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John Barrymore

Wife #1: Katherine Harris

Only eight months after his sister’s marriage to Russell Griswold Colt, the grandson of the inventor of the Colt revolver, John Barrymore married Katherine Corri Harris (1893 – May 2, 1927), a New York City debutante, on September 1, 1910 at St. Xavier’s Church, the same church where his brother Lionel had married his first wife, Doris Rankin. Katherine’s father, Sidney Harris, had been adamantly against her marrying the actor, but her mother, Kitty Harris, who was as stage struck as her daughter, was thrilled to have the association with the prominent actor. Katherine was described by the artist, later her lover, James Montgomery Flagg as having “a lovely figure…wide-shouldered, willowy.” (p. 51) Katherine was only seventeen when she married the ten years older actor and was sadly naïve compared to the worldly ways of her new husband. Shortly after their wedding, John hit the road again for another tour and left Katherine behind in the company of Ethel and Russell. It was soon apparent that they were a mismatched couple that wanted different things. They were quick in having ferocious arguments and were known for their passionate reunions. They eventually settled into an apartment in New York City, where John enjoyed a quiet solitude away from actors and the stage. But Katherine wanted to be an actress and demanded that John find her roles in order to pursue the craft. She would appear in two of her husband’s silent films, Nearly a King (1916) and The Lost Bridegroom (1916), and as the central character Lily Bart in the 1918 film The House of Mirth. But sadly her acting career was not illustrious on her own and depended upon the name power of her husband. Gradually the two grew apart, with both taking on lovers along the way. In December of 1916, the two were divorced with Katherine telling the divorce judge, “I thought it would be grand to be the wife of such a man before I married him and even later when he told me we were to part forever, I tried to win him back. His only response was that our temperaments were too different, and further living together was impossible.” (p. 55)

After the end of her marriage to John Barrymore, she married Alexander Dallas Bache Pratt in 1921, a prominent stockbroker who met all the credentials that pleased her father. He provided her with financial security and a distinguished social ranking in society. But they were divorced in 1923 and she took for her third husband in that same year Leon Orlowsky, who was then secretary of the Polish Legation in New York. Katherine stayed on friendly terms with John after their divorce, and he was at her bedside when she passed away from pneumonia in 1927.

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