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John Barrymore

The Barrymore Legacy

In the years following John Barrymore’s death the family would continue, and still continues, to make its mark on film. Lionel and Ethel Barrymore would continue acting on film until shortly before their respective deaths. Lionel, even though confined to a wheelchair because of his poor health, stayed active in film playing his roles from that wheelchair. He died in 1954 from a heart attack after a long and successful career playing character roles. Ethel would live on until 1959 when she died at her home from cardiovascular disease. Both Lionel and Ethel were buried in the mausoleum in Calvary Cemetery near their little brother. Their mark on American stage and film would be legendary.

Diana Barrymore, John’s daughter with Michael Strange, had a minor career on film. She had grown up in her mother’s care, seldom enjoying the company of her father as Michael believed John to be a poorly equipped father. When she wanted to see her father, she would go see one of his movies. In 1942, shortly after her father’s death, she married Bramwell Fletcher, an actor seventeen years older than herself who had acted with her father. This marriage ended in divorce four years later. She married John Howard, a tennis player, in 1947 but the marriage only lasted a year. In 1950, a month before her mother’s death, she married her third and final husband, Robert Wilcox, another actor eleven years older than her. They acted together in several stage plays, but this marriage only lasted five years, during which he physically assaulted her many times. In 1957 she published her memoirs, Too Much, Too Soon, that detailed her childhood and struggle with addictions. She was found death in her New York City apartment in 1960 where the coroner ruled out foul play or suicide. Her death was attributed to the overdose of alcohol and sedatives. She had died childless, leaving no Barrymore heirs. She was laid to rest in the Oelrichs family plot (her mother’s family) in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, New York.

Dolores “Dede” Barrymore, John’s daughter with Dolores Costello, only retained the acting bug during her youth and by her adult years had lost all interest in performing. When she was twenty-two she married her husband Thomas Fairbanks and they would have two children: Hillary Klaradru Fairbanks and Anthony John Barrymore Fairbanks. Dede and Thomas would end up getting a divorce and the two children would spend much of their childhood on their grandmother, Dolores Costello’s ranch. Dede would then marry Lew Beddell and have two more children: Dore Beddell and Stephanie Beddell. John’s daughter is still living and her son Anthony and his daughter Samantha have made some impact in the acting field.

John Barrymore Jr. had some minor success in acting, but his addictions to alcohol and drugs derailed any ability to become successful at it. From the beginning of his acting career “Barrymore Junior suffered from comparisons to his famous father. His Barrymore mannerisms must have been innate, for he remembered seeing his father only once the entire time he was growing up.” (Hoffman, p. 183) His first movie was The Sundowners in 1950 and his last movie was The Clones in 1974. In between these years he struggled with the comparisons to his father that included his acting ability, his substance addictions and his marital situations. He married his first wife, Cara Williams, an actress, in 1952 and had his son, John Blyth Barrymore on May 15, 1954. This marriage ended in 1958 after many publicized fights. On October 28, 1960 he married starlet Gabriella Palozzoli at the Church of Saint Sebastiano in Rome, Italy. They would have a daughter, Blyth Dolores Barrymore, in 1962 but this marriage ended in 1970. A third marriage to Ildiko Jaid Mako in 1971 produced his daughter Drew Barrymore on February 22, 1975. But his substance abuse caused this marriage to end in 1975. His final marriage to Nina Wayne in 1984 gave him his last child, Brahma (Jessica) Blyth Barrymore. The marriage ended in divorce in 1995. His angry demeanor and addictions relegated him to the life of a hermit. His physical and mental problems eventually confined him to a wheelchair. He would die of cancer in 2004. As Drew Barrymore said of her absentee father on his death, “He was a cool cat. Please smile when you think of him.”

Drew Barrymore is the remaining figure that represents the Barrymore dynasty. She looks like her great-grandmother Georgie Drew, she has her grandmother Dolores Costello’s coloring and slight lisp in her speech and has struggled in your youth with chemical dependency inherited from her grandfather John Barrymore. She has overcome her addictions and has succeeded in making a name for herself as an actress and producer. Her debut was at the age five in the 1980 film Altered States and her breakout role in Steven Spielberg’s 1982 film E.T. the Extraterrestrial made her household name. Her work in front and behind the camera has given her a solid position in the film industry that was never enjoyed by her family. We are confident that this Barrymore will retain her place in the history of American entertainment that was started some five generations earlier.

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