I will be at the Cinecon Classic Film Festival on Saturday, August 31 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., signing copies of my biography, Barbara La Marr: The Girl Who Was Too Beautiful for Hollywood. Book signings, part of the festival’s Memorabilia Show, will be located in the third floor meeting area at Lowes Hollywood Hotel (1755 North Highland Avenue, Los Angeles 90028). Information on the festival’s film screenings and other events may be found here. I’m looking forward to seeing everyone.
Happy Birthday Anniversary to the one and only Barbara La Marr (July 28, 1896 – January 30, 1926)! Though Barbara passed away at age twenty-nine from tuberculosis and nephritis, it was said that she lived many lives in one.
Thank you to David Heath, host of Cinema Chat, for having me on his podcast to discuss Barbara’s turbulent teenage years; her many matrimonial ventures; her accomplished careers as a stock theater actress, dancer, vaudevillian, and Fox Film Corporation story writer; her ascension to worldwide fame as one of the silent screen’s leading actresses; and more.
Though silent screen star Barbara La Marr and her father, newspaperman and writer William Watson, had their differences—he initially disapproved of her film acting aspirations; clashed with her free-spirited nature; and endured her turbulent, oftentimes scandalous life—, they loved each other very much. When Barbara was allegedly kidnapped at age sixteen by her estranged half-sister, William told the press he would spend every cent he had to find her. He was by her side when she wrote stories for the Fox Film Corporation in 1920, typing her manuscripts as she dictated them to him. And, when Barbara, plagued by incipient pulmonary tuberculosis and nearing her life’s end, struggled to complete her final film, The Girl from Montmartre (1926), William accompanied her to work at the studio to support and watch over her.
(Photo above: Barbara La Marr and her father, William Watson, arrive at United Studios in 1925 during the filming of The Girl from Montmartre.)
Written and directed by Rupert Hughes (uncle of business tycoon, film producer, and aviator Howard Hughes), Souls for Sale gave 1920s film fans a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the motion picture industry. Shots of stars’ hillside homes, aerial footage of Hollywood studios, and appearances by a few dozen of filmdom’s finest are interspersed throughout the story of a young newlywed, Remember (“Mem”) Steddon (Eleanor Boardman), on the run from her no-good husband, Owen Scudder (Lew Cody)—a man who marries, insures, and murders women. Determined to become an actress, Mem ventures to Hollywood.
Barbara La Marr appears in the supporting role of Leva Lemaire, a vampy actress who, though despised as the screen’s leading homewrecker, is actually kindhearted. Rupert Hughes admitted to casting Barbara in the role because he believed Leva’s benevolence to be a direct reflection of Barbara’s nature. His instincts proved accurate. “There isn’t a girl in the picture business who is kinder to all the extra girls than Barbara La Marr,” he noted while working with her on Souls for Sale. “She practically lets them help themselves from her wardrobe and she does other equally kind things all the time.”
Souls for Sale opened in April 1923 to widespread critical acclaim. Variety and Moving Picture World, summarizing the general sentiments, respectively declared: “Rupert Hughes as a director has topped everything he ever did, even as an author, in this picture” and “[the film] grips your attention and holds your interest intensely from the first scene until the final fade-out.”
Souls for Sale airs on Turner Classic Movies at 9:15 p.m. PST on March 31/12:15 a.m. EST on April 1. To view the TCM schedule, click here.
(Photo above: Barbara La Marr in Souls for Sale.)
Souls for Sale Cast: Eleanor Boardman, Richard Dix, Frank Mayo, Barbara La Marr, Lew Cody, Mae Busch, Arthur Hoyt, David Imboden, Roy Atwell, William Orlamond, Forrest Robinson, Edith Yorke, Dale Fuller, Snitz Edwards, Jack Richardson, Aileen Pringle, Eve Southern, May Milloy, Sylvia Ashton, Margaret Bourne, Fred Kelsey, Jed Prouty, Yale Boss, William Haines, George Morgan, Auld Thomas, Leo Willis, Walter Perry, Sam Damen, R. H. Johnson, Rush Hughes, L. J. O’Connor, and Charles Murphy. Celebrity appearances by Hugo Ballin, Mabel Ballin, T. Roy Barnes, Barbara Bedford, Hobart Bosworth, Charles Chaplin, Chester Conklin, William H. Crane, Elliott Dexter, Robert Edeson, Claude Gillingwater, Dagmar Godowsky, Raymond Griffith, Elaine Hammerstein, Jean Haskell, K. C. B. (a.k.a. Kenneth C. Beaton), Alice Lake, Bessie Love, June Mathis, Patsy Ruth Miller, Marshall Neilan, Fred Niblo, Anna Q. Nilsson, ZaSu Pitts, John Sainpolis, Milton Sills, Anita Stewart, Erich von Stroheim, Blanche Sweet, Florence Vidor, King Vidor, Johnny Walker, George Walsh, Kathlyn Williams, and Claire Windsor.
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 Saturday, March 30, 2019, at the Desert Foothills Library, 38443 North Schoolhouse Road, Cave Creek, Arizona 85331, 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 11 a.m. and roughly an hour and a half long, is being held in the library’s Jones/Coates lecture hall and is FREE to attend. Attendees are advised to call 480-488-2286 or click here to reserve seats, as this is an encore presentation and seats may fill up again.
(Photo above: [L to R] Barbara La Marr; me [Sherri Snyder] as Barbara; my Barbara La Marr biography.)
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)
Barbara’s 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.)