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John Barrymore

Wife #3: Dolores Costello

John Barrymore’s third wife came from another distinguished acting family much like his own. Dolores Costello (September 17, 1903 – March 1, 1979) was the older of two daughters born to Maurice George Costello (February 22, 1877 – October 28, 1950) and Mae Altschuk Costello (1882 – August 2, 1929) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her parents were both noted stage and vaudeville actors and Dolores would attain a reasonable amount of fame as a silent screen actress. When the studio was casting about for the love interest for John in The Sea Beast, he took one look at Dolores and stated that she was “the most preposterously lovely creature” (Hoffman, p. 67) he had ever seen. The similarity between this relationship and his prior ones were marked. Once again there was a much younger girl, the mother of the girl was charmed and flattered by John Barrymore and the father was decidedly against any match of his daughter with the raconteur actor. Her parents’ disagreement over the suitability of a marriage between John and Dolores was enough to cause Maurice and Mae Costello to get a divorce themselves.

John Barrymore and Dolores Costello were married on November 14, 1928 in the living room of Mae Costello’s new Beverly Hills home in California. Helene Costello, the bride’s sister, was maid of honor and Lionel Barrymore was best man. Maurice Costello did not attend the wedding. On April 8, 1930 John and Dolores would become the parents to Dolores Ethel Mae Barrymore, who was born at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in Los Angeles. Even though he had hoped for a son this time, he was overjoyed by the new addition to their family. The son he was looking for arrived in June 1932: John Blyth Barrymore Jr. (June 4, 1932 – November 29, 2004). The family had now reached completion.

But the love match between the film stars would fray over time. John’s increased use of alcohol and his womanizing ways was taking a toll on their marriage. On October 9, 1935 the marriage was officially over, with Dolores trying to make a film comeback after having taken time off to be a mother. Dolores’ transition into talking films would not have the success that John had. She had a slight lisp when she spoke (this trait was inherited by her actress granddaughter Drew Barrymore) and it did not translate well for her on screen. She did appear in the films Little Lord Fauntleroy (1936) and The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) with some marginal success. She remarried in 1939 her obstetrician Dr. John Vruwink, who had delivered her two children with John Barrymore. This marriage ended in 1950, and with her film career over, spent her remaining years on an avocado ranch in semi-seclusion. She died in 1979 from emphysema in Fallbrook, California and was buried with her mother and father in Calvary Cemetery, in East Los Angeles, California. Her tombstone has her name as “Dolores Costello Barrymore.”

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