My visits with Barbara La Marr happen every time I venture out to Hollywood. They are rather one-sided, you understand. I visit her at her final resting spot, a crypt in the Great Mausoleum at the Hollywood Memorial Cemetery (Hollywood Forever). I have never been to Hollywood that I didn’t spend a little time with the siren known as “The Girl Who Was Too Beautiful.”
Last month, when I spent a few minutes with Barbara, there were lip prints on the marble above her name. Someone either left them there for her, or perhaps she was trying to bring me a kiss from the Great Beyond.
I do have a thing for Barbara La Marr. She fascinates me, just as she did millions of movie fans in the 1920s. There is a sense of mystery about her that has never been explained. When I read about her, I want to know more. If I am asked about those I wished I could have interviewed, Barbara La Marr is always at the top of the list.
It is her soulful eyes that draw me to her. There’s an undeniable sadness that peers out from a troubled soul.
Things didn’t always so bleak in Barbara La Marr’s troubled personal life.
In mid-1922, life started looking brighter for this butterfly of the night. She quietly gave birth to Marvin Carville La Marr in July. Being unwed, she sent little Marvin to live with family friends until she could hatch a plan to orchestrate an adoption. Marvin was officially adopted by Barbara in February 1923.
Marvin, now Tom Gallery, told me the story of his life in an interview for Dangerous Curves atop Hollywood Heels. With her multiple failed marriages, heavy drinking, busy work schedule, one wonders how motherhood fit into her life plan.
“Barbara finally found out she couldn’t find a man she could love,” her son told me. “She thought, ‘I can love Marvin and he will love me unconditionally,’ and that’s something she didn’t get from the men she married.”
Barbara and Marvin settled down in her spacious home high above Hollywood on Whitley Terrace. She invited friend and writer Grace Kingsley for a visit. Photos of her luxurious dwelling were published in fan magazines and gave her loyal following a glimpse of how their favorite vamp lived. Let’s have a peek.
Many years later, her son returned to the house on Whitley Terrace to see if he had any recollections of living there. He came into a hall and approached a blank wall. He asked what had been there. The owners said it had once been a escape hatch, as the kidnapping of celebrity’s children was always a threat.
Barbara married her fifth husband, actor Jack Daugherty, in 1923. Her family was now complete.
Later that year, they honeymooned in Paris, before going to Rome, where Barbara filmed The Eternal City.
Despite her hopes and dreams, Barbara’s life unraveled in 1924. Her health, ravaged by years of alcohol abuse and constant dieting, began to show on her famous face and figure. She faced numerous legal entanglements and her films were under constant threat of being banned. By the fall, her marriage was on the rocks.
While filming a scene for The Girl from Montmartre, Barbara La Marr, seriously ill with tuberculosis, collapsed and had to be carried from the set. She went into seclusion at her Altadena home and battled for her life. On one of her good days, she called friend ZaSu Pitts to her bedside.
“If I don’t make it, would you raise my little boy?” she asked Pitts. According to Barbara’s son, his mother gave Pitts $100,000 for his care.
In late January 1926, Barbara slipped into a coma. She died January 30. “Broken nerves and complications” were to blame, according to initial reports from the press.
Little Marvin was adopted by ZaSu Pitts and her husband, Tom Gallery. His name was changed to Don Gallery. “ZaSu never called me her adopted son,” said Don. “I was always part of the family.”
Poet Margaret Sangster wrote a poem in tribute to the screen siren.
Somewhere, back of the sunset,
Where loveliness never dies —
She dwells in a land of glory,
With dreams in her lifted eyes.
And laughter lives all about her,
And music always in the air;
She is far from all thoughts of sadness,
Of passion, and doubt, and care!
The flowers of vanished April,
The lost gold of summer’s mirth,
Are wrapped, like a cloak, about her,
Who hurried, too soon, from earth.
And we who have known her splendor —
A beauty that brought swift tears;
Will cherish her vision, always,
To brighten the drifting years!
Barbara, who crammed five lifetimes into a mere 29 years, had a fear of being forgotten. When she signed her photographs, she added, “Lest you forget.”
Lest we forget? Not a chance!