Inside The Difficult And Tragic Life Of Silent Film Star, Barbara La Marr, Who Died At 29

Date May 22, 2018

When the silent film star Barbara la Marr died in 1929, her fans turned up en masse for her funeral.

A much loved actress

She died young, at 29, and a Los Angeles Times report in 1929 claimed that the crowd of well-wishers who had come to pay their last respects was so much that 5 women fainted.

Barbara La Marr /

The report states that the women came close to being trampled upon. Pictures from burial show a tightly packed crowd eager and focused to catch a glimpse of her casket.

Fame, power, love, and addiction

At the time of her death, she had reached the height of her powers and commanded a weekly salary of $2000.

© Thy Name is Woman (1924) / Louis B. Mayer Productions

A 2017 book on her life, written by Sherri Snyder, was titled "Barbara La Marr: The Girl Who Was Too Beautiful." Snyder got a go ahead from the actresse's only known child, Donald Gallery, who passed away in 2014 at age 91.

© The Heart of a Siren (1925) / Associated Pictures Production

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Around the time she starred in The Eternal City (1923), La Marr had reportedly been married thrice and divorced. Before she turned 20, she got married two more times.

© Trifling Women (1922) / Metro Pictures Corporation

And yet, her personal life did not affect her genius. Even before she became a star, she had written 6 screenplays and in Hollywood’s early days, she starred in 26 films.

© The Heart of a Siren (1925) / Associated Pictures Productions

However, as her career grew, she was increasingly plagued by rumors of drug abuse and alcohol dependence. At the time of her death, caused by tuberculosis and nephritis, her son Donald was reportedly only 4 and had to be adopted by a friend of La Marr, ZaSu Pitts.

Is Old Hollywood to blame?

It has been said that Old Hollywood exposed its young and underaged stars like La Marr to terrible conditions and in some cases forced them to do drugs against their will.

Some non-Caucasian actresses had to undergo skin lightening and hair electrolysis to look white, and actors were generally treated like property.

No direct link has been made between these attitudes and La Marr’s untimely death, but it is likely that she was exposed to the worst of the industry that gave her fame.

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