Cover

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Half Title, Frontispiece, Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, Quotation

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Contents

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pp. ix-x

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Preface

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pp. xi-xii

I first heard the name Barbara La Marr from Karie Bible, a film historian and author with whom I became friends when we both modeled for a vintage-fashions designer. Karie contacted me one morning in July 2007 about an opportunity I couldn’t refuse. The Pasadena Playhouse and Pasadena Museum of History were casting ...

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Prologue

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pp. 1-4

Barbara La Marr first made headlines in January 1913. She was an unknown sixteen-year-old named Reatha Watson then, inexplicably missing from the Los Angeles apartment she occupied with her parents. On the third day after her disappearance, Reatha’s agonized parents received their first news of her: a cryptic letter signed ...

I. Dreamer

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pp. 5-6

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One

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pp. 7-13

At the crest of her prominence as a world-renowned actress, when her image emblazoned the covers of fan magazines and films in which she appeared filled theaters to capacity, Barbara La Marr reputedly penned “The True Story of My Life,” a nine-article series for Movie Weekly magazine. With captivating flair, it is written in the first article: ...

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Two

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pp. 14-17

The world into which Reatha Watson emerged in 1896 wasn’t far removed from the world that had welcomed her parents. Aside from firmly rooted clusters of populations along the Atlantic, the United States was a vast canvas of rural, undisturbed frontier unfolding all the way to the Pacific. Many Americans were unacquainted with such novelties as indoor plumbing ...

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Three

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pp. 18-28

The Watsons’ move to Tacoma, Washington, in 1905 was merely another in the long succession of migrations that dominated Reatha’s childhood. By her own estimation, it wasn’t until her teenage years that she remained in a single rented home or boarding room over a year. “Drab, unlovely places,” she recalled as an adult, “ugly gray houses with hideously ...

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Four

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pp. 29-36

As the editor of a fledgling agricultural trade paper in Turlock, California, in early 1909, William must have believed he had a sure thing on his hands. At least two hundred thousand acres of newly irrigated land, over six times Hanford’s acreage, stretched in all directions. Bountiful harvests were being reaped, and more land stood ready to be leased and sold. ...

II. Notorious

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pp. 37-38

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Five

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pp. 39-54

December 30, 1912, dawned like any Monday morning in the Watsons’ apartment at 1229½ South Figueroa Street. Shortly before 10:00 a.m., as the surrounding streets and business district awakened, sixteen-year-old Reatha was stirring in her bedroom. William, having abandoned Fresno and his Inter-Californian concern about a year earlier ...

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Six

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pp. 55-61

Reatha, William, and Rose hustled out of Los Angeles. William had acquired a fieldwork assignment from the Los Angeles Times in El Centro, a remote town adrift in the scorching southeastern California desert.
It was a jarring change for Reatha. Slightly over six years earlier, El Centro had emerged atop a barley field. ...

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Seven

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pp. 62-71

He caught his first glimpse of Reatha one evening shortly before the juvenile officers forced her out of Los Angeles. From the moment he saw her, across the apartment parlor through an array of partygoers and a haze of cigarette smoke, he wanted to meet her. The party’s free-spirited hostess, Birdie Hughes, an older, widowed motion picture actress, ...

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Eight

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pp. 72-82

Sometime after nightfall on June 5, 1914, three days after she married Lawrence, Reatha gathered her courage, bracing herself for the awaiting onslaught. She walked toward her parents’ house, bolstered by an unidentified attorney and a family friend. Having been persuaded to emerge from hiding, she wept from fear. ...

III. Terpsichore

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pp. 83-84

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Nine

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pp. 85-96

In 1911, Americans considered the act of dancing in a public place to be shocking. By 1914, they couldn’t get enough of it. As dancing consumed the nation’s cabarets, the public was captivated by a new brand of celebrity. Raucous social reformers opposing the dance craze were stifled as the press eclipsed them with a rising phenomenon: ballroom dancers. ...

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Ten

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pp. 97-107

Male and female dancers performing together in the United States in 1915 faced a challenge when they were unmarried. Travel was part of their business, prompted by cabaret and theater owners eager to oblige fickle patrons with novel acts. Yet unwed dance teams roaming from city to city encountered more than raised eyebrows. ...

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Eleven

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pp. 108-119

Barbara’s eyes darted apprehensively about. Fair Oaks Sanitarium, secluded atop a hill twenty-five miles away from Broadway in Summit, New Jersey, specialized in nervous disorders and alcoholism, providing modern treatments in what its brochure depicted as a “first-class,” “homelike” environment. ...

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Twelve

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pp. 120-126

His name was Philip Ainsworth, but they called him “the dancing fool,” the “Sheik of Spring Street.”1 He wore his auburn hair slicked straight back. He dressed impeccably. His classic good looks were, on occasion, set off by a larkish grin and a subtly devilish twinkle in his blue eyes. ...

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Thirteen

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pp. 127-136

Sometime during the turbulent summer of 1917, Barbara landed back in Los Angeles. Her life, it seemed to her, had stalled again. Though she had earned good money performing as a solo dancer twice a day in Utah and making additional appearances elsewhere, her dancing prospects were drying up. Prohibition, which would go into full effect in 1920, was making its presence known throughout America. ...

IV. Screenwriter

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pp. 137-138

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Fourteen

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pp. 139-147

On the advice of the doctor who attended her in Indiana, Barbara returned to the idyllic sunshine of Los Angeles. Ben, as unable to live without her as she without him, went with her. At Barbara’s request, William and Rose traveled from Sacramento and moved into their apartment. ...

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Fifteen

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pp. 148-158

Barbara’s position in Fox’s story department was enough to grant her at least a screen test for a credited role in several of the films the studio was casting in 1920. Yet the thought of appearing in films, Barbara later insisted, had ceased crossing her mind; she professed to have no desire to leave her writing career. ...

V. Film Star

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pp. 159-160

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Sixteen

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pp. 161-170

For Barbara, acting provided a means of fulfilling unsatisfied desires. “Most [women] never have the opportunity to reveal more than one or two facets of their many-sidedness,” she said. “Enacting the roles of women of many kinds, even in a make-believe world, gives opportunity for the imagination to have its fling.”1 ...

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Seventeen

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pp. 171-180

During Barbara’s early days at Metro, Adela Rogers St. Johns met her for lunch one afternoon at the studio and recounted years later, “I can see those magic eyes of hers, glinting with laughter, bright with emotion. What an alive person she was.”1 With her career on an upswing and the specter of her undisclosed past a seeming afterthought, ...

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Eighteen

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pp. 181-192

Barbara reported to Metro Pictures for her first day of work on Black Orchids March 15, 1922. Her $200 weekly salary (around $2,600 today), a $50 jump from her Prisoner of Zenda salary, reflected her increased value to the studio.1 Rex Ingram was relieved to have kept her on board. She was the only actress he believed capable of embodying both the youthfulness ...

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Nineteen

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pp. 193-204

Barbara would look back upon Trifling Women as the film that made her. Following its release, life as she knew it would never be the same. Her fan base expanded; men and women alike now went to theaters specifically to see her—the latter often returning two or three times to the same picture. Her images were snipped from magazines and pinned to bedroom walls. ...

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Twenty

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pp. 205-212

As Barbara prepared to reveal Sonny to the public, she wrestled with a quandary. Although she and Ben Deely had been separated nearly a year and a half, they had not divorced. As long as they remained married, Ben was, per California law, entitled to half of her earnings. Barbara sought to protect her son by preventing Ben ...

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Twenty-One

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pp. 213-225

Most of Hollywood was no less astounded by Barbara adopting a son than Texans had been. Columnists credited her with providing the biggest surprise to come out of filmdom that year. Reporters vied for interviews but were temporarily disappointed. Barbara’s so-called vacation ended the moment she returned to Los Angeles; ...

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Twenty-Two

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pp. 226-234

By the time Barbara returned from Texas in late February 1923, her romance with Paul Bern had cooled. His feelings for her hadn’t. He remained in her life as one of her closest friends, fostering her faith in her abilities as her career ascended. After he joined Louis B. Mayer’s writing staff that March ...

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Twenty-Three

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pp. 235-243

As the train transporting Barbara and Jack bustled into the station in New York City at the end of May 1923, Barbara pulled her hat over the sides of her head, rendering herself unrecognizable. Her trip to Italy, although for business purposes, would also serve as her honeymoon—and a desperately needed vacation. ...

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Twenty-Four

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pp. 244-253

Barbara’s elevation to star status came as little surprise to many in filmdom. Yet although it was easy for her colleagues and admirers to explain her achievement of stardom, they were rarely in agreement. One writer, unable to define the mysterious combination of elements behind Barbara’s enormous appeal, ...

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Twenty-Five

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pp. 254-261

On October 16, 1923, two weeks after Barbara returned from New York with her starring contract, a summons was placed in her hand. Ben Deely was suing her for divorce, citing infidelity and naming Jack Daugherty as corespondent. He further charged her with committing adultery with various unnamed men. ...

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Twenty-Six

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pp. 262-276

Barbara’s career remained one of her top priorities.
Her next assignment, The Shooting of Dan McGrew, another film Arthur Sawyer had arranged for her prior to her Associated Pictures and First National contracts, is an adaptation of Robert William Service’s poem of the same name. In Service’s Yukon verse, ...

VI. Outcast

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pp. 277-278

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Twenty-Seven

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pp. 279-285

Barbara’s train, billed as the La Marr Special, rattled into towns throughout Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Louisiana. At each stop, Barbara blew kisses from the platform of her railroad car as hundreds of men, women, and children—and, in Lafayette, Louisiana, even the town’s priest—cheered her. ...

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Twenty-Eight

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pp. 286-296

Barbara’s devotees, eager for the release of her first starring picture, received welcome news from fan magazines at the end of August 1924. The censors had approved the script Barbara helped rewrite. Production of Sandra, now six weeks behind schedule, had begun. ...

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Twenty-Nine

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pp. 297-312

Barbara had been struggling with her weight for months. Measures were taken to conceal it during the filming of Sandra. She was laced into corsets and stuffed into girdles. Arthur Sawyer and cameraman George Clarke tried filming around it, capturing her in what some reviewers suggested was an inordinate number of close-ups. ...

VII. Butterfly

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pp. 313-314

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Thirty

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pp. 315-325

Barbara’s entire world had crumbled.
Her failing health, career woes, and shattered love life were only partly responsible for her breakdown. Although she had satisfied a portion of the claims issued against her in 1924 for monies owed, she had sunk deeper into debt. Even worse was her newfound conviction that Arthur Sawyer and Herbert Lubin were cheating her financially. ...

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Thirty-One

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pp. 326-334

In her rented house on Bronson Avenue, Barbara faced Dr. Galloway. The telltale symptoms—nightly fevers around 104 degrees, chest pains, a severe cough—were present. Pulmonary tuberculosis was taking hold.
The prescribed treatment reportedly tore into her more than the physical pain. ...

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Thirty-Two

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pp. 335-343

Reporters seized news of Barbara’s death the night of January 30, 1926. William met with them, as he would many times in the coming days, sustaining his shaken composure throughout their barrage of questions, reliving his daughter’s final weeks, days, hours as he detailed them again and again. Barbara’s death, he loosely explained, ...

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Thirty-Three

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pp. 344-351

When Barbara regained consciousness after her final collapse on the set of The Girl from Montmartre in October 1925, she believed her film career to be over. She also felt deep pride for her work and newfound faith in herself. She told those who were present, “I want to be remembered by my last picture.”1 ...

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Epilogue

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pp. 352-366

Robert Carville’s memories of his romance with Barbara stayed with him long after their dance partnership ended with a final turn across Harlow’s Café in 1917, the day he enlisted in the war effort. In the years following her death, he considered penning a memoir of their relationship. Only one thing prevented it. ...

Appendix: Musings of a Muse

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pp. 367-370

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Acknowledgments

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pp. 371-374

It is said that life’s plans for us are often greater than those we dream ourselves, and that many journeys, despite their fleeting frustrations and unexpected detours, bring as much joy as their destinations. These maxims have rarely proven truer for me since Barbara La Marr entered my life. ...

Filmography

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pp. 375-384

Notes

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pp. 385-422

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 423-424

Index

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pp. 425-444

Further Series Titles

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