Today would be the 112th birthday of the silent screen beauty, Barbara LaMarr. To celebrate, I am reprinting a portion of a tribute to the actress written by Jimmy Bangley, who was a huge LaMarr fan and admirer.
Celebrated around the world as “The Girl Who Is Too Beautiful,” this goddess of film was much more than a mere screen beauty. Possessing a razor sharp intelligence, a keen sense of humor, and a wise understanding of human nature, Miss LaMarr was also a successful scenarist of the silent screen. Beauty was just one weapon in her arsenal of talents.
Child actress at the tender age of seven years, little Reatha Dale Watson (as Barbara was then called) had a tremendous impact on her turn-of-the-century theater audiences as she played in stock companies up and down the West Coast for over six years.
Her loving rapport with the audience never faded. She experienced the same jubilation again with an adoring audience as she seductively danced to filled nightclubs, theaters, and vaudeville houses in her next incarnation as a hoofer on the road. Her natural grace would be exploited to its fullest as a screen actress, but as a young dancer of 14 years LaMarr made a truly stunning impression.
LaMarr’s Whitley Heights house interior (photo 2)
Exterior and rear of house (photot 3)
(click on images to enlarge)
Walking hand in hand with Barbara’s successful career as child actress and dancer was Barbara the writer, beginning with her short stories in newspapers (her foster father, William Watson, was himself a noted newspaper writer and editor). LaMarr branched out as film and theater critic, magazine contributor, and lastly film scenarist. She “doctored” numerous screenplays and wrote (and co-wrote) at least eight movies that we know about today.
In 1913 and 1914 LaMarr filmed some quickie westerns in Arizona. 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. None of this film footage can be found today, at least not yet. What we do know is that by 1920 Louis B. Mayer and Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. with wife Mary Pickford “discovered” Barbara LaMarr and set her delicate little feet on the path to screen stardom.
With her gorgeous, exotic looks, her bright personality, her native intelligence, and her inborn grace of form and movement, Barbara was propelled to stardom. She became filmdom’s most beautiful and celebrated vamp. This icon of the art deco era also became a much appreciated and critically acclaimed actress. She received rave reviews in such box office hits as The Three Musketeers (1921), The Prisoner of Zenda (1922), The Eternal City (1923), Strangers of the Night (1923), Thy Name Is Woman, The Shooting of Dan McGrew, both released in 1924, and pleased international audiences with her beauty and charisma in such fluff as The White Moth, Sandra, and The White Monkey (which, by the way, flopped in the United States).
Barbara La Marr’s home at 6672 Whitley Terrace, as it looked a few years ago. Jimmy Bangley, doing his LaMarr impersonation, is standing at photo number 3 in the 1920s version above.
Barbara once made this telling statement about her film work, “Each characterization I create chips a little piece from my very soul.” She did, indeed, work very hard. She also played very hard. She lived on her emotions and on the very edge of her nerves.
She was generous to a fault and was known in the industry as a “soft touch.” LaMarr could always be counted on to help a friend when he or she was down and out, both emotionally and financially. Friends, relations, directors, producers, and fellow actors realized Barbara had trouble saying no. Many in her circle took advantage of her. She seemed to understand, and placidly accept this facet of her personality.
- Gratefully, Jimmy Bangley
NOTE: Barbara LaMarr’s four bedroom, 2 bath home at 6672 Whitley Terrace was recently sold in February 2008 for $1,250,000.