Many times, reality beats anything an author can dream up. While researching 1920s Hollywood for this historical fiction novel, I discovered a number of interesting people of that era, including the drug addicted Anita Berber and Wallace Reid, as well as the the womanizing, unsolved murder victim, Joseph Bowne Elwell.
Barbara Lamarr was a silent film star whose short rocket ride to fame ended in drug addiction and a decadent lifestyle. She’s one of the first drug-related deaths in Hollywood. Think of her as the Marilyn Monroe of her day – a damaged goddess too vulnerable to live very long.
Born Reatha Dale Watson, she came to Hollywood after she was approached by Mary Pickford, who told La Marr she should be in front of the camera. 1 After a reporter wrote an article about a judge sending her home with a police officer because she was ‘too beautiful and young to be on her own in the big city,’ 2 her popularity soared.
She loved nightlife and was a mainstay at nightclubs. Pregnant in 1922, she hid her condition, claiming to have fallen in love with a foster child while passing through a Texas town. By 1924, the vamp in films was falling out of favor, and her star began to fade. Personal problems and health problems took their toll, too.
While shooting a movie in 1923, La Marr sprained her ankle and was given morphine, cocaine, and heroin by a studio nurse for pain. 3 She quickly became addiceted to coke and heroin. To keep her figure, it was reported she went to drastic measures, liquid diets and cocaine to lose weight. It was said she ate tapeworms to keep the pounds off. 4
As you can imagine, this took a horrendous toll on her health. She was arrested in 1925 for drug possession, but the case was dismissed because it was believed she wouldn’t live to see trial. While filming in 1925, she collasped and fell into a coma after ingesting coke, heroin, and booze. She came out of the coma, but was suffering from kidney damage and TB. 5
She died in January, 1926.
“I cheat nature. I never sleep more than two hours a day. I have better things to do – I take lovers like roses, by the dozen!” -Barbara La Marr
- July 28, 1896 – January 30, 1926
- Known as: the ‘Girl Who is too Beautiful’
- Hollywood Silent Screen Star with over two dozen movies to her credit
1920s, flapper, silent movie star