The White Moth, directed by Maurice Tourneur and starring Barbara La Marr as Mona Reid (aka the White Moth), a famous dancer caught in a love tangle with Ben Lyon, Charles De Roche, and Conway Tearle, may now be viewed for free online here. The photo below, from one of the film’s scenes, features Barbara in what was considered in 1924 to be a very provocative scenario in a film: a woman in a bathtub. Though she was completely covered, censors in some states cut the scene before allowing the film in theaters. Still, one critic raved that “Barbara is scintillating as she has never scintillated before” in the film.
Barbara La Marr was one of film producer Louis B. Mayer’s favorite actresses. They made four films together (Harriet and the Piper, Strangers of the Night, The Eternal Struggle,and Thy Name Is Woman) in the 1920s. In the late 1930s, over a decade after Barbara’s untimely passing, Mayer discovered a gorgeous, talented, intelligent young actress named Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler. He christened her Hedy Lamarr in honor of Barbara.
I recently had the pleasure of discussing the unbelievable life and estimable career of silent screen luminary Barbara La Marr; my biography, Barbara La Marr: The Girl Who Was Too Beautiful for Hollywood; and my one-woman show about Barbara on Yesterday USA Radio with Walden Hughes. Listen to a replay of the live broadcast here (the interview begins after about a minute and fifty seconds of music and is approximately fifty-four minutes long).
“I’ve always had a fascination with Old Hollywood,” admits veteran singer, musician, and songwriter Ronnie Joyner, “and…I have a soft spot for those vulnerable and troubled young starlets who simply couldn’t handle their fame.” Deeply affected by two classic songs, “Candle in the Wind,” Elton John’s Marilyn Monroe homage, and “Celluloid Heroes,” The Kinks’ depiction of fame’s lure, luster, and perils, the Maryland-based recording artist—whose musical prowess encompasses rockabilly, country, blues, folk, and bluegrass—sought to produce his own rendition of such themes.
But Joyner’s song was a long time coming. “I never hit on the right Golden Age actress to use as the inspiration,” he said.
Then he stumbled upon Barbara La Marr. Her story—involving being ordered home to her parents by juvenile authorities at age seventeen for being “too beautiful” to be alone in Los Angeles; skyrocketing to superstardom as a leading silent screen actress; and dying tragically from tuberculosis and nephritis at age twenty-nine in 1926 following a frenzied period of overwork, strenuous dieting, and hard living—called to him. “I knew she was the one!” he enthused. “The girl I’ve been looking for…the girl who embodies those themes I’ve been wanting to write about.”
Using her star at 1621 Vine Street on Hollywood’s iconic Walk of Fame as the centerpiece, Joyner composed his hauntingly lovely song “Girl Too Beautiful” in honor of Barbara, a woman whom, despite her demons and frailties, he describes as “beautiful, talented, and charismatic.”
Listen to “Girl Too Beautiful” here. While you’re at it, check out some of Ronnie Joyner’s other wonderful songs.
I was recently asked by the Palos Verdes Pulse to write an article about Barbara La Marr and the making of her final film, The Girl from Montmartre. Partly filmed on California’s beautiful Palos Verdes Peninsula in 1925, the film was Barbara’s attempt at a career comeback shortly before her untimely passing in 1926. The article, “‘A Last Graceful Gesture of Adieu’: Barbara La Marr and The Girl from Montmartre,” may be read here.*
*(Slight spoiler alert for anyone who hasn’t yet read my biography, Barbara La Marr: The Girl Who Was Too Beautiful for Hollywood)
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.