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John Barrymore

The Acting Drew Family

John Barrymore’s acting pedigree goes back several generations on both sides of his family. His maternal grandmother and mentor was Louisa Lane (January 10, 1820 – August 31, 1897), who was born in Lambeth Parish in London, England. Her paternal grandparents had been Thomas Haycraft Lane and Louisa Rouse, both strolling country players and later actor-managers during the reign of George III. Their son, Thomas Frederick Lane (1796-1825), was a minor actor of little renown who married Eliza Trentner (1796-1887), a performer known for her singing and her comedic abilities on the stage. Their daughter Louisa was a precocious child whose early talent for mimicry and ability to perform adult roles as a child made her a popular performer in England. Her father’s death in 1825 when he was only twenty-nine put her and her mother in dire straits to find stable work. They were offered contract work at a theater in New York City, thereby arriving in what would become their adopted home. Louisa, accompanied by her mother, would travel throughout most of the major cities on the East coast, making a name for herself and acting with some of the major players of her day, including Junius Brutus Booth, the father of actors Edwin Booth and John Wilkes Booth. In March of 1836, Louisa Lane married an English performer named Henry Blaine Hunt (1796-1854), who was twenty-four years older than herself. They performed together on the acting circuit for ten years until they were divorced, due to his inability to settle into a stable married life. Less then a year later she married George Mossop (1814-1849), an Irish tenor and comedian who had a serious drinking problem. Less then five months after their marriage, Mossop died from complications of his alcoholism. Shortly after, Louisa met the Irish comedian John Drew (September 3, 1827 – May 21, 1862), who became her last husband in 1850.

Louisa Lane, who now billed herself Mrs. John Drew, settled into a stable lifestyle in Philadelphia in order to start a family. In 1852 their first child, Louisa Drew, was born followed a year later by John “Jack” Drew Jr. (November 13, 1853 – July 9, 1927). The couple’s last child together would be John Barrymore’s mother, Georgiana “Georgie” Emma Drew (July 11, 1856 – July 2, 1893). The family would be completed by an “adopted” son brought home by Louisa shortly after the death of her husband. The boy was named Sidney Drew (August 28, 1863 – April 9, 1919). There was much speculation that Sidney was the biological son of Louisa, as her disappearance shortly before his birth was noted. As John’s sister Ethel noted, “Uncle Sidney may not have been the son of John Drew, but he was indubitably the son of Mrs. John Drew.” (Kobler, p. 11) With the death of John Drew in 1862, Mrs. John Drew became the matriarch of the family, being nicknamed “The Duchess,” and running a tight ship with the affairs of her family. She was now managing the Arch Street Theatre, which gave her a stable and profitable income in order to support her family. She groomed her children for life on the stage and, except for her eldest daughter Louisa who was fragile of health, Jack, Georgie and Sidney became actors of considerable repute. She demanded a level of decorum for her family that was rarely attributed to actors. Of her “many attainments the most surprising was her impeccable status in starchy Philadelphia society. Despite a profession which was widely regarded as Satan’s snare, despite three husbands—two of them notorious topers—a divorce and a son of doubtful legitimacy, she commanded a deference accorded to the city’s most reputable citizens.” (p. 12-13). From her children and her future grandchildren she commanded a respect that was unparalleled and she was definitely the glue that kept the family together.

Georgie was much like her mother in looks and temperament. She had a gift for acting in comedies and carried with her the sense of decorum much like that of Mrs. John Drew. Needless to say, her son John Barrymore would have much of his mother’s looks but conducted his life more after the style of his father, Maurice Barrymore. As John wrote about his mother in his memoirs:

“Of my mother I remember very little. I was very young when she died in California. When the news came to grandmother she was in New Jersey resting between seasons. She sent for me and told me of mother’s death. She wanted to be alone with me then. Though my own knowledge of Georgie Drew Barrymore is slight, I am certain that she was a divine, gay, lovely person. Much has been written by actors and playwrights and literary people of Maurice Barrymore, my father—he was a great wit and his conversation kept people up willingly all night—but little has been said about my mother. A few years ago my wife, who was summing up her ideas of the Drew-Barrymore family, said: “What about your mother? She is the one who interests me most.” The people who knew both my mother and my father remember mother best. Clever as my father was, he never pulled one of his famous lines upon her. He simply could not get away with it.” (Barrymore, Chapter I)


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