mauban in The Prisoner of Zenda, a story of ruses
and doomed love affairs, was testing her acting abilities for a leading role as
an evil seductress in his upcoming thriller, Trifling Women (formerly Black
Orchids; 1922), slated to begin production after The Prisoner of Zenda.
Realizing that her performance in The
Prisoner of Zenda would either validate or refute Ingram’s faith in her,
Barbara was determined to achieve film stardom.
Even alongside a distinguished cast including Lewis Stone, Alice Terry, and Ramon Novarro, Barbara shone in the role of Antoinette, an adventuress who helps vanquish a coup by betraying her traitorous lover. Period critics, enraptured by her whole-souled acting and beauty, declared that she alone was worth the film’s admission price. Long before The Prisoner of Zenda reached theaters, however, Ingram finalized his decision to star Barbara in Trifling Women—a film Barbara later credited with securing her launch to worldwide fame.
Hailed in its day as a sensational triumph and one of Ingram’s best, The Prisoner of Zenda—and Barbara’s acclaimed performance as Antoinette—may be viewed for free online here.
(Photo above: Barbara as Antoinette De Mauban in The Prisoner of Zenda.)