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Too Much, Too Soon

Too Much, Too Soon(1958)

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teaser Too Much, Too Soon (1958)

"Always a man. Almost any man!" and "A shocked world said, 'Like Father, like daughter...'" read the poster for Too Much, Too Soon (1958), the biopic of Diana Barrymore, daughter of actor John Barrymore. Starring Dorothy Malone, the film was made by Warner Bros., with Art Napoleon directing and veteran producer Henry Blanke in charge. Director Napoleon wrote the screenplay with his wife, Jo, based on Diana Barrymore's 1957 best-selling tell-all autobiography. Also in the cast were Errol Flynn as his real-life friend, John Barrymore, Murray Hamilton, Martin Milner, Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., Ray Danton, Edward Kemmer, and Neva Patterson.

Born into Hollywood and stage royalty, Diana Barrymore was raised in Europe by her mother, poetess Blanche Oelrichs (Patterson), while hardly seeing her father. She grew up to be an attractive woman, and with the Barrymore name, landed a Hollywood contract. Against her mother's wishes, Diana went to live with her father, who she found to be a hopeless and nearly broke alcoholic.

Diana's acting ability doesn't live up to the family name, and she suffers through marriages to actor Vince Bryant (Zimbalist), a pseudonym for real-life actor Bramwell Fletcher, tennis player John Howard (Danton), and alcoholic actor Robert Wilcox (Kemmer). Like many in the Barrymore family, Diana herself becomes an alcoholic and her life goes into a downward spiral. Things take a turn for the better when she is asked to write her autobiography, and the film ends on an optimistic note.

Carroll Baker was originally slated to play Diana, but she refused to play the part, which led to her suspension by the studio. Natalie Wood and Anne Baxter were mentioned in the press, but it was Dorothy Malone, who had just won a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for Written on the Wind (1956), who got the part. Errol Flynn had been one of Warner Bros.' biggest stars in the 1930s and 1940s, but his Barrymore-like drinking and behavior had taken its toll on his looks and his career. Ironically, Ray Danton, playing tennis pro John Howard, received lessons from Frank Feldtrop, the same Beverly Hills Hotel tennis pro who had introduced the real-life Howard to Diana Barrymore.

Warner Bros. may have changed Bramwell Fletcher's name to avoid being sued, but they used the real names of Howard and Wilcox. Actor Robert Wilcox had died of a heart attack in 1955, and therefore could not be libeled, and John Howard had been arrested on pimping charges. He later threatened to sue Warner Bros.

Despite the book being a best seller, the film version of Too Much, Too Soon wasn't a hit with the critics. Howard Thompson, writing for The New York Times felt that Too Much, Too Soon and Malone were "not bad--just ineffectual. [...] Mr. Flynn, as the late John Barrymore, a moody, wild-drinking ruin of a great actor, steals the picture, lock, stock and keg. It is only in the scenes of his savage disintegration, as the horrified girl hangs on, that the picture approaches real tragedy." The reviewer from The Sunday Herald disagreed, writing that "Errol Flynn, who can't act, is able to convey the idea that John Barrymore, who could act, was a friendly drunk, but he can't convey much else about the great hambo."

A year after Too Much, Too Soon was released, Errol Flynn was dead at 50 from a heart attack and a life of dissipation. Only a year later Diana Barrymore herself would be dead from a combination of alcohol and pills. She was 38 years old.

By Lorraine LoBianco

Carroll, Harrison "Behind the Scenes in Hollywood" The Billings County Pioneer 19 Dec 57
"FBI Arrest Tennis Man" Barrier Miner 31 Oct 50
"The Gabor Girls Love Each Other", The Washington Post 4 Feb 57
The Mike Wallace Interview: Diana Barrymore
"At the Movies: Three Novels Comes to Local Screens", Sunday Herald 1 Jun 58
Thompson, Howard "Too Much Too Soon (1958) Diana Barrymore's Story at 2 Theatres" The New York Times 10 May 58

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