By 1910, La Marr was living in Fresno, California, with her parents. Some time after 1911, the family moved to Los Angeles, and later settled at 220 San Jose Street in Burbank, California. In January 1913, La Marr's half-sister, now going by the name of Violet Ake, took her then 16-year-old sister on a three-day automobile excursion with a man named C.C. Boxley. They drove up to Santa Barbara, California, from Los Angeles, but after a few days La Marr felt that they were not going to let her return home to Los Angeles. Ake and Boxley finally let La Marr return to Los Angeles after they realized that there were warrants issued for their arrests accusing them of abduction. This episode was published in several newspapers, and La Marr even testified against her sister, but nothing came of the case. The prosecution team, lead by District Attorney Vietch, could not prove that La Marr was taken against her will. It also came out during the pre-trial that La Marr had posed nude for several local artists, and she was known for having a fantastic physique.
Having the flair for drama, La Marr's name would be kept constantly in newspaper headlines during the next few years. Therefore, at the tender age of 16, La Marr had already earned herself a scandalous reputation. In November 1913, La Marr came back from Arizona and announced that she was the newly-widowed wife of a rancher named Jack Lytell, and that they were supposedly married in Mexico. As legend goes, Lytell became enamored of La Marr's devastating beauty as he saw her one day riding in an automobile while he was out on horseback. He rode up to her car and swept her on his horse and rode off with her. They were married the next day. She also stated that she loathed the name Reatha and preferred to be called by the childhood nickname "Beth".
La Marr made the successful leap from writer to actress in Douglas Fairbanks' The Nut (1921), appeared in over 30 films, wrote seven successful screenplays for United Artists and Fox studios, and danced in musical comedies on Broadway. She is also said to have filmed dancing shorts in New York City, Chicago, and in Los Angeles, with such diverse partners as Rudolph Valentino and Clifton Webb.
Among La Marr's most important films are "The Prisoner of Zenda" and "Trifling Women," both 1922 releases directed by Rex Ingram. "Trifling Women" is of particular interest, perhaps, because of certain similarities -- an ape, a dark-haired, overpowdered vamp, chiaroscuro lighting (as seen in photos; "Trifling Women" is now lost) -- to Billy Wilder's 1950 Gothic film noir "Sunset Blvd." Additionally, cinematographer John F. Seitz shot both films.
During this time she became addicted to heroin, and her addiction, combined with her busy social life and grueling work commitments, took a toll on her health. She died suddenly from tuberculosis and nephritis in Altadena, California and was interred in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. The newspapers of the day referred to her as "The Girl Too Beautiful To Live" and "The Girl Who Was Too Beautiful", a slight variation on the title that had been closely associated with her.
La Marr married for the first time at the age of seventeen, and was ultimately married five times. At the time of her death she was married to the actor Jack Dougherty. Some years after her death, it was revealed that she had mothered an illegitimate son by a man whose name has never been released. The child, Marvin Carville La Marr, was adopted after her death by the actress ZaSu Pitts and her husband, film executive Tom Gallery. The child was renamed Don Gallery and grew up to become an actor and a sometime boyfriend of Elizabeth Taylor; he now lives in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
After the death of La Marr, William Watson gave a newspaper interview stating that his daughter was born in Washington and that she was a child actress. He also stated that she went to school in Portland, Oregon, and in Fresno, California.
For her contribution to the motion picture industry, Barbara La Marr has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1621 Vine Street.