Barbara La Marr - 1896-1926
Earlier this month, I met Barbara La Marr during my trip to Los Angeles. I happened upon her crypt in the Cathedral Mausoleum in Hollywood Forever (Los Angeles) while searching for Rudolf Valentino's location. What first caught my eye was the stunning stained glass window down one of the passageways. While taking a closer look, I noticed her crypt and recognized her name, though I couldn't recall her details.
The first tip-off that this was the grave of a star the lipstick kisses on the marble around her name plate. When looking for a celebrity's grave, keep an eye out for anything with kisses all over it. In Hollywood Forever, the graves of Valentino, LaMarr, Maila "Vampira" Nurmi, Douglas "Dee Dee Ramone" Colvin and others tend to have lipstick marks.
Ms. La Marr was born on July 28, 1896, as Reatha Dale Watson in Yakima, Wash. She was only 29 when she died Jan. 30, 1926. But in her short life, she lived her life to extremes. She loved fiercely and often.
According to Cecilia Rasmussen in the Los Angeles Times Hollywood Star Walk project (Sept. 30, 2007), "By age 19, she had been married three times, divorced and widowed. In her 20s, she married twice more." She was an actress, but she was also a writer, producer as well as a dancer. She was more than just the woman who was told by police that she was "too beautiful" to be out in Los Angeles on her own. Eventually she would work with the likes of Rudolf Valentino, Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., and Ray Navarro.
In 1922, she secretly gave birth to a son she named Marvin Carville La Marr. This was at "the height of her career," according to SilentHollywood.com, so "a fake adoption was rigged so that Barbara could publicly be the mother for Marvin." After her death three years later, her friend ZaSu Pitts and husband Tom Gallery adopted Marvin and renamed him Donald Gallery.
The official cause of death was listed as tuberculosis and nephritis, which is an inflammation of the kidneys and can be associated with chronic drug use, such as cocaine and heroin. She is considered the first star with a drug-related death.
Sordid circumstances or not, the Los Angeles Times noted that "thousands of fans gather[ed] outside the funeral services for actress Barbara La Marr."
The LA Times article on Feb. 6, 1926, stated:
Barbara La Marr was in at 27 films (see the list on her IMDB page), including "The Three Musketeers" (1921), "The Prisoner of Zenda" (1922) and "Strangers of the Night" (1923).
As someone who has spent a lot of time in cemeteries studying gravestones, it dawned on me tonight that old gravestones have a lot in common with silent films. Many of them have aged poorly and have fallen apart. They can be difficult to decipher. Many of them have been long forgotten due to time and progress. And a the majority of people don't appreciate their historical, cultural and personal value.
While I'm definitely a taphophile, I'm also a bit of a cinefile. I love movies. I've always loved them. I don't consider myself a true film aficionado, I do know movies. Growing up, there were few movies playing in the theaters that I hadn't seen. Today that's not the case, because I have a kid, a husband and a full-time job. But as a teen and younger, I constantly watched movies. If it was made in the 80s, odds are I've seen it.
My interest in silent films is quite recent. Honestly I don't know what started it. I'd seen the occasional silent film over the years since at least high school. I specifically remember seeing "The Phantom of the Opera" on Halloween night during my senior of high school. There was a live organist, and it was awesome. Then a few years later in college I took a film history class and watched more ("Birth of a Nation," "Potemkim" and "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari").
Actually, I do know what started it--it was my trip to Hollywood in June 2014. Of course it was.
As I mentioned before, my love affair with Hollywood has been going on for years. I would daydream about the movies and being a part of them. I didn't want to be an actor (though I have dabbled a tiny bit), I wanted to direct and write and produce. I wanted the movies to be mine. I wanted to be the movies.
While we were out in California last year, it really hit me what it was about Hollywood that I loved so much. It wasn't the TMZ-style drama or making kazillions of dollars. What inspired me were the people who made movies for the love of them. The early innovators who thought, "What if we did this and made it into something grand?" The people with vision--Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin, Cecil B. DeMille, Lois Weber and my favorite early filmmaker, Georges Méliès. Oh, did that man have vision!
Tonight I watched Georges Méliès' "Cinderella" (or "Cendrillon"), and it's just magical. For real, he uses lots of magic tricks. He was the master at making people "magically" appear and disappear via the wonders of editing. His work is also very theatrical. Elaborate stage sets, a dozen or more actors on the stage at a time, dancing, and the feel of something alive.
According to Archive.org, "Possibly the earliest film version of Cinderella, Cendrillion (1899) was landmark for Georges Méliès; it founded the techniques and tricks he would later master and become famous for, earning him the title of The Cinemagician." How great is that title?
Méliès didn't just take the Cinderella story verbatim and make it frame by frame. The film the link above takes you to starts with the scene where the fairy godmother is changing the mice (really BIG ones!) into footmen. After taking care of everyone and turning an unbelievably light-weight pumpkin brought in by Cinderella into a coach, off goes Cinderella to the fancy ball. It doesn't take long for her to make an impact on the prince, which is good since, in moments, she is back at the house in her rag dress. That's when the fun begins.
Not only is Cinderella sad that she had a curfew, now the clocks themselves start mocking her! It's fantastic! It's worth watching the 6-minute piece just for that scene. God love Méliès. I know I do. I wish I could have been in one of his films. How fanciful and wonderful it would have been.
I got a little sidetracked there! What inspires me about Hollywood ... people like Méliès who poured (and pour in present tense because there are still people out there) their heart and souls into their films. The innovators, the experimenters, the ones who literally risked life and limb to make the movies. If you watch an early film with crazy stunts in it, the stunt work was done by stunt people as well as the main actors. And stunt work wasn't regulated and surrounded by safety precautions like it is today. Yes, there are people doing dangerous things in modern film, but back then, it was the Wild West. People would get trampled by horses or drown in scenes filmed on rapids.
So I found that those who inspire me most are the people of Old Hollywood. The ones who came to the desert and built it into the dream town it is today. No matter how rough the business of film is, it's still part of the dream for many people. "If I just get that one chance ...!"
I'll take you, Hollywood, the good and the bad, the glamorous and the atrocious. And damned if I don't get the thrill of "Anything's possible!" when I see that Hollywood sign up in the distance.
Silent film stars, I'm going to find you and introduce you to the people of today. You deserve to be respected and remembered. Your contributions to the make-believe world that helps keep us sane deserve to be recognized.
Starting with you, ladies. After some months on hiatus from this book, I'm back, baby. My trip this month to Los Angeles has reinvigorated me, and I'm ready to dig into the book as well as our upcoming web series, Tomb Trippin'.
See you in the stars!
If you haven't watched the 1980 series documentary "Hollywood," you are missing out on a fantastic look into early Hollywood history. There are 13 episodes in all. I recommend you start with the first one, "The Pioneers."
You'll see wonderful interviews with the stars and directors as well as many clips from the old films. IMDB calls it the "definitive documentary about the American silent film industry." Narrated by James Mason, it features current-to-the-time interviews with Gloria Swanson, Colleen Moore, Viola Dana, Lillian Gish, Leatrice Joy, Anita Loos, Blanche Sweet, Bessie Love, Allan Dwan, King Vidor and many more.
What are you waiting for? Go watch it!
Hollywood, Episode 1: The Pioneers (YouTube)
I'll be honest; the past year has been challenging. My dad and my husband both had surgery, and I've had some health issues, too. None of this has led to much time for creativity or even research. The process for this book has been slooooow going. Every time I think to myself that I'm going to really dig in and get somewhere, something seems to come up. Life can be kind of a pain in the butt.
I have located a couple more silent actresses' graves. I've been looking for silent stars buried in Illinois or other states in the Midwest near me. And I found one! Jacqueline Logan is buried in Decatur, Illinois, in Greenwood Cemetery. Decatur is about three hours southeast from me, so it's going to take some planning if I want to get the photo myself, which I do. I certainly shouldn't complain, since most of the stars I'm seeking are buried in Los Angeles. Some are in New York. I haven't come across any yet who are in the Chicago area.
While in Florida a few weeks ago for a family vacation as well as some research, I discovered a silent star buried in Waldo, Florida. Unfortunately, our route did not take us near Waldo or Laurel Grove Cemetery, where she is buried. I'm 0 for 2 now!
While researching for my current book project, another thing I have found is that a number of silent film stars have rather plain lawn stones, and a number of others don't have gravestones at all. Some don't even seem to have graves.
If you've been wondering why "Forever Silent" has been so silent, it's because I was on vacation and also had so much going on that I put the book writing/researching aside for a little while. I'm working on getting back into a groove, but it's taking some time.
Here's a post I made tonight on my Facebook profile. What started as a simple one-liner and meme of Peter Pan saying not to grow up because it's a trap became a full-on blog-length post ... and suddenly it's 12:30 at night!
It may not have to do with silent films, but it has everything to do with my state of mind lately. Here's my diversion.
Advice for children: Don't grow up. Make like Peter Pan, because it's a trap.
No one ever said, "When I grow up I want to work 40+ hours a week, pay a mortgage, deal with leaky faucets, clean up cat puke, take the car in for oil changes and regularly complain about the price of gasoline."
When you're a kid, you don't have to think about getting a job with benefits or making sure your car insurance doesn't lapse. You worry about who will I sit with at lunch and what will I ask Santa for at Christmas.
Playing house meant "cooking" on a stove that wouldn't burn you (Holly Hobby Ovens and E-Z Bakes aside) and caring for your baby doll. Perhaps that baby doll would wet her pants or even cry, but you could always take her batteries out or let her dry off on her own. (Side note: You can't do that with real babies)
When I was a kid, I was told I could do anything I put my mind to doing––dream big! I still believe that. But it gets harder the more grown-up you become. When you become a parent, it's not so easy to sit yourself down to write your novel. When you're working 50 hours a week in the hopes of paying all of your bills and having a little extra to put aside for a vacation or, heck, even a movie night, it's not always easy to find the time.
Being a grown-up has its perks. You can see R-rated movies, stay up as late as you want and eat ice cream for dinner. But you also have to work in the morning, make sure your kids don't hear all the cussing in the rated-R movie ... and you might end up being lactose intolerant.
So, kids, don't grow up so fast. You will, but hang on to your days of jump-rope songs and cootie-catchers. Watch your favorite TV shows or movies over and over so much that you can never forget them and the joy they bring you. Watch John Hughes films when you're a teen and believe that's what teenagers were exactly like in the 80s. Catch snowflakes on your tongue and chase lightning bugs in the summer. Believe what Magic 8-balls tell you, and believe in fairies.
Growing up ain't all it's cracked up to be (add "13 Going On 30" to your movie list).
Oh, and give your parents a big hug. Those poor suckers had to grow up so they could take care of you. No matter what they thought the future would bring, I guarantee you they never really saw it coming.
So I've been silent on here for a few weeks. Considering the lack of posts on my website and this blog, you might think I've just been lazy. For the multi-tasker, "lazy" is a four-letter word (okay, for anyone who can spell it, it's also a four-letter word). How about this? "Managing my time" is a four-letter word. Or, rather, managing my time is a big pain in my butt.
It's been almost a month since I was officially released from federal grand jury duty. If I haven't mentioned it on here before, it was an 18-month tour of duty for the fine state of Illinois and its federal court. For one to three days each month for a year and a half, 23 of us selected lucky stiffs got to sit in the courthouse and determine whether there was enough evidence in each case for them to go on to trial. While it was a long time to serve and some of the cases were difficult to hear (believe me, you don't want to hear cases having to do with children), overall it was a good experience. I have a greater respect for federal agents, police and others dealing with crimes. By the time someone goes to trial, a whole lot of evidence has been built up against them. It's not random or quick, but it's thorough. These are jobs I'm thankful that I don't have to do.
And now back to the my point ...
I feel like pinball. I'm a multi-tasker. I'm here, I'm there, I'm way over that-a-way and back again. While I've been focusing on this project, "Forever Silent," and keep my mind on finding out as much as possible about silent film actresses' lives and burial locations, I've also been zinging around to other projects.
1. I've been asked to lead a tour at Oakdale Memorial Gardens in Davenport, Iowa, which features escaped slaves who took part in the Underground Railroad. This is huge. I had no idea that 11 escaped slaves were buried there. I had only known of a couple before this. The tour will take place next Sunday.
2. I've been asked to give a presentation to two groups early next year.
3. I recently submitted my course proposal for next year's CommUniversity community classes. I've taught a cemetery class for five years and hope this will be my sixth. I really enjoy teaching for them.
4. I'm mentally outlining a new presentation on tourism and cemeteries, yesterday and today. I think it will be a really cool topic.
Add to that all the books I'm working on reading about the silent actresses and silent film era, researching Kickstarter, and jotting down notes for another couple projects that keep sticking in my head, and it's no wonder that my brain is zig-zagging all over the place. I haven't posted an issue of the Epitaphs Magazine enewsletter in a few months, but that's just going to have to wait. If there's one thing I've realized as I've gotten older, it's that you can't do it all. And it's unrealistic to expect that you can. Especially when you want to do SO many things. And there are those pesky things like having a kid and a husband and laundry and four thousand cats (okay, four) and a full-time job and ... you get my point.
I guess the point of this blog post is to remind myself that it's okay to step back and refocus. It's funny how we can look at other people and say, "Hey, you're doing way too much. No one expects that much of you. You're doing fine. You don't need to push yourself so hard that you go crazy." Yet it's really difficult to say that to ourselves.
One of the biggest things I've struggled with nearly my entire life is thinking that I'm not doing enough. But enough of what? There's no rule book that says "Minda Powers-Douglas MUST regularly update her website, post daily on her Facebook page and profile, visit a cemetery every week, constantly promote her books and presentations, book many presentations, think up new presentations and create them, and write a book in one month." Yet, this is how my mind thinks. My husband gets frustrated with me because I think I need to do all these things. No one is making me do these things or probably even paying attention as to whether or not they happen. Ah, but that "Goonies never say die" voice in my head is almost always nudging me forward.
It's too bad that my Goonie adventures are via a keyboard, Internet research and book reading. I haven't found a secret panel in my bookshelf leading to a pirate ship yet. Maybe if I take on just one more project ...
Somewhere at an event right now where he's doing caricatures, my husband's eye just started twitching.
Breathe in, breathe out ... and step away from the keyboard.
I haven't. Not near enough.
Do you find yourself visiting the same cemeteries over and over? Yeah, I do that, too. I've visited Chippiannock in Rock Island, Riverside in Illinois and Oakdale in Davenport so many times each, I've lost count. I can't help it. They're beautiful, and they fell like home. I'm comfortable in them. And I always find something I've never seen before, even if it's something small.
There are so many cemeteries out there I want to visit. So many little ones even in my own area. But, as most of you know, it's not easy. There are those little things called day jobs and responsibilities and family and .... It's a wonder we barely have time to breathe.
I also haven't watched near enough silent films. I have so much catching up to do! Who has time for a life when there are so many interesting things out in the world!
How do you balance it all?
As obsessive as I’ve been about wanting to fly out to Los Angeles on Nov. 1, my bubble has finally burst. I had three things in mind for this trip: 1) To take photos of the grave sites of the silent film actresses I’ve been pouring over for months, 2) To finally experience the Day of the Dead festivities at Hollywood Forever and also in Rose Hill Cemetery, and 3) Meet people in person that I could interview for the book. Those are the project-related reason for wanting to go to Hollywood again. The other reason is that I miss being out there. There is SO much I want to see that I didn’t get to see or want to see again.
So why did the bubble burst? Why did I suddenly mentally land flat on my butt about the trip I so badly wanted to take? The cemeteries. The reason I wanted to go out there most became the harsh slap of reality. Reality sucks. Thanks, Obama! (this is a tongue-in-cheek reference to a Jenna Marble video on YouTube—I don’t actually blame President Obama for this.)
So I’ve been trying to locate the burial locations for all of these silent stars. It’s been interesting research, but I’ve been all over the place online until my head started to spin. I originally thought, naïve taphophile that I am, that most of the cemeteries would be totally cool with someone taking photos on their grounds. Most cemeteries I’ve been to across the country have no problem with that. And to be in Hollywood Forever was a cemetery and movie star fan’s dream. And yet …
Here’s what I’ve discovered. A number of the cemeteries have policies stating that any commercial photography (among other kinds) must be approved by the cemetery ahead of time. This did not surprise me. Of course, I contact a number of them last week but haven’t gotten a response yet.
Then I spoke with my new pal Bob Marlowe, and he told me that Hollywood Forever (the cemetery I thought would be a ringer) has told him that only photography of celebrities is allowed … and then they told him later that NO photography is allowed. I thought Hollywood Forever would be completely open to allowing photos. I mean, they host movies and concerts (Lana Del Ray is performing two shows there later this month). The big Day of the Dead celebration is coming up. And he’s been told “no photography is allowed”?
On top of all this, there are a number of books out there that feature photos from all of the cemeteries in question. Perhaps the policies came into being after they were published.
My hope is that I’ll meet someone (someones?) who are involved with the cemeteries who can put in a good word for me and help me get photo permission. Because, really, what good is a trip out there to get photos of silent film stars’ graves when you find out you can’t use them?
So as of right now I am no longer actively figuring out a way to go to L.A. in November like I’ve been wishfully thinking. I’m putting it off until I have a new game plan in place for the book. I am not giving up hope, though! I just need a strategy … and some connections.
Don’t worry, I’m still working on the book. And I have another project I’ve been working on I may resurrect in the meantime.
I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. What do you do when you hit a snag in a project?
Just had a fascinating conversation with Bob Marlowe about some of the cemeteries in the Orange County area. My mind is reeling with all the information, I hardly know where to begin! Actually, I do know. My assignment is to read "Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune" by Bill Dedman. So many books, so little time ...
But first, sleep! And maybe a few more pages of "Gone Girl." Yeah, I'm late to the party on that one, but I plan to finish it before I see the movie (hopefully) this weekend.
Any other books I should put on my ever-growing list?
I am seeking people for a focus group regarding my current book project. I call it a book project because I want it to be more than a book. I want it to branch out into presentations and awareness and even helping a related cause.
"Forever Silent" will feature the ladies of silent film (including actresses, directors, producers, etc.) and their final resting places. A second book would feature the gentlemen.
Why silent film people? It's not just because I'm interested in Old Hollywood. (Believe me, delving into this era has been FASCINATING. If you want juicy stories, jump into 1920s.) The more I research the people of this era, the more I realize how much history has been forgotten. The early Hollywood era mirrored our country. In the early 20th century, Americans were still finding their way. Women were figuring out who they were and how they fit into society. Industry was changing the world as people once knew it. World War I changed everything. Movies provided an escape and sometimes the promise of a better tomorrow. Mary Pickford showed people that if you had spirit, nothing could defeat you. Harold Lloyd both connected with audiences as the "All-American go-getter" (HaroldLloyd.com). There were crazy Wild West stunts, zany antics, slapstick and stories that showed us the best and worst of people. There were STORIES. Stories that were shared around the world. People connected in a whole new way. And celebrity, as we know it know, was born.
Yet, as important as these early films were and are, so many of them have been lost to time. A small percentage of the early films still exist. Most of the stars of the silent age of film have passed on, if not all of them. Their stories have been buried by years of technological advances that have made them seem obsolete. Why would we want to watch an old black and white movie (let alone one without audio dialogue!) when we can watch something in high definition, color, surround sound and 3-D? Even Mary Pickford wanted all of her films destroyed upon her death because she didn't want to be laughed at by future generations.
This makes me so sad. History lost to time and neglect. Does this sound familiar, taphophiles?
Gravestones and even whole cemeteries have been lost to time and neglect. Until a dedicated taphophile or group of people go in and work hard to make things right. Think of me as resetting the remembrance of an old movie star. Brushing away the dirt that has covered that once-beloved-but-now-forgotten-star for years.
Will you help me bring these people in film history back to light?
I needed a village for my first book. I interviewed people from all over about why cemeteries matter to them. Now I need people to help me fulfill the dream of these lost stars--to be remembered.
I invite you to help with the creation of this book by taking part in a focus group. It will be posted on Facebook in a private group. I will ask you questions like:
- Do silent film stars merit their own grave location book?
- Do you think there is an audience for a book on silent film stars' locations?
- Who does merit a grave location book?
- What information should be shared with each listing?
- Who are the "musts" for this book?
- What are your personal feelings about cemeteries?
- What about the people who have been cremated and scattered? What do you think of this?
I can tell you that there are a number of these stars who either have no known burial location or were cremated and scattered. Two ladies had unmarked graves for years. Florence Lawrence's grave in Hollywood Forever had no stone until actor Roddy McDowall purchased one and had it placed. Florence La Badie's grave in Green-Wood Cemetery in the Bronx was unmarked until people raised money online, and a stone was placed in April 2014. Personally, I would like to place a marker for Marie Prevost whose cremated remains are in an unknown location. To my knowledge, she has no memorial. And this makes me sad.
If anything I've written about here or in this blog has struck a chord with you, I hope you'll take part in my focus group. I'd really like your input.
Thanks for doing your part to keep history alive,
(put "focus group" in the subject line)
I'm the author of a number of cemetery books and am now writing one about the graves of silent film stars, starting with the ladies. Who would you like to see included?
More Silent Film Resources
• Silentology blog