John Barrymore on stage, screen and radio

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Barrymore in the 1920s

John Barrymore (born John Sidney Blyth; 1882–1942) was an American actor of stage, screen and radio who appeared in more than 40 plays, 60 films and 100 radio shows.[1] He was the youngest child of the actors Maurice Barrymore and Georgie Drew Barrymore, and his two siblings were Lionel and Ethel; together they were known as America's "Royal Family" of actors,[2][3] and John was "perhaps the most influential and idolized actor of his day", according to his biographer Martin F. Norden.[1]

After Barrymore tried to start a career in art, becoming an illustrator at the New York Evening Journal, his father tempted him to appear on stage in 1901 in A Man of the World; the theater proved more interesting than the newspaper industry, and he quickly changed professions.[4] In 1904 he appeared in his first stage show on Broadway, where he appeared in light comedies and musicals until 1914 when he began to turn to more serious roles, starting with The Yellow Ticket and Kick In.[2][5] That year he also began to work in full-length films, and appeared in nine between 1914 and 1918, all of them slapstick or farce comedies.[2] During the 1920s film roles became more serious, and he appeared in the lead role in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920), which he followed with The Lotus Eater (1921), Sherlock Holmes (1922), Beau Brummel (1924) and The Sea Beast (1926).[2][6] In between his film roles, he also took the lead in two major stage productions of Shakespeare. In 1920 he played Richard, Duke of Gloucester in Richard III; although a success, the play closed after only 31 performances when Barrymore "collapsed from the physical and psychological challenges of the role".[2][6] In November 1922 he played the title character in Hamlet on Broadway for 101 performances, before touring the US until January 1924; Norden described the critics' reaction as "universally praising the production as the best Hamlet they had ever seen".[7] After the US tour, Barrymore took the production to London, where it ran for a further 68 performances;[8] The Manchester Guardian later described the first performance as "the most memorable first night for years".[9]

Such was the success of Hamlet, that Warner Bros. signed Barrymore to a film contract. When his time with Warner Bros. finished, he signed a contract with United Artists to make three features: The Beloved Rogue (1927), Tempest (1928) and Eternal Love (1929). When that contract ended he returned to Warner Bros. for five further films, and was then picked up by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, where he appeared in Grand Hotel, A Bill of Divorcement and Rasputin and the Empress (all 1932). At the end of the MGM contract he became "a journeyman movie actor", in the words of Norden.[2] In September 1940 Barrymore was invited to leave his imprint in the forecourt of Grauman's Chinese Theatre; instead of the traditional handprint, Barrymore left his facial profile, reflecting his nickname "The Great Profile".[10] He was inducted to the Hollywood Walk of Fame on February 8, 1960.[11]

Although Barrymore appeared in a number of successful films in the 1930s, including Counsellor at Law (1933) and Twentieth Century (1934), his increasing alcoholism led to memory loss and the inability to remember his lines.[2][12] His problems with alcohol affected his confidence and he admitted to Helen Hayes, his co-star of Night Flight, that he had "completely lost [his] nerve" and that he "could never appear before an audience instead".[13] In 1935 he was hospitalized after being unable to remember neither his seven lines for the film Hat, Coat, and Glove, nor his character's name.[12] After his discharge from the hospital he enjoyed a brief career revival, although much of his film work "bore little distinction", according to Norden;[2] the film historians Donald McCaffrey and Christopher Jacobs opine that Barrymore's "contribution to the art of cinematic acting began to fade" after the mid-1930s.[14] Barrymore also enjoyed a fruitful career on radio, which included broadcasting six of Shakespeare's plays in a Streamlined Shakespeare series. Much of his radio work was in the 74 episodes of The Sealtest Show with Rudy Vallée;[15] it was during a rehearsal for the show in May 1942 that Barrymore collapsed and was admitted to hospital, where he died on May 29.[16]

Stage appearances

Barrymore drew a caricature of himself and Ethel in A Slice of Life, 1912
Mary Young, John Barrymore and Frank Campeau in Believe Me, Xantippe, 1913
Barrymore (right) with his brother Lionel in The Jest, September 1919
John Barrymore in c. 1920
Violet Kemble-Cooper and Barrymore in Clair de Lune, 1921
Barrymore as Hamlet, 1922
Barrymore's stage appearances
Production[17][18][19] Date Theatre (New York, unless stated) Role Number of performances
A Man of the World January 1901 Touring George Ellis
Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines 1901 – 02 season Touring Charles "Charlie" La Martine
Madga October 31, 1903 W. S. Cleveland's Theatre, Chicago Lt. Max von Wendlowski 10
Leah the Forsaken November 8, 1903 W. S. Cleveland's Theatre, Chicago Jacob 18
Glad of It December 28, 1903 Savoy Theatre Corley 32
The Dictator April 4, 1904 Criterion Theatre, then touring in US and Britain (September 1904 to July 1905) Charlie Hyne 105
Yvette May 13, 1904 Knickerbocker Theatre Signor Valreali 1
Sunday September – December 1905 Touring Jacky
Pantaloon December 25, 1905 – March 1906 Criterion Theatre for 81, then touring from May 1906 Clown 81
Alice Sit-by-the-Fire December 25, 1905 – March 1906 Criterion Theatre for 81, then touring (March to April 1906 and September 1906 to February 1907) Stephen Rollo 81
Miss Civilization January 26, 1906 Broadway Theatre Brick Meakin, alias "Reddy the Kid" 1
On the Quiet March – October 1906 Touring, US and Australia Duke of Carbondale
The Dictator April – August 1906 Touring, US and Australia Charley Hyne
A Doll's House January 31, 1907 Colonial Theatre, Boston Dr. Rank 1
His Excellency the Governor April 4, 1907 Empire Theatre Capt. Charles Carew 36
The Boys of Company B May 23 – July 1907 Lyceum Theatre, then touring (July to September 1907) Tony Allen 96
Toddles March 16, 1908 Garrick Theatre Lord Meadows 16
A Stubborn Cinderella June 1908 – May 1909 Touring (June 1908 – January 1909), then Broadway Theatre, Boston (January – April 1909), then touring (April – May 1909) Mac 88
The Candy Shop May – June 12, 1909 Knickerbocker Theatre Jack Sweet 56
The Fortune Hunter September 4, 1909 – May 1911 Gaiety Theatre, the touring (September 1910 to May 1911) Nat Duncan 345
Uncle Sam August 28, 1911 Touring (August to October 1911), then Liberty Theatre Robert Hudson 48
Princess Zim-Zim December 1911 – January 1912 Touring Peter Milholland
A Slice of Life January 29 – March 1912 Empire Theatre Mr. Hyphen-Brown 48
Half a Husband March 11, 1912 Touring (less than 2 weeks) Tony Bleecker
On the Quiet July 1, 1912 Belasco Theatre, Los Angeles Robert Ridgway 14
The Honor of the Family July 15, 1912 Belasco Theatre, Los Angeles Colonel Philippe Bridau 6 (est)
The Man from Home July 22, 1912 Belasco Theatre, Los Angeles Daniel Voorhees Pike 14 (est)
The Affairs of Anatol October 14, 1912 Little Theatre Anatol 72
A Thief for a Night March 13, 1913 McVicker's Theatre, Chicago Robert Edgar Willoughby "Bobby" Pitt 46
Believe Me Xantippe August 19, 1913 Thirty-Ninth St. Theatre George MacFarland 79
The Yellow Ticket January 20, 1914 Eltinge Theatre Julian Rolfe 183
Kick In October 19, 1914 Longacre Theatre Chick Hewes 188
Actors' Fund Benefit January 28, 1916 Forth-Fourth Street 1
Justice April 3, 1916 – January 1917 Candler Theatre (April to September 1916), then touring (to January 1917) William Falder 104
Junior Patriots of America Benefit March 25, 1917 Hippodrome Sailor 2
Peter Ibbetson April 18, 1917 – May 1918 Republic Theatre (April to November 1917), then touring (to May 1918) Peter Ibbetson 71
The National Red Cross Pageant October 5, 1917 Rosemary Open Air Theatre Tyrant 4
Redemption October 3, 1918 Plymouth Theatre Fedor "Fedya" Vasilyevich Protasov 204
The Jest April 9, 1919 Plymouth Theatre Giannetto Malespini 256
Richard III March 6, 1920 Plymouth Theatre Richard, Duke of Gloucester 31
Clair de Lune April 18, 1921 Empire Theatre Gwymplane 64
Annual Equity Show May 1, 1921 Metropolitan Opera House Romeo 2
Hamlet November 16, 1922 – January 26, 1924 Sam H. Harris Theatre (November 1922 – February 1923), Manhattan Opera House (November and December 1923 – 3 weeks), then touring (December 1923 – January 26, 1924) Hamlet 101
Hamlet February 19, 1925 Theatre Royal Haymarket, London Hamlet 68
My Dear Children March 1939 Touring (March 1939 to January 1940), then the Belasco Theatre Allan Manville
The Green Goddess June 9, 1939 Palace Theatre, Chicago 20 (est)


The Dictator, 1915
The Incorrigible Dukane, 1915
Barrymore and Lois Meredith in the 1918 film On the Quiet
The Seattle Star newspaper ad for The Test of Honor(1919)
Barrymore as Dr. Jekyll (top) and Mr. Hyde (bottom) in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920)
Barrymore (left), as Sherlock Holmes, with Roland Young, 1922
Poster for the 1924 film Beau Brummel
Barrymore with Greta Garbo in Grand Hotel, 1932
Barrymore's filmography
Film[20][21][22] Year Role Notes
Dream of a Motion Picture Director 1912 Boss Lost film; 1 reel. Credited as "Jack Barrymore", this is probably John Barrymore, although Norden notes that "we may never know for certain if ... [these films] are in fact Barrymore movies".[23][24]
The Widow Casey's Return Sullivan Lost film; 1 reel. Credited as "Jack Barrymore", this is probably John Barrymore, although Norden notes that "we may never know for certain if ... [these films] are in fact Barrymore movies".[23][24]
A Prize Package Si Hawkins Lost film; 1 reel. Credited as "Jack Barrymore", this is probably John Barrymore, although Norden notes that "we may never know for certain if ... [these films] are in fact Barrymore movies".[23][24]
One on Romance 1913 Helen's Father Lost film;[23] on a split reel[a] Credited as "Jack Barrymore", this is probably John Barrymore, although Norden notes that "we may never know for certain if ... [these films] are in fact Barrymore movies".[24]
An American Citizen 1914 Beresford Kruger Lost film[26]
The Man from Mexico Fitzhugh Lost film[27]
Are You a Mason? 1915 Frank Perry Lost film[28]
The Dictator Brooke Travers Lost film[28]
The Incorrigible Dukane James Dukane
Nearly a King 1916 Jack Merriwell, Prince of Bulwana Lost film[29]
The Lost Bridegroom Bertie Joyce Lost film[29]
The Red Widow Cicero Hannibal Butts Lost film[29]
Raffles, the Amateur Cracksman 1917 A. J. Raffles
National Red Cross Pageant The Tyrant (Russian episode) Lost film[30]
On the Quiet 1918 Robert Ridgeway Lost film[29]
Here Comes the Bride 1919 Frederick Tile Lost film[29]
The Test of Honor Martin Wingrave Lost film[29]
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde 1920 Dr. Henry Jekyll/Mr. Edward Hyde
The Lotus Eater 1921 Jacques Leroi Lost film[31]
Sherlock Holmes 1922 Sherlock Holmes
Beau Brummel 1924 Gordon Bryon "Beau" Brummell
The Sea Beast 1926 Captain Ahab Ceeley
Don Juan Don Jose de Marana/Don Juan de Marana
When a Man Loves 1927 Chevalier Fabien des Grieux
The Beloved Rogue François Villon
Tempest 1928 Sgt. Ivan Markov
Eternal Love 1929 Marcus Paltran
The Show of Shows Richard, Duke of Gloucester in Henry VI, Part 3
General Crack 1930 Duke of Kurland/Prince Christian
The Man from Blankley's Lord Strathpeffer Lost film[32]
Moby Dick Captain Ahab Ceely
Svengali 1931 Svengali
The Mad Genius Ivan Tsarakov
Arsène Lupin 1932 Arsène Lupin
Grand Hotel The Baron Grand Hotel was inducted into the National Film Registry in 2007.[33]
State's Attorney Tom Cardigan
A Bill of Divorcement Hilary Fairfield
Rasputin and the Empress Prince Paul Chegodieff
Topaze 1933 Prof. Auguste A. Topaze
Reunion in Vienna Archduke Rudolf von Habsburg
Dinner at Eight Larry Renault
Night Flight A. Riviére
Counsellor at Law George Simon
Long Lost Father 1934 Carl Bellairs
Twentieth Century Oscar Jaffe Twentieth Century was inducted into the National Film Registry in 2011.[33]
Romeo and Juliet 1936 Mercutio
Maytime 1937 Nicolai Nazaroff
Bulldog Drummond Comes Back Colonel Neilson
Night Club Scandal Dr. Ernest Tindal
Bulldog Drummond's Revenge Colonel Neilson
True Confession Charles "Charley" Jasper
Bulldog Drummond's Peril 1938 Colonel Neilson
Romance in the Dark Zoltan Jason
Marie Antoinette King Louis XV
Spawn of the North Windy Turlon
Hold That Co-ed Governor Gabby Harrigan
The Great Man Votes 1939 Gregory Vance
Midnight Georges Flammarion Midnight was inducted into the National Film Registry in 2013.[33]
The Great Profile 1940 Evans Garrick
The Invisible Woman Professor Gibbs
World Premiere 1941 Duncan DeGrasse
Playmates John Barrymore Final film

Radio broadcasts

Barrymore (left), with his siblings Lionel and Ethel, 1904
Barrymore, by John Singer Sargent, 1923
Barrymore at the White House in January 1924
Barrymore's radio broadcasts
Broadcast[34] Date Network Role Notes
Hamlet March 8, 1925 2LO, UK Hamlet
[Unknown] January 15, 1926 WBPI, New York
Dodge Brothers Hour March 29, 1928 NBC Blue Network
The Fleischmann's Yeast Hour May 23, 1935 NBC Red Network
Shell Chateau December 14, 1935 NBC Red Network
Hollywood Hotel: "A Christmas Carol" December 25, 1936 CBS Scrooge
Streamlined Shakespeare: Hamlet June 21, 1937 NBC Blue Network Hamlet
Interview[b] June 25, 1937 NBC Blue Network
Streamlined Shakespeare: Richard III June 28, 1937 NBC Blue Network Richard, Duke of Gloucester
Streamlined Shakespeare: Macbeth July 5, 1937 NBC Blue Network Macbeth
Streamlined Shakespeare: The Tempest July 12, 1937 NBC Blue Network Prospero/Caliban
Streamlined Shakespeare: Twelfth Night July 19, 1937 NBC Blue Network Sir Toby Belch/Malvolio
Streamlined Shakespeare: The Taming of the Shrew July 26, 1937 NBC Blue Network Petruchio
The Animal Kingdom September 6, 1937 NBC Blue Network Tom Collier
Accent on Youth September 13, 1937 NBC Blue Network
The Baker's Broadcast October 10, 1937 NBC Blue Network
This is New York February 19, 1938 CBS
The Camel Caravan June 6, 1938 CBS
The Texaco Star Theatre October 12, 1938 – January 11, 1939 CBS 9 episodes
The Kate Smith Calumet Baking Powder Show January 26, 1939 CBS
The Chase and Sanborn Show September 22, 1940 NBC Red Network
The Sealtest Show October 17, 1940 – May 14, 1942 NBC Red Network 74 episodes
The Screen Guild Theater: "The Great Man Votes" November 3, 1940 CBS Gregory Vance
Salute to Ethel Barrymore: Forty Years a Star February 4, 1941 NBC Blue Network
Time to Smile February 26, 1941 NBC Red Network
Hollywood June 2, 1941 CBS
United Service Organizations Benefit June 29, 1941 CBS

Notes and references


  1. ^ A split reel is where two films are placed on the same reel.[25]
  2. ^ The New York Times lists the show as John Barrymore and Elaine Barrie, Actors, Interviewed; the Library of Congress lists it as John and Elaine Barrymore.[35]


  1. ^ a b Norden 2000, p. 178.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Norden, Martin F. "John Barrymore". American National Biography Online. Oxford University Press. Retrieved April 30, 2014. (subscription required)
  3. ^ Byers 1998, pp. 28–30.
  4. ^ McCaffrey & Jacobs 1999, p. 31.
  5. ^ Byers 1998, p. 30.
  6. ^ a b McCaffrey & Jacobs 1999, pp. 31–32.
  7. ^ Norden 2000, p. 14.
  8. ^ Norden 1995, p. 75.
  9. ^ "Obituary: John Barrymore". The Manchester Guardian. Manchester. June 1, 1942. p. 6.
  10. ^ "Great Profile Set in Cement". Time. 9 (14): 63. September 30, 1940.
  11. ^ "John Barrymore". Hollywood Walk of Fame. Retrieved June 12, 2014.
  12. ^ a b Peters 1990, p. 359.
  13. ^ Peters 1990, pp. 354–55.
  14. ^ McCaffrey & Jacobs 1999, p. 32.
  15. ^ Norden 1995, pp. 141 & 147–56.
  16. ^ Morrison 1997, p. 295.
  17. ^ Norden 1995, pp. 31–78.
  18. ^ "Barrymore, John, 1882–1942". North American Theatre Online. Alexander Street Press. Retrieved April 28, 2014. (subscription required)
  19. ^ "John Barrymore". Internet Broadway Database. The Broadway League. Retrieved April 28, 2014.
  20. ^ Norden 1995, pp. 80–140.
  21. ^ "John Barrymore". Catalog of Feature Films. American Film Institute. Retrieved April 25, 2014.
  22. ^ "Filmography: Barrymore, John". Film & TV Database. British Film Institute. Archived from the original on September 5, 2011. Retrieved April 25, 2014.
  23. ^ a b c d Morrison 1997, pp. 51–52.
  24. ^ a b c d Norden 1995, pp. 80–83.
  25. ^ Miller 1995, p. 225.
  26. ^ Peters 1990, p. 149.
  27. ^ Kobler 1977, p. 116.
  28. ^ a b Peters 1990, p. 154.
  29. ^ a b c d e f Tibbetts & Welsh 2010, p. 26.
  30. ^ "National Red Cross Pageant". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. American Film Institute. Retrieved April 30, 2014.
  31. ^ Tibbetts & Welsh 2010, p. 27.
  32. ^ Peters 1990, p. 323.
  33. ^ a b c "National Film Registry Titles 1989–2013". Library of Congress. Archived from the original on March 28, 2013. Retrieved June 12, 2014.
  34. ^ Norden 1995, pp. 142–56.
  35. ^ Norden 1995, p. 143.


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