One of the most legendary -- if least revived -- of silent screen stars, Barbara La Marr is remembered with a certain amount of romantic hindsight as the "Girl Too Beautiful." Today, however, her much-vaunted, but far too fleshy appeal is hard to accept and her lasting imprint is that of a tragic, over-exposed figure; the kind of silent star who, had she lived, would most likely have turned into another Norma Desmond.
Born Reatha Watson, she had earned the "too beautiful" tag at the age of 14 when, as a young runaway, she became the ward of the Los Angeles court system. She escaped by marrying the first of five husbands, a young bounder who basically did his unhappy bride a favor by quickly dying of pneumonia. The too-beautiful widow hightailed it back to Los Angeles and married into the Converse shoe dynasty but, like a character in a vamp melodrama, her second husband also died prematurely, and a third, musician Phil Ainsworth, was sent to San Quentin on a fraud conviction. Changing her name to Barbara La Marr, she took her fourth husband, actor/dancer Ben Deeley, and began writing screenplays.
She was, of course, far "too beautiful" to stay behind the cameras for long and Louis B. Mayer cast her as the "other woman" opposite Anita Stewart in Harriet and the Piper(1920). La Marr's breakthrough came when Douglas Fairbanks cast her as the evil Milady in The Three Musketeers (1920). She stole the film from leading lady, Marguerite de la Motte, and a pattern was set. Becoming Metro's most notorious femme fatale, LaMarr was the 1920s answer to the previous decade's Theda Bara, but unlike Bara, La Marr seemingly lived the part offscreen as well. Film executive Paul Bern was rumored to have attempted suicide when she took her fifth husband, male ingenue Jack Dougherty, but remained a trusted friend who reportedly begged the real-life vamp to slow down her hectic pace, both on and off the screen. The La Marr/Dougherty union was fraught with booze and drugs, and produced a child that was adopted by screen actress ZaSu Pitts and her husband Tom Gallery. The girl "too beautiful" finally succumbed to a combination of hard living and tuberculosis, collapsing on the set of The Girl From Montmartre (1926). She died a couple of months later, as one smitten writer put it, "from simply too much beauty."