John Barrymore

John Barrymore

Infobox actor
name = John Barrymore

imagesize = 250px
caption = John Barrymore (aged 40) (1922)
birthname = John Sidney Blyth
birthdate = birth date|1882|2|15|mf=y
birthplace = Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
deathdate = death date and age|1942|5|29|1882|2|15|mf=y
deathplace = Los Angeles, California
yearsactive = 1903 - 1941
spouse = Katherine Corri Harris (1910-1917)
Blanche Oelrichs (1920-1928)
Dolores Costello (1928-1934)
Elaine Barrie (1936-1940)
children = Diana Barrymore (1921-1960)
Dolores Ethel Blyth Barrymore (b.1930)
John Drew Barrymore (1932-2004)
parents = Maurice Barrymore (1849-1905)
Georgiana Drew (1856-1893)
awards = Walk of Fame - Motion Picture
6667 Hollywood Blvd

John Sidney Blyth Barrymore (February 15 1882May 29 1942), was an American actor, frequently called the greatest of his generation. He first gained fame as a stage actor, lauded for his portrayals of Hamlet and Richard III. His success continued with motion pictures in both the silent and sound eras. His classic nose and distinguished features won him the nickname "The Great Profile".

A member of a multi-generation theatrical dynasty, he was the brother of Lionel Barrymore and Ethel Barrymore, and the grandfather of Drew Barrymore.


Barrymore was born into an illustrious theatrical family. His parents were Maurice Barrymore and his wife Georgie Drew Barrymore. His maternal grandmother was Louisa Lane Drew (aka Mrs Drew), a prominent and well-respected 19th century actress and theater manager, who instilled in John, his sister Ethel and brother Lionel the ways of acting and theatre life. His uncles were John Drew, Jr. and Sidney Drew.

John fondly remembered the summer of 1896 in his youth spent on his father's rambling farm on Long Island. He and Lionel lived a Robinson Crusoe-like existence, attended by a black cook named Edward . He was expelled from Georgetown Preparatory School in 1898 after being caught patronizing a bordello. He was a hard-drinking adventurer with a jaunty personality.

While still a teenager, he courted showgirl Evelyn Nesbit in 1901 and 1902. When Nesbit became pregnant -- she aged 17 and he 19 -- Barrymore proposed marriage. But her "sponsor" Stanford White intervened, and arranged for the still teenaged Evelyn to undergo an abortion undercover as an "appendicitis". White was later murdered by Nesbit's vengeful husband, Pittsburgh millionaire Harry K. Thaw.

He was staying at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco when the 1906 earthquake struck. He had starred in a production of "The Dictator" and was booked to tour Australia with it. Since he loathed this prospect, he hid, spending the next few days drinking at the home of a friend on Van Ness Avenue. During his drinking jag, he worked out a plan to exploit the earthquake for his own ends. He decided to present himself as an on-the-scene "reporter", making up virtually everything he claimed to have witnessed. Twenty years later, Barrymore finally confessed to his deception, but by then, he was so famous that the world merely smiled indulgently at his admission."Gordon Thomas and Max Morgan Witts: "The San Francisco Earthquake", Stein and Day, New York and Souvenir Press, London, 1971; reprinted Dell, 1972, SBN 440-07631, page 212] His account was written as a "letter to my sister Ethel". He was sure the letter would be "worth at least a hundred dollars." In terms of publicity it earned Barrymore a thousand times that amount.

Barrymore was also great friends and a drinking buddy with baseball legend Mike Donlin. Donlin eventually appeared in two of John's silent movies, "Raffles The Amateur Cracksman" and "The Sea Beast".

Early theatre and film career

Barrymore delivered some of the most critically acclaimed performances in theatre and cinema history and was regarded by many as the screen's greatest performer during a movie career spanning 25 years as a leading man in more than 60 films.

Barrymore specialized in trivial though congenial comedies until convinced by his friend, playwright Edward Sheldon, to try serious drama. Thereafter Barrymore created a sensation in John Galsworthy's "Justice" (1916) co-starring Cathleen Nesbitt. He followed this triumph with Broadway successes in "Peter Ibbetson" (1917), a role his father Maurice had wanted to play, Tolstoy's "Redemption"(1918) and "The Jest" (1919), co-starring his brother Lionel, reaching what seemed to be the zenith of his stage career as Richard III in 1920. Barrymore had a conspicuous failure in his wife Michael Strange's strange play "Clair de Lune" (1921), but followed it with the greatest success of his career with "Hamlet" in 1922, which he played on Broadway for 101 performances and then took to London in 1925.

Barrymore entered films around 1913 with the feature "An American Citizen". He or someone using the name "Jack Barrymore" is given credit for four short films made in 1912 and 1913 but this has not been proven to be John Barrymore. Barrymore was most likely convinced into giving films a try out of economic necessity and the fact that he hated touring a play all over the United States. He could make a couple of movies in the off season theater months or shoot a film in one part of the day while doing a play in another part of the same day. He also may have been goaded into films by his brother "Lionel" and his "Uncle Sidney" who had both been successfully making movies for a couple of years. Barrymore's silent-film roles included A.J. Raffles in "Raffles the Amateur Cracksman" (1917), "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" (1920), "Sherlock Holmes" (1922), "Beau Brummel" (1924), Captain Ahab in "The Sea Beast" (1926), and "Don Juan" (1926). When talking pictures arrived, Barrymore's stage-trained voice added a new dimension to his screen work. He made his talkie debut with a dramatic reading from "Henry VI" in Warner Brothers' musical revue "The Show of Shows", and reprised his Captain Ahab role in "Moby-Dick" (1930). His other leads included "The Man from Blankley's" (1930), "Svengali" (1931), "The Mad Genius" (1931), "Grand Hotel" (1932) (in which he displays an affectionate chemistry with his brother Lionel), "Dinner at Eight" (1933), "Topaze" (1933) and "Twentieth Century" (1934). He worked opposite many of the screen's foremost leading ladies, including Greta Garbo, Katharine Hepburn, Joan Crawford, and Carole Lombard. In 1933, Barrymore appeared as a Jewish attorney in the title role of "Counsellor-at-Law" based on Elmer Rice's 1931 play. As critic Pauline Kael later wrote, he "seems an unlikely choice for the ghetto-born lawyer...but this is one of the few screen roles that reveal his measure as an actor. His 'presence' is apparent in every scene; so are his restraint, his humor, and his zest."

Later career

In the late 1930s, alcoholism and possibly Alzheimer's Disease encroached on his ability to remember his lines, and his diminished abilities were apparent in a surviving screen test that he made for an aborted film of "Hamlet" in 1934. From then on, he insisted on reading his dialog from cue cards. He continued to give creditable performances in lesser pictures, for example as Inspector Nielson in some of Paramount Pictures' Bulldog Drummond mysteries, and offered one last bravura dramatic turn in RKO's 1939 feature "The Great Man Votes". After that, his remaining screen roles were broad caricatures of himself, as in "The Great Profile" (with a demeaning choice of theme music: "Oh, Johnny, How You Can Love") and "World Premiere". In the otherwise undistinguished "Playmates" with band leader Kay Kyser, the failing Barrymore recited the "Hamlet" soliloquy with care and conviction. In 1937, Barrymore visited India, the land where his father had been born. In his private life, during his last years, he was married to his fourth and last wife, Elaine Barrie, which turned out to be disastrous. His brother Lionel tried to help John find a small place near himself and to convince John to stay away from impetuous marriages which usually ended in divorce and put a strain on his once large income.

He was known for calling people by nicknames of his own creation. Dolores Costello was known in his writing alternately as "Small Cat," "Catkiwee," "Winkie", and "Egg." He called Lionel "Mike", and Ethel called John "Jake". He was fond of sailing, and owned his own yacht, "The Mariner", on which he could escape unhappy wives, mistresses, lawyers, and creditors.


Barrymore collapsed while appearing on Rudy Vallee's radio show and died some days later in his hospital room. His dying words were "Die? I should say not, dear fellow. No Barrymore would allow such a conventional thing to happen to him." Gene Fowler attributes different dying words to Barrymore in his biography "Good Night, Sweet Prince". According to Fowler, John Barrymore roused as if to say something to his brother Lionel; Lionel asked John to repeat himself, and John simply replied, "You heard me, Mike."

According to Errol Flynn's memoirs, film director Raoul Walsh "borrowed" Barrymore's body after the funeral, and left his corpse propped in a chair for a drunken Flynn to discover when he returned home from The Cock and Bull Bar. This was re-created in the movie "W.C. Fields and Me". Other accounts of this classic Hollywood tale substitute actor Peter Lorre in the place of Walsh, but Raoul Walsh himself tells the story in Richard Schickel's 1973 documentary "The Men Who Made the Movies".


For his contribution to the motion picture industry, John Barrymore has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6667 Hollywood Boulevard.

Barrymore had been a friend and contemporary (and drinking buddy) of his fellow Philadelphian W. C. Fields. In the 1976 film "W.C. Fields and Me", Barrymore was played by Jack Cassidy. He was also portrayed by Christopher Plummer in the 1996 one-man show "Barrymore," and by Errol Flynn in the 1958 film "Too Much Too Soon."

He is mentioned in the lyrics of the song "I May Be Wrong (But I Think You're Wonderful)" by Harry Sullivan and Harry Ruskin, written in 1929, which became the theme song of the Apollo Theater in New York, and which was recorded by many artists including Doris Day in 1950. The line is "You might be John Barrymore", meaning that you might be someone wonderful (it is a love song).


# Katherine Corri Harris (1891-1927), an actress who starred in the 1918 film "The House of Mirth", on September 1, 1910 and divorced in 1917 .
# Blanche Marie Louise Oelrichs (1890-1950), aka "Michael Strange," on August 5, 1920 and divorced her in 1925 . They had one child:
#* Diana Blanche Barrymore (1921-1960), who died at age 38. A semi-autobiographical story of her life was depicted in "Too Much, Too Soon", starring Errol Flynn as her father
# Dolores Costello (1903-1979), actress and model best known for "Little Lord Fauntleroy" (1936) & The Magnificent Ambersons(1941); they married on November 24, 1928 and divorced in 1935. They had two children:
#* Dolores Ethel Mae Barrymore (living)
#* John Drew Barrymore (1932-2004) (father of Drew Barrymore)
# Elaine Barrie (née Elaine Jacobs), (1916-2003), an actress; married November 9, 1936 and divorced 1940

tage Appearances

*"Glad of It" (December 28, 1903 - January 1904) (Broadway)
*"The Dictator" (April 4 - May 30, 1904; return engagement August 24 - September 1904) (Broadway and San Francisco)
*"Pantaloon / Alice Sit-by-the-Fire" (December 25, 1905 - March 1906) (Broadway)
*"His Excellency the Governor" (Revival) (April 4 - May 1907) (Broadway)
*"The Boys of Company B" (April 8 - July 1907) (replacement for Arnold Daly) (Broadway)
*"Toddles" (March 16 - April 1908) (Broadway)
*"Stubborn Cinderella" (January 25 - April 10, 1909) (Broadway)
*"The Fortune Hunter" (September 4, 1909 - July 1910) (Broadway)
*"Uncle Sam" (October 30 - December 1911) (Broadway)
*"A Slice of Life" (January 29 - March 1912 (Broadway and national tour)
*"The Affairs of Anatol" (Revival) (October 14 - December 1912) (Broadway and national tour)
*"Believe Me Xantippe" (August 19 - October 1913) (Broadway)
*"The Yellow Ticket" (January 20 - June 1914) (Broadway)
*"Kick In" (October 15, 1914 - March 1915) (Broadway)
*"Justice" (April 3 - July 1916) (Broadway)
*"Peter Ibbetson" (April 17 - June 1917) (Broadway)
*"The Jest" (April 9 - June 14, 1919; return engagement September 19, 1919 - February 28, 1920) (Broadway)
*"King Richard III" (Revival) (March 6 - April 1920) (Broadway and London)
*"Clair de Lune" (April 18 - June 1921) (Broadway)
*"Hamlet" (Revival) (November 16, 1922 - February 1923; return engagement November 26 - December 1923) (Broadway and London)
*"My Dear Children" (January 31 - May 18, 1940) (Broadway)


*"An American Citizen" (1914)
*"The Man from Mexico" (1914)
*"Are You a Mason?" (1915)
*"The Dictator" (1915)
*"The Incorrigible Dukane" (1915)
*"Nearly a King" (1916)
*"The Lost Bridegroom" (1916)
*"The Red Widow" (1916)
*"Raffles, the Amateur Cracksman" (1917)
*"National Red Cross Pageant" (1917)
*"On the Quiet" (1918)
*"Here Comes the Bride" (1919)
*"The Test of Honor" (1919)
*"Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" (1920)
*"The Lotus Eater" (1921)
*"Sherlock Holmes" (1922)
*"Beau Brummell" (1924)
*"The Sea Beast" (1926)
*"Don Juan" (1926)
*"When a Man Loves" (1927)
*"The Beloved Rogue" (1927)
*"Tempest" (1928)
*"Eternal Love" (1929)
*"The Show of Shows" (1929)
*"General Crack" (1930)
*"The Man from Blankley's" (1930)
*"Moby Dick" (1930)
*"Svengali" (1931)
*"The Mad Genius" (1931)
*"Arsène Lupin" (1932)
*"Grand Hotel" (1932)
*"State's Attorney" (1932)
*"A Bill of Divorcement" (1932)
*"Rasputin and the Empress" (1932)
*"Topaze" (1933)
*"Reunion in Vienna" (1933)
*"Dinner at Eight" (1933)
*"Night Flight" (1933)
*"Counsellor at Law" (1933)
*"Long Lost Father" (1934)
*"Twentieth Century" (1934)
*"Romeo and Juliet" (1936)
*"Maytime" (1937)
*"Bulldog Drummond Comes Back" (1937)
*"Night Club Scandal" (1937)
*"Bulldog Drummond's Revenge" (1937)
*"True Confession" (1937)
*"Bulldog Drummond's Peril" (1938)
*"Romance in the Dark" (1938)
*"Marie Antoinette" (1938)
*"Spawn of the North" (1938)
*"Hold That Co-ed" (1938)
*"The Great Man Votes" (1939)
*"Midnight" (1939)
*"The Great Profile" (1940)
*"The Invisible Woman" (1940)
*"World Premiere" (1941)
*"Playmates" (1941)Short Subjects:
*"The Dream of a Moving Picture Director" (1912) (unconfirmed 1-reeler)
*"The Widow Casey's Return" (1912) (unconfirmed 1-reeler)
*"A Prize Package" (1912) (unconfirmed 1-reeler)
*"One on Romance" (1913) (unconfirmed 1-reeler)
*"National Red Cross Pageant" (1917)
*"Life in Hollywood No. 4" (1927)
*"" (1933) (test for unproduced film)
*"For Auld Lang Syne" (1938)
*"Hollywood Goes to Town" (1938)
*"Unusual Occupations" (1941)
*"Man Who Came to Dinner" (1941) screen test for Sheridan Whiteside


ee also

* Barrymore family
* Drew Barrymore
* Lionel Barrymore
* Ethel Barrymore
* John Drew Barrymore
* Alumni of Jesuit schools


* "Good Night, Sweet Prince" (1944) by Gene Fowler
* "The New Book of Lists" by David Wallechinsky & Amy Wallace
* "The First Male Stars: Men of the Silent Era" by David W. Menefee.

External links

*tcmdb name|id=10735|name=John Barrymore
*amg name|2:4291
* [ John Barrymore Quotes] ISearchQuotations
* [ Photographs of John Barrymore]
* [ young John Barrymore aged 15 in 1897 and other Broadway related material from the Billy Rose collection of the New York Public Library]

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • John Barrymore — (1922) John Barrymore (* 14. Februar 1882 in Philadelphia; † 29. Mai 1942 in Los Angeles) war ein US amerikanischer Schauspieler. Inhaltsverzeichnis …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • John Barrymore — a los cuarenta años de edad (en 1922) Nombre real John Sidney Blythe Barrymore Nacimiento 15 de febrero de 1882 …   Wikipedia Español

  • John Barrymore — (Filadelfia, 15 de febrero de 1882 Hollywood, 27 de mayo de 1941) Actor de cine estadounidense. Su debut teatral en Chicago (1903) fue seguido de temporadas triunfales en Nueva York, Londres y …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • John Barrymore —  Pour l’article homonyme, voir Barrymore.  John Barrymore …   Wikipédia en Français

  • John Barrymore — John Blythe …   Eponyms, nicknames, and geographical games

  • John Barrymore — noun United States actor; son of Maurice Barrymore and Georgiana Barrymore (1882 1942) • Syn: ↑Barrymore • Instance Hypernyms: ↑actor, ↑histrion, ↑player, ↑thespian, ↑role player …   Useful english dictionary

  • John Barrymore (acteur) — John Barrymore  Pour l’article homonyme, voir Barrymore.  John Barrymore John Barrymore en …   Wikipédia en Français

  • John Drew Barrymore — Nombre real John Sidney Blythe Barrymore Jr. Nacimiento 4 de junio de 1932 Los Ángeles, California, Estados Unidos de América Fallecimiento …   Wikipedia Español

  • John Drew Barrymore — (eigentlich John Blyth Barrymore, Jr., * 4. Juni 1932 in Beverly Hills, Kalifornien; † 29. November 2004 in Los Angeles, Kalifornien) war ein US amerikanischer Schauspieler und Mitglied der Schauspielerfamilie Barrymore. Inhaltsverzeichnis 1… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Barrymore — ist der Name der Mitglieder der Schauspielerfamilie Barrymore: Diana Barrymore (1921–1960), US amerikanische Schauspielerin; Tochter von John Barrymore Drew Barrymore (* 1975), US amerikanische Schauspielerin; Tochter von John Drew Barrymore… …   Deutsch Wikipedia