Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Famous Classic Movie Stars - JOHN BARRYMORE

John Barrymore was born as John Sidney Blyth Barrymore on February 15, 1882 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was an American actor, frequently called the greatest of his generation. He first gained fame 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" Barrymore was a member of a multi-generational theatrical dynasty, he was the brother of Lionel Barrymore and Ethel Barrymore, and is the paternal grandfather of the actress Drew Barrrymore.

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 him and his siblings the ways of acting and theater life. His uncles were John Drew, Jr. and Sidney Drew.

Barrymore 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. 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. Her "sponsor" Stanford White intervened, however and arranged for her to undergo an abortion, disguised as operation for "appendicitis". White was later murdered by Nesbit's husband, Pittsburgh millionaire Harry K. Thaw.

Barrymore 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 this 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 his deception, but by then, he was so famous that the world merely smiled indulgently at his admission. 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 delivered some of the most critically acclaimed performances in theater and film history and was widely regarded as the screens greatest performer during a movie career spanning twenty five years as a leading man in more that sixty films.

Barrymore specialized in light comedies until convinced by his friend, playwright Edward Sheldon to try serious drama. Thereafter, Barrymore created a sensation on Broadway, culminating with the greatest success of his theatrical 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 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 a day while doing a play in another part of the same day. He also may have been goaded by his brother Lionel and his uncle Sidney, who both had been successfully making films for a couple of years. He worked opposite his brother Lionel, and many of the screens foremost leading ladies, including Greta Garbo, Katharine Hepburn, Joan Crawford, and Carole Lombard.

Later in his career, Barrymore suffered a relapse on his boat "The Mariner" in 1929 off the coast of Mexico while on honeymoon with wife Dolores. This entailed a quick trip to shore by his crew and admittance into doctor's care. Much of his newly occurring health problems most likely stemmed from his consumption of bad and sometimes nearly poisonous illegal alcohol during the period of Prohibition in the US. In the late 1930's, alcoholism encroached on his ability to remember his lines, and his diminished abilities were apparent in a surviving screen test that he mad for an aborted film version of "Hamlet" in 1934. From then on, he insisted on reading his dialogue from cue cards. He continued to give credible performances in lesser pictures though.

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 forth and last wife, Elaine Barrie, a union that turned out to be disastrous. His brother Lionel tried to help him find a small place near himself and to convince him to stay away from impetuous marriages, which usually ended up in divorce and put a strain on his once large income.

Barrymore collapsed while appearing on Rudy Vallee's radio show and died three 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".

Barrymore was married four times to:
Katherine Corri Harris (1910-1917)
Blanche Oelricks (1920-1928)
Dolores Costello (1928-1934)
Elaine Barrie (1936-1940)

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