Born in Port Arthur, Ontario, Canada, she was the daughter of a contractor.
Barbara Read bore a powerful likeness to Deanna Durbin, whose sister she was portraying in "Three Smart Girls".
Her career was over by the time she married actor William Talman, of "Perry Mason" fame, in 1953. The couple had two children: Barbara ("Barbie") and William III ("Bobo"). The marriage was turbulent as both she and Talman suffered from alcohol problems. They divorced in 1960 with Barbara gaining custody of the children. Talman took over custody a year later when Barbara's alcoholism and mental/emotional problems became overbearing.
Under contract to Columbia, she was paid but never used for a single picture. She quit in disgust. She was later signed by Universal and was cast as one of the Craig sisters in Three Smart Girls (1936) along with Deanna Durbin and Nan Grey. This was Barbara's first and best remembered film.
Committed suicide at her Laguna Beach, California home when she turned on the gas jets of her stove and sealed the doors and windows. She left a suicide note blaming "ill health".