Barbara La Marr died from tuberculosis on 30 January 1926, the day before her last picture, The Girl from Montmartre was released. MGM chose to make an announcement about the cause of death, saying it was brought about through ‘vigorous dieting’. Everyone knew that her addiction to morphine and other drugs, coupled with her boozing and partying, had destroyed her health years before. Formerly Reatha Watson of Yakima, Washington, she crammed a lot of living into her 29 years. This breathtakingly beautiful young woman married five times, had a child in 1923 by one of her numerous lovers, and then ‘adopted’ it to save her reputation.
Her first husband had the bad timing to die of pneumonia a few weeks after the wedding. A lawyer named Lawrence Converse, who really should have known better, bigamously married 17 year-old Barbara in 1914, spent the night with her and was arrested the next morning. ‘I just had to have her’, the besotted fool explained to reporters from his cell. Then, when his demands to see his bride were not met, he proceeded to bash his head against the bars until he rendered himself unconscious. The union was soon annulled. Two years later, not altogether surprisingly, he died from a blood clot in his brain. Husband number three was a crook who wound up in San Quentin for passing dud checks. Her fourth time down the aisle lasted three years, a personal record to that time, but beaten by number five who was still with her when she headed for that great casting couch in the sky.
An ankle injury in 1923 during the filming of Souls for Sale was treated by the studio doctor who gave Barbara a shot of morphine, ostensibly to deaden the pain, but in reality to enable shooting to stay on schedule. Before long she was hopelessly addicted to the stuff, which was probably just as well, given her extraordinarily fast lifestyle. She rarely slept more than two hours a day. ‘Life is too short to waste any of it sleeping’, she said. And in her case time would indeed prove her right, for she really did party all the time, devouring drugs, booze and men at a staggering rate. Something simply had to give, and it did. All in all she made 30 films, went through five husbands and literally scores of lovers, and was dead at 29 from tuberculosis and nephritis, brought on by her extravagant, unrelenting lifestyle.
Louis B Mayer is said to have been one of her lovers, but when the drugs took over she dumped him flat, choosing instead to favor John Gilbert, Paul Bern and several others. Mayer was furious. Barbara’s response: ‘I like my men like I like my roses…by the dozen’. When her drug problem became an open secret, a chastened Mayer made no effort to curb it, content to let his one-time lover slide into oblivion. At her funeral the media duly noted that the great man ‘wept openly.’ Nobody was quite sure why.
If you ever happen to watch the 1965 Natalie Wood film Inside Daisy Clover, you might take note of the beach house they blow to smithereens in one scene. It was once madcap Barbara La Marr’s home.