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John Barrymore

The “Monster” and the Bundy Drive Boys

Bundy Drive is located just north of Sunset Boulevard in Brentwood, a suburb of Los Angeles, California. It was in this neighborhood, before the existence of the Rat Pack, that a group of leading actors would meet and conduct “bad boy” behavior that would become legendary. John Barrymore was a central part of this group and his conduct amongst his cronies was remembered and written about. Other members included Errol Flynn, W.C. Fields, Gene Fowler, Anthony Quinn, John Carradine, Vincent Price, Jack LaRue and John Decker, just to name a few. These drinking and carousing buddies fondly referred to John as “the Monster” because his fame and notorious behavior was legendary in the group. He was also a source of inspiration for the others. Many of the group “emulated the Barrymore style not only on the screen but in their private lives. They wore, like him, shirts with wide rolled collars and fedoras canted at a rakish angle. As performers, they favored one profile over the other, in their diction leaned heavily on consonants and rolled their r’s, and gave their eyebrows expressive play.” (Kobler, p. 313) Needless to say, Dolores first and then Elaine, disapproved of the group’s behavior and how John related to their need for bad behavior. Elaine saw them as “perennial undergraduates…these unhappy creatures did a disservice…to John, their idol…a group of sodden children…Perpetuating the image of a sinking giant seemed to please the fancy of his friends who wept copiously and pushed him down a little further. ..When…he fell in with these senile delinquents…he drank himself into a caricature, dancing to their tune, and laughing more cruelly than they at himself. John would emerge from the mist and the hangover, a bitter ailing man, while his cronies would alternate between mischief and compassion. (p. 312) While this group of friends were steady allies to his cause, their encouragement in his excessive lifestyle made his situation worse. They would have gone to the ends of the Earth for John, but their conduct carried them along with John to possible ruination.

The legendary story of John Barrymore’s body being “borrowed” from the mortuary and set in a chair with a drink in his hand at Errol Flynn’s home appears to be one of total fiction. It still makes good reading and has gone down in Hollywood history as one of those memorable moments:

“The day that Barrymore passed away, two of John’s drinking buddies—director Raoul Walsh and actor Errol Flynn—were memorializing their late comrade at Flynn’s estate. While Errol went out on an errand, the inebriated Walsh hatched a scheme. He went to the Malloy Brothers Mortuary on Temple Street in Los Angeles, where Barrymore’s body had been taken. One of the owners, an actor who had worked with Walsh in movies, agreed to let Raoul “borrow” John’s corpse for a few hours. The director drove the body in his station wagon to Flynn’s estate. Arriving there, Walsh told Errol’s butler, “Alex, Mr. Barrymore didn’t die. He’s drunk. Help me carry him in the house.” The propped the dead star up on a couch. When Flynn walked in, he saw Barrymore’s corpse sitting there. Frightened by the sight, he dashed frantically from the house. A bemused Walsh shouted, “You missed the old boy and I brought him up here. At least come in and say hello to him.” When Flynn would have no part of it, Walsh and the butler returned the body to the mortuary. Arriving there, Raoul explained to the drunken co-owner what he had done. The owner said, “Why the hell didn’t you tell me? I’d have put a better suit on him.” (Parish, p. 49)

It made for a good story, but appears to be untrue. Still, this particular story has come down through Hollywood history and still is remembered as a item in John Barrymore’s life.

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