John Barrymore


Actor
John Barrymore

About

Also Known As
John Sidney Blyth
Birth Place
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
Born
February 15, 1882
Died
May 29, 1942
Cause of Death
Myocarditis, Complicated By Chronic Nephritis, Cirrhosis Of The Liver And Gastric Ulcers

Biography

Affectionately referred to as "The Great Profile," the classically handsome actor John Barrymore was more suited for leading man roles than his older sibling, Lionel, and more inclined to work in film than his revered stage actress sister, Ethel. The youngest member of the renowned Barrymore acting dynasty, the exceptionally adaptable performer transitioned from acclaimed work on Broadwa...

Photos & Videos

Beau Brummel - Lobby Card
Grand Hotel - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Rasputin and the Empress - Lobby Cards

Family & Companions

Katherine Harris
Wife
Married on September 1, 1910 at age 18 against wishes of her father but with mother's blessing; divorced on December 4, 1917; died at 1927.
Michael Strange
Wife
Writer. Born in 1890 formerly Mrs. Leonard Thomas; once cited by French artist Helleu as the most beautiful woman in the USA; mother of Diana; married on August 5, 1920; divorced; died in 1950.
Dolores Costello
Wife
Actor. Born in 1906; leading lady in several Barrymore vehicles; married in 1928; went into semi-retirement after birth of daughter and son; divorced in 1934; died in 1979.
Elaine Barrie
Wife
Actor. Born in 1915; married on November 6, 1936; divorced after several months, but later had decree set aside.

Bibliography

"The House of Barrymore"
Margot Peters, Alfred A. Knopf (1990)
"The Barrymores: The Royal Family in Hollywood"
James Kotsilibas-Davis, Crown (1981)
"The Film Acting of John Barrymore"
Joseph Garton, Arno Press (1980)
"Damned in Paradise: The Life of John Barrymore"
John Kobler, Atheneum (1977)

Notes

"I like to be introduced as America's foremost actor. It precludes the necessity for further effort." --remark attributed to Barrymore by The New York Times May 30, 1942. and by Halliwell's Filmgoer's Companion, 8th ed.

When a woman discovered Barrymore relieving himself in a ladies' room, she sniffed, "Mr. Barrymore, this is for ladies!" Turning around without zipping his pants up first, Barrymore responded, "So, my dear, is this!" --story recounted in Halliwell's Filmgoer's Companion, 8th ed.

Biography

Affectionately referred to as "The Great Profile," the classically handsome actor John Barrymore was more suited for leading man roles than his older sibling, Lionel, and more inclined to work in film than his revered stage actress sister, Ethel. The youngest member of the renowned Barrymore acting dynasty, the exceptionally adaptable performer transitioned from acclaimed work on Broadway to the emerging medium of silent pictures in films like "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" (1920). He made the move to sound appear just as effortless in such heralded works as "Moby Dick" (1930), "The Mad Genius" (1931) and "Grand Hotel" (1932), the latter of which boasted an all-star cast, including brother Lionel and Greta Garbo. Films of the time, like "A Bill of Divorcement" (1932), "Dinner at Eight" (1933) and "Twentieth Century" (1934) consistently placed Barrymore at the top of the box office heap. The actor's unrestrained affection for women and alcohol, however, eventually eroded both his ability to maintain his finances and perform to expectation. A late-career turn as the star of "The Great Man Votes" (1939) gave audiences one last glimpse of his innate talent before giving way to self-parodies like "The Great Profile" (1940). Nonetheless, Barrymore's contributions to theater and film would be undeniable, continuing to reverberate in the performances of such actors as Sir Laurence Olivier and his own granddaughter, Drew Barrymore, and his storied life referenced in such films as "My Favorite Year" (1982).

Born John Sidney Blyth on Feb. 15, 1882 in Philadelphia, PA, Barrymore was the youngest son of noted actors Maurice and Georgina Drew, who used Barrymore as their stage name. Along with his older siblings Ethel and Lionel, John would later become a member of Hollywood's most prominent acting dynasty. Tragically, he lost his mother at the age of 11 after Georgina died from what was then termed "consumption" while traveling to California for a cure in the summer of 1893. Often in the care of relatives when not in school, he once spent an idyllic summer in 1896 with Lionel on his father's rambling estate, which was stocked with exotic animals, while the elder Barrymore was away on tour. Two years later, John - known for his promiscuity, even at that time - was expelled from the prestigious Georgetown Preparatory School after being seen leaving a brothel. Heavily influenced - as all the Barrymore children were - by their grandmother, the renowned actress Louisa Lane Drew, he made his stage debut in a fundraiser performance of "A Man of the World" in a production directed by his father in 1900. After Maurice experienced a complete breakdown during a stage performance in 1901, a horrified John was forced to commit his father to an insane asylum. Suffering the then-incurable effects of syphilis, Maurice Barrymore later died at an institution in Amityville, NY four years later.

An aspiring artist from an early age, John studied at King's College in the U.K. and New York's Art Students League prior to working for a time as a freelance cartoonist for the New York Evening Journal. Eventually, the need for income and the call of the "family business" proved too much to resist, and by 1903, Barrymore was appearing on stage full time, mostly in light comedies. By 1905, he was working on the stages of London, honing his skills with high drama and in acclaimed productions of Shakespearean classics. While touring the U.S. the following year, he survived the catastrophic San Francisco earthquake of 1906 then returned to New York and Broadway, where he quickly secured a reputation as one of the leading stage actors of his day in productions like "Justice" and "Peter Ibbetson." Once again motivated by financial necessity - fraternal competition and a dislike of theatrical touring may have also played a role - Barrymore followed his brother Lionel into the film business by the early teens. The revered thespian's first screen appearances were in such silent movies as "An American Citizen" (1914) and "The Dictator" (1915). The younger Barrymore's screen roles soon proved more diverse than his older brother's, which tended to be more of the curmudgeonly, character role variety. The difference was exemplified by title roles in wide-ranging films like "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" (1920), "Sherlock Holmes" (1922) and "Don Juan" (1926).

Also at this time, Barrymore's prolific stage career reached its peak with a lauded interpretation of "King Richard III" ruling Broadway a few years earlier, and what many deemed the definitive portrayal of "Hamlet" completing its lengthy run in London after an extended Broadway engagement in the mid-1920s. Although the arrival of the talkies spelled the end for many vocally-challenged performers, Barrymore's commanding, stage-trained voice served him well on film in such early sound efforts as "The Show of Shows" (1929) and "Moby Dick" (1930), the later of which found him as the obsessed Captain Ahab, a role he had first played in a silent film four years earlier. Now at the height of his powers on screen, he co-starred with the brightest female stars of the day, including a young Katherine Hepburn, in her feature film debut, "A Bill of Divorcement" (1932), an acclaimed drama that made an overnight star of Hepburn. That same year, Barrymore worked on film for the first and only time with both siblings, Lionel and Ethel, in the historical drama "Rasputin and the Empress" (1932), in which his older brother played the eponymous mad monk. Also that year, in one of film's greatest tragically-romantic pairings, he wooed the sphinx-like Greta Garbo in the box-office sensation "Grand Hotel" (1932) and later teamed with Lionel once again for the comedy of manners "Dinner at Eight" (1933).

As he matured, Barrymore moved from leading man to much sought-after supporting player in dozens of high-profile films. He convincingly played a falling Broadway star opposite leading lady Carole Lombard in the quintessential screwball comedy "Twentieth Century" (1934) then impressed as Mercutio in a screen adaptation of "Romeo and Juliet" (1936). The next year, Barrymore assisted British private detective Captain Hugh Drummond (John Howard) as the loyal Colonel Neilson for the first of several outings in the action-adventure "Bulldog Drummond Comes Back" (1937). He went on to portray King Louis XV opposite Norma Shearer's doomed "Marie Antoinette" (1938) prior to delivering what many considered his last truly masterful performance as a professor in decline whose ballot holds the key to a local election in the drama "The Great Man Votes" (1939). Always appreciative of a good laugh, regardless of whose expense it came at, Barrymore mercilessly lampooned himself in "The Great Profile" (1940). Less humorous was the fact that after decades of alcohol abuse the brilliant thespian's memory had become so poor that he was forced to read his lines from off-camera cue cards. Before long, the once-in demand actor was finding it difficult to secure work. Barrymore made his final film appearance in the comedy "Playmates" (1941), a film that once again found the clearly bloated and unhealthy actor playing himself, as he attempts to instruct a young bandleader (Kay Kyser) in the ways of Shakespeare.

Barrymore's last stage appearance came as the star of "My Dear Children," a farce most notable for his impromptu and often vulgar ad-libs. The show proved successful, although it drew crowds in much the same way as a traffic accident, with throngs of theater-goers coming to see what the unstable actor might say next. For his part, Barrymore recognized it as a form of prostitution, but parodies of himself such as this were the only parts he was being offered at the time and, after a series of costly failed marriages, he was in desperate need of money. With both his health and finances in precipitous decline, Barrymore collapsed while rehearsing for an installment of band leader Rudy Vallee's radio program in the spring of 1942. At a Los Angeles area hospital several days later, he slipped into a coma and died on May 29, 1942. His legend would live on in his children, the troubled actors Diana Barrymore - whose mother was Barrymore's second wife, poet Blanche Oelrichs - and her half-brother, John Drew Barrymore - whose mother was Barrymore's third wife, actress Dolores Costello. With addiction and mental illness a consistent issue within the family, Diana would die at age 38 of an overdose of prescription pills and alcohol; John Drew would become alcoholic to the point of homelessness, as well as suffer from mental problems. The latter's daughter, Drew Barrymore, would break the family cycle of drug and alcohol dependency after struggling with both as a child actress who first found fame as Gertie in "ET" (1982).

By Bryce Coleman

Filmography

 

Cast (Feature Film)

World Premiere (1941)
Duncan DeGrasse
Playmates (1941)
Himself
The Great Profile (1940)
Evans Garrick
The Invisible Woman (1940)
Professor Gibbs
Midnight (1939)
Georges Flammarion
The Great Man Votes (1939)
[Gregory] Vance
Romance in the Dark (1938)
Zoltan Jason
Marie Antoinette (1938)
King Louis XV
Bulldog Drummond's Revenge (1938)
Colonel Nielson
Hold That Co-Ed (1938)
Governor [Gabby Harrigan]
Bulldog Drummond's Peril (1938)
Colonel Nielson
Spawn of the North (1938)
Windy [Turlon]
Maytime (1937)
Nicolai
True Confession (1937)
Charley [Jasper]
Bulldog Drummond Comes Back (1937)
Colonel Nielson
Night Club Scandal (1937)
Dr. Ernest Tindal
Romeo and Juliet (1936)
Mercutio, kinsman to the Prince and friend to Romeo
Twentieth Century (1934)
[Oscar] Jaffe
Long Lost Father (1934)
Carl Bellairs
Dinner at Eight (1934)
Larry Renault
Counsellor at Law (1933)
George Simon
Night Flight (1933)
A. Riviére
Reunion in Vienna (1933)
[Archduke] Rudolf [Maximilian von Hapsburg]
Topaze (1933)
[Dr. Albert A.] Topaze
Rasputin and the Empress (1933)
Prince [Paul] Chegodieff
State's Attorney (1932)
[Tom] Cardigan
Arséne Lupin (1932)
Duke of Charmerace [also known as Arséne Lupin]
A Bill of Divorcement (1932)
Hilary [Fairfield]
Grand Hotel (1932)
The Baron [Felix Benvenuto Frihern Von Gaigern]
Svengali (1931)
Svengali
The Mad Genius (1931)
Ivan Tsarakov
General Crack (1930)
Duke of Kurland/Prince Christian/General Crack
Moby Dick (1930)
Ahab
The Man From Blankley's (1930)
Lord Strathpeffer
Eternal Love (1929)
Marcus Paltram
The Show of Shows (1929)
Tempest (1928)
Sgt. Ivan Markov
The Beloved Rogue (1927)
François Villon
Don Juan (1927)
Don Juan/Don José
When a Man Loves (1927)
Chevalier Fabien Designer Grieux
The Sea Beast (1926)
Ahab Ceeley
Beau Brummel (1924)
George Bryan Brummell
The Lotus Eater (1922)
Jacques Lenoi
Sherlock Holmes (1922)
Sherlock Holmes
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920)
Dr. Henry Jekyll/Edward Hyde
Here Comes the Bride (1919)
Frederick Tile
The Test of Honor (1919)
Martin Wingrave
On the Quiet (1918)
Robert Ridgway
National Red Cross Pageant (1917)
Raffles, the Amateur Cracksman (1917)
Raffles
Nearly a King (1916)
Himself/The prince/Jack Merriwell
The Red Widow (1916)
Cicero Hannibal Butts
The Lost Bridegroom (1916)
Bertie Joyce
The Incorrigible Dukane (1915)
James Dukane, Jr.
Are You a Mason? (1915)
Frank Perry
The Dictator (1915)
Brooke Travers
The Man from Mexico (1914)
Fitzhew

Cast (Short)

Hollywood Goes to Town (1938)
Himself
The Candid Camera Story (Very Candid) of the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures 1937 Convention (1936)
Himself
An American Citizen (1914)
Beresford Cruger

Misc. Crew (Short)

John Barrymore (1962)
Archival Footage
Some of the Greatest (1955)
Archival Footage
Let's Go to the Movies (1949)
Archival Footage
Okay for Sound (1946)
Archival Footage
The Voice That Thrilled the World (1943)
Archival Footage

Life Events

1903

Stage debut, "Magda"

1903

New York debut, "Glad of It"

1909

Achieved matinee idol status in "The Fortune Hunter"

1913

Screen acting debut, "An American Citizen"

1920

Enjoyed great stage successes in New York, London, and on tour, especially with "Richard III" and "Hamlet"

1926

Starred in first film with recorded and synchronized musical score, "Don Juan"

1929

Recited from "Richard III" in first sound film appearance, "Show of Shows"

1933

Made Technicolor tests of Hamlet's soliloquies for a film which was never made

1934

Seriously ill; journeyed to India upon recovery

1936

Realized long ambition to portray a Shakespearian character on film; played Mercutio in "Romeo and Juliet"

1942

Recited Hamlet's "To be or not to be" soliloquy in last film "Playmates"

Photo Collections

Beau Brummel - Lobby Card
Beau Brummel - Lobby Card
Grand Hotel - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Here are a few photos taken during production of MGM's all-star film, Grand Hotel (1932).
Rasputin and the Empress - Lobby Cards
Rasputin and the Empress - Lobby Cards
State's Attorney - Movie Poster
State's Attorney - Movie Poster
Twentieth Century - Publicity Stills
Twentieth Century - Publicity Stills
Dinner at Eight - Behind-the-Scenes Stills
Here are a number of photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of MGM's all-star comedy Dinner at Eight (1934), directed by George Cukor.
Don Juan - Movie Posters
Here are a few original-release American movie posters for Don Juan (1927), starring John Barrymore.
John Barrymore - State Express Cigarette Card
This is a small cigarette card of actor John Barrymore. These cards were included in Cigarette packs in the 1930s and were collectible items. Customers could even purchase books to organize and collect these cards. State Express was an active Cigarette Card producer, creating a wide range of cards featuring famous people of which film stars were an often popular draw.

Videos

Movie Clip

Great Man Votes, The (1939) - Your Liquor Or My Lucre 27-year old Garson Kanin directs John Barrymore, then 52, whom he fought to get in the role, with Luis Alberni, who’s not really the milkman, with a brief appearance by second-billed MGM child star Virginia Weidler, on loan to RKO, opening The Great Man Votes, 1939.
Great Man Votes, The (1939) - Pop's Only Speaking Metagorical Our first scene in the Vance the household, where John Barrymore is “Pop,” , a usually drunk but apparently erudite night watchman in a nameless Prohibition-era city, and Peter Holden and Virginia Weidler are introduced as his precocious children, in The Great Man Votes, 1939, directed by Garson Kanin.
Great Man Votes, The (1939) - The Color Of Thy Giblets! We’re still figuring out the background of “Pop” Vance (John Barrymore), a drunken, widowed and brainy night watchman, whose son and daughter have gotten into some scrapes at school, when their teacher (Katharine Alexander as Miss Billow) visits, revealing new angles, in RKO’s The Great Man Votes, 1939, directed by Garson Kanin.
Twentieth Century - Go on Hit Me! Impresario Oscar Jaffe (John Barrymore) plays the martyr, not fooling his protege Lily Garland (Carole Lombard), leading to a chilling moment in Howard Hawks' comedy Twentieth Century, 1934.
Twentieth Century (1934) - She's Marvelous! Director Oscar Jaffe (John Barrymore) is convinced he's onto something after his new discovery Lily Garland (Carole Lombard) turns on him during rehearsal in Howard Hawks' Twentieth Century, 1934.
Twentieth Century (1934) - Tell Her I'm Dying! Still on the train, nearing the climax, impresario Oscar Jaffe (John Barrymore) conspires with his aides (Roscoe Karns and Walter Connolly) to persuade Lily (Carole Lombard) to sign a new contract in Howard Hawks' Twentieth Century, 1934.
Arsene Lupin (1932) - Call Me Sir! Barrymore brothers (Lionel as detective "Guechard," John as "Duke Of Chamarace" AND the title character,) playing tricks on each other, early in the MGM hit Arsene Lupin, 1932.
Arsene Lupin (1932) - Even Before Breakfast Now dressed and at the party, Sonia (Karen Morley) is introduced by the Duke (John Barrymore, also the title character) to wealthy and befuddled Gourney-Martin (Tully Marshall), in Arsene Lupin, 1932.
Mad Genius, The (1931) - That Sensation Of Screaming 15 years on from his humble introduction, John Barrymore is now impresario Tsarakov, Luis Alberni his desperate dance director Serge, Marian Marsh (Barrymore’s co-star from Svengali) his principal Nana, Mae Madison and Carmel Myers as needier performers, in The Mad Genius, 1931.
Mad Genius, The (1931) - There Was A Strange Boy Freaky opening in the Warner Brothers-John Barrymore commercial follow-up to Svengali, the star operates a puppet act, assisted by Charles Butterworth, young Frankie Darro their only audience, pursued by a pre-Frankenstein Boris Karloff, Michael Curtiz directing, The Mad Genius,1931.
When A Man Loves (1927) - Temptations Of The Flesh Introduction of leading man John Barrymore, meeting Manon (Dolores Costello), en route to life in a convent, in the hit Warner Brothers treatment of Manon Lescaut, the 1731 novel by the Abbe Prevost, restored by UCLA and the George Eastman House, When A Man Loves, 1927.
When A Man Loves (1927) - Too Frail To Please Manon (Dolores Costello), having escaped from her brother (Warner Oland), who’s trying to sell her into prostitution, searches for her lover Fabien (John Barrymore), who’s been tricked into believing she left him, winding up in the same Paris tavern, in Warner Brothers’ When A Man Loves, 1927.

Trailer

Family

Eliza Lane
Great-Grandmother
Actor, singer.
Georgiana Drew
Mother
Actor.
Maurice Barrymore
Father
Actor. Born on September 21, 1847.
John Drew
Uncle
Actor.
Lionel Barrymore
Brother
Actor. Born on April 28, 1878; died on November 15, 1954; acted together in film on several occasions.
Ethel Barrymore
Sister
Actor. Born on August 15, 1879; died on June 18, 1959; acted together with John and with brother Lionel in "Rasputin and the Empress" (1932).
Diana Blanche Barrymore
Daughter
Actor. Born on March 3, 1920; died in 1960; mother, Michael Strange; author of autobiography, "Too Much, Too Soon" (1957).
Dolores Ethel Mae Barrymore
Daughter
Born on 1930; mother, Dolores Costello.
John Blyth Barrymore
Son
Actor. Born in 1932, mother, Dolores Costello.
John Blyth Barrymore
Grandson
Former actor. Born in 1954.
Drew Barrymore
Granddaughter
Actor. Born on February 22, 1975.

Companions

Katherine Harris
Wife
Married on September 1, 1910 at age 18 against wishes of her father but with mother's blessing; divorced on December 4, 1917; died at 1927.
Michael Strange
Wife
Writer. Born in 1890 formerly Mrs. Leonard Thomas; once cited by French artist Helleu as the most beautiful woman in the USA; mother of Diana; married on August 5, 1920; divorced; died in 1950.
Dolores Costello
Wife
Actor. Born in 1906; leading lady in several Barrymore vehicles; married in 1928; went into semi-retirement after birth of daughter and son; divorced in 1934; died in 1979.
Elaine Barrie
Wife
Actor. Born in 1915; married on November 6, 1936; divorced after several months, but later had decree set aside.

Bibliography

"The House of Barrymore"
Margot Peters, Alfred A. Knopf (1990)
"The Barrymores: The Royal Family in Hollywood"
James Kotsilibas-Davis, Crown (1981)
"The Film Acting of John Barrymore"
Joseph Garton, Arno Press (1980)
"Damned in Paradise: The Life of John Barrymore"
John Kobler, Atheneum (1977)
"All My Sins Remembered"
Elaine Barrymore with Sandford Doty, Appleton-Century-Crofts (1964)
"Too Much, Too Soon"
Diana Barrymore, Henry Holt & Co (1957)
"Good Night, Sweet Prince"
Gene Fowler, Viking (1943)
"John Barrymore: The Legend and the Man"
Alma Power-Waters, Julian Messner (1941)
"Confessions of an Actor"
John Barrymore, Bobbs-Merrill (1926)

Notes

"I like to be introduced as America's foremost actor. It precludes the necessity for further effort." --remark attributed to Barrymore by The New York Times May 30, 1942. and by Halliwell's Filmgoer's Companion, 8th ed.

When a woman discovered Barrymore relieving himself in a ladies' room, she sniffed, "Mr. Barrymore, this is for ladies!" Turning around without zipping his pants up first, Barrymore responded, "So, my dear, is this!" --story recounted in Halliwell's Filmgoer's Companion, 8th ed.