One of the things I love most about University Press of Kentucky is its penchant for releasing stellar biographies on long forgotten Hollywood legends. Take, for instance, silent film star Barbara La Marr. I had never even heard of her prior to seeing this biography listed on the publisher’s press list last year.
Not gonna lie, I totally judged this book by its cover. As soon as I saw its lovely, striking image of Barbara La Marr, I was like I have to have it! The book’s tagline definitely rings true here: La Marr certainly was too beautiful for Hollywood. Tragically, La Marr had a very short life, dying at the tender age of twenty-nine of nephritis brought on by tuberculosis.
Author Sherri Snyder does a wonderful job here of telling Barbara La Marr’s life story from its very beginnings in the late nineteenth century to its very end in the mid-1920s. I often wondered how on earth Snyder unearthed all of her information on La Marr, because very little is known of the silent film star now. It’s extremely evident that Snyder’s research was meticulous because literally nothing was glossed over. The events of La Marr’s life – and there were plenty – are presented clearly, succinctly, accurately (as far as I could gather), and respectfully.
To say La Marr led an eventful life is a gross understatement. This woman had seen it all from kidnapping to charges of bigamy, from desolate poverty to wealth beyond what you or I could ever imagine. Reading through the highs and very low lows of her life, it’s no wonder both her body and spirit inevitably broke down and extinguished themselves after only a relatively brief three decades on earth.
La Marr spent her time in Hollywood playing mostly vamp-type roles similar to the ones played by actresses Pola Negri and Theda Bara. La Marr’s dancing background lent itself beautifully to her onscreen roles, allowing her to move in front of the camera seamlessly, fluidly, and with perfect ease. She was the perfect embodiment of temptation, sex, and thrills and movie audiences of the early 1920s marveled at her star power and onscreen charisma.
Offscreen, La Marr wasn’t particularly proud of her perceived vamp image. According to her coworkers and close friends, La Marr was exceptionally kind and generous, donating her time and large portions of her income to orphanages and to the less fortunate. According to lore, she got along famously with studio production crews and film extras, often calling them by name and taking time out of her busy filming schedule to have a quiet word with whoever approached her for a chat.
Sherri Snyder did a terrific job in crafting an in-depth biography of Barbara La Marr. The narrative flow remained constant and unflinchingly realistic (let’s be honest, when you’re writing about a fabled Hollywood silent film star, a lot of details of the subject’s life are often over-embellished and a certain element of fantasy is incorporated into the narrative). I went from knowing absolutely nothing about Barbara La Marr to learning quite a lot about both her personal life and her career. Without even having seen one of her films, I feel like I’ve gotten an incredibly clear picture of her just through Snyder’s work alone.
If you’re a fan of classic film and/or silent film in particular, I would certainly recommend you read this biography. Chances are, considering how obscure La Marr’s onscreen work is, you’re not going to get another chance of delving into her world any time soon (unfortunately).
If you’d like to purchase a copy of Barbara La Marr: The Girl Who Was Too Beautiful for Hollywood by Sherri Snyder, you can find it here.
Thank you to the generous folk over at University Press of Kentucky for sending me an electronic copy of this book for review.