Barbara La Marr (July 28, 1896 – January 30, 1926) was an American stage and film actress, cabaret artist and screenwriter.
She was born Reatha Dale Watson to William Wallace and Rosana "Rose" Watson in Yakima, Washington. Her father was an editor for a newspaper, and her mother had a son, Henry, born in 1878, and a daughter, Violet, born in February 1881, from a previous marriage. The couple wed some time during 1884, and they had William Watson, Jr., born in June 1886 in Washington. He would later, in the 1920s, become a vaudeville comedian under the stage name of "Billy Devore." The Watsons lived in various locations during La Marr's formative years. By 1900, she was living with her parents in Portland, Oregon, with her brother William, her half-sister Violet Ross, and Violet's husband Arvel Ross. As a child, La Marr also performed in a few stage productions in Tacoma, Washington.
By 1910, La Marr was living in Fresno, California, with her parents. Some time after 1911, the family moved to Los Angeles, and later settled at 220 San Jose Street in Burbank, California. In January 1913, La Marr's half-sister, now going by the name of Violet Ake, took her then 16-year-old sister on a three-day automobile excursion with a man named C.C. Boxley. They drove up to Santa Barbara, but after a few days La Marr felt that they were not going to let her return home. Ake and Boxley finally let La Marr return to Los Angeles after they realized that there were warrants issued for their arrests accusing them of kidnapping. This episode was published in several newspapers, and La Marr even testified against her sister, but the case was eventually dropped.
La Marr's name appeared frequently in newspaper headlines during the next few years. In November 1913, she came back from Arizona and announced that she was the newly-widowed wife of a rancher named Jack Lytell, and that they were supposedly married in Mexico. As legend goes, Lytell became enamored of La Marr as he saw her one day riding in an automobile while he was out on horseback. He rode up to her car and swept her on his horse and rode off with her. They were married the next day. She also stated that she loathed the name Reatha and preferred to be called by the childhood nickname "Beth."
After marrying and moving with her husband to New York City, La Marr found employment writing screenplays and her association with filmmakers led to her returning to Los Angeles and making her film debut in 1920. Over the next few years she acted frequently in films, and was widely publicised as "The Most Beautiful Girl In The World." With this, she rapidly shot to stardom.
La Marr made the successful leap from writer to actress in Douglas Fairbanks' The Nut (1921), appeared in over 30 films, wrote seven successful screenplays for United Artists and Fox studios, and danced in musical comedies on Broadway. She is also said to have filmed dancing shorts in New York City, Chicago, and in Los Angeles, with such diverse partners as Rudolph Valentino and Clifton Webb.
Among La Marr's films are The Prisoner of Zenda and Trifling Women, both 1922 releases directed by Rex Ingram.
La Marr married for the first time at the age of 17, and was ultimately married five times. At the time of her death she was married to the actor Jack Dougherty. Some years after her death, it was revealed that she had mothered a son by a man whose name has never been released. The child, Marvin Carville La Marr, was adopted after her death by the actress ZaSu Pitts and her husband, film executive Tom Gallery. The child was renamed Don Gallery and grew up to become an actor and a sometime boyfriend of Elizabeth Taylor; he now lives in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
She was known as "The Girl Who Is Too Beautiful," after a Hearst newspaper feature writer, Adela Rogers St. Johns, saw a judge sending her home during the police beat in Los Angeles because she was too beautiful and young to be on her own.
La Marr said that she had been adopted by Mr. and Mrs. Watson of Yakima, Washington. Depending on her mood, La Marr claimed to be of different exotic ancestries. Some film historians, however, believe that this was a tall tale to glamorize herself, when, in fact, she was the biological child of the Watsons.
Her former dance partner, Robert Hobday (stage name Robert Carville), was named as her alleged lover by her former third husband Phil Ainsworth in his divorce suit. Hobday's sister, Virginia, had been La Marr's manager and friend, who later went on to marry Jules Roth, manager of the Hollywood Memorial Cemetery, and La Marr's former lover.
Although her film career flourished, she also embraced the fast-paced Hollywood nightlife, remarking in an interview that she slept no more than two hours a night.
During this time she became addicted to heroin. She died suddenly from tuberculosis and nephritis in Altadena, California and was interred in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.
1920 Harriet and the Piper Tam O'Shanter Girl Credited as Barbara Deely
Alternative title: Paying the Piper
Flame of Youth Story
The Mother of His Children - Story
Credited as Barbara La Marr Deely
Rose of Nome - Story
Credited as Barbara La Marr Deely
The Little Grey Mouse - Story
The Land of Jazz - Story
Credited as Barbara La Marr Deely
1921 The Nut Claudine Dupree
Desperate Trails Lady Lou
The Three Musketeers Milady de Winter
Cinderella of the Hills Kate Gradley Credited as Barbara La Marr Deely
1922 Arabian Love Themar
Domestic Relations Mrs. Martin
The Prisoner of Zenda Antoinette de Mauban
Trifling Women Jacqueline de Séverac/Zareda
Quincy Adams Sawyer Lindy Putnam
1923 The Hero Hester Lane
The Brass Bottle The Queen
Poor Men's Wives Laura Bedford/Laura Maberne
Souls for Sale Leva Lemaire
Strangers of the Night Anna Valeska Alternative title: Ambrose Applejohn's Adventure
St. Elmo Agnes Hunt
The Eternal Struggle Camille Lenoir Alternative title: Masters of Women
The Eternal City Donna Roma
1924 Thy Name Is Woman Guerita
The Shooting of Dan McGrew Lady Known as Lou
The White Moth Mona Reid/The White Moth Writer, uncredited
Sandra Sandra Waring
My Husband's Wives - Story
1925 The Heart of a Siren Isabella Echevaria Alternative title: The Heart of a Temptress
The White Monkey Fleur Forsyte
1926 The Girl from Montmartre Emilia Faneaux
In the 1930s, Louis B. Mayer named the actress Hedy Lamarr after Barbara La Marr, who had been one of his favorite actresses.
La Marr is referred to in the Flanagan and Allen song "Underneath the Arches" during the break when Ches Allen reads out the headlines from a 1926 newspaper.
1900 United States Federal Census, Portland Ward 7, Multnomah County, Oregon, June 1, 1900, Enumeration District 66, Sheet 1B.
1910 United States Federal Census, Fresno, Township 3, California, April 22, 1910.
The Duluth News Tribune, "Stolen Twice, Is Now Widow", November 17, 1913.
Oakland Tribune, "Two Are Accused Of Kidnapping Girl", January 5, 1913, Page 39.
Los Angeles Times, "Serious Charge Against Couple. Child Stealing Complaint Issued", January 5, 1913, p. 11.
Los Angeles Times, "Alleged Child Stealers Surrender Themselves.", January 7, 1913, p. 3.
Los Angeles Times, "Girl Missing: Warrants Out. Absent Maid's Father Takes Drastic Action.", January 3, 1913, p. 13.