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The Barrymore Dynasty - Over 100 Years and Still Going

Updated on October 13, 2015

Maurice Barrymore

Maurice was born Herbert Arthur Chamberlayne Blythe on September 21, 1849 in Fort Agra, India. He is the patriarch of the Barrymore family. However, it was after a boxing career before Maurice would become actor, Maurice Barrymore.

On March 21, 1872, Herbert won the middleweight boxing championship of England. His friends included the likes of boxers John L. Sullivan and Gentleman Jim Corbett. That same year, he would decide upon a vocation in the theater and to save his father from the shame of an actor in the family, he changed his name to Maurice Barrymore.

After moving to America in 1875, Maurice made his Broadway debut in December of 1875 in a play that would cast him with future wife, Georgiana Drew. Georgiana's brother, John Drew, Jr. was considered the matinee idol of his day. I think we can see where the name Drew Barrymore comes from.

This union of Maurice and Georgiana would produce the trio of some of America's finest actors, Lionel, Ethel and John Barrymore.

Lionel Barrymore

Lionel was born Lionel Herbert Blythe on April 28, 1878 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In his youth, he performed on stage with his uncle John Drew, Jr.. Later, with first wife, Doris he spent many years in Paris. Upon his return, he came back to Broadway where he would perform with both his wife and his brother, John.

Lionel's film career began in 1908 and lasted until 1952 with 214 films to his credit. Along the way, he won an Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role in the film, A Free Soul in 1931. His most famous role was that of Henry Potter in It's a Wonderful Life in 1946. Personally, I like to remember the many films he made during the 30's and 40's in the role of Dr. Gillespie in the series of Doctor Kildare films.

He and his brother John became the first siblings to perform in a film together and he performed with his sister Ethel in his final film, Main Street to Broadway released one year after his death.

Lionel had two daughters by his first wife, Doris. They both died at an early age. He divorced Doris and married his brother's one-time lover, Irene Fenwick who preceeded Lionel in death. Lionel passed away on November 15, 1954 in Beverly Hills, California.

Ethel Barrymore

Ethel was born Ethel Mae Blythe on August 15, 1879. She is the younger sister of Lionel and the older sister of John. As did Lionel, Ethel made her debut on stage with her uncle John Drew, Jr. when she was a teenager. In her later teens, while performing in London and attracting the attention of many a young man, she was proposed to by none other than Winston Churchill. She refused, but they remained friends throughout her life.

She came back to America and continued her stage career with such success that she is often referred to as the greatest actress of her generation. Her stage performances included playing opposite both her brothers in 1932's Rasputin and the Empress.

Along the way, she made silent films which were filmed in the east to conform with her Broadway work. In the 1940s she moved to Hollywood to begin her film career as most of us know it as the elderly and sweet, but serious actress in films such as None but the Lonely Heart in 1944 where she won an Academy Award in a Supporting Role playing Cary Grant's mother and in 1949's Pinky for which she again was nominated for the Oscar. Ethel began in films in 1914 and made 43 film and television appearances until 1957.

Ethel married Russell Griswold Colt in 1909 and together had three children. They divorced in 1923 and Ethel would never re-marry. She died on June 18, 1959 in Los Angeles, California from cardiovascular disease.

John Barrymore

John was born John Sidney Blyth on February 15, 1882. Notice the spelling of his birth last name. It leaves off the E. His dad was born, Blythe. His son was born, Blythe and his granddaughter was born, Blyth. The spelling skipped generations and there is no explanation.

To the older generations, John Barrymore was the most famous of the three siblings especially during the silent era of films. Over a period of almost thirty years in more than sixty films, he was heralded by most as the finest performer in films. Some of his films include Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in 1920, Beau Brummel in 1924, Don Juan in 1926 and Grand Hotel in 1932 where he is joined by his brother, Lionel. From 1914 to 1941 he acted in 64 films.

John married four times and all ended in divorce. His second wife, Blanche Oelrichs bore him one daughter, Diana. His third wife, Dolores Costello (called the Godess of Silent Film) bore him a son, John Barrymoore, Jr. and a daughter, Dolores DeDe Barrymore. John was appearing on the Rudy Vallee radio show and collapsed. He was rushed to the hospital and died on May 29, 1942.

John Drew Barrymore

John was born John Sidney Blythe Barrymore, Jr. on June 4, 1932 to John Barrymore and Dolores Costello. Encouraged by his mother to attend college rather than pursue a film career, John rebelled and signed a contract when only seventeen.

He began to embarrass his aunt Ethel by his constant no-shows for film work and his sporadic behavior which included drinking and scrapes with the police. His rebellious behavior caused problems with his film career.

In 1958, he married Cara Williams and changed his name to John Drew Barrymore and began to receive leading roles in below average films. His social behavior continued, however, even to the point where he would disappear into the wilderness. He and Cara had one son, John Blyth Barrymore III who has repeated his father's behavior patterns.

His second wife was Gabriella Palazzoli who also gave him one child, daughter Blythe Dolores Barrymore. His third wife, Jaid Mako gave birth to his daughter Drew Barrymore. He also had a daughter, Jessica out of wedlock with actress Nina Wayne.

John died of cancer on November 29, 2004 in Los Angeles, California.

Drew Barrymore

Drew was born Drew Blyth Barrymore on February 22, 1975 to parents, John Drew Barrymore and Jaid Mako. Her film debut was outstanding in Steven Spielberg's E.T. in 1982. Her career went leaps and bounds after that with an occasional sidetrack for a little social misbehavior reminiscent of her dad and granddad.

Oh, but what a delightful, intelligent, pretty and engaging young woman she is. Her personality is beyond words and she simply lights up the room she walks into. As of 2012, she has over sixty film and television appearances and continues this proud heritage of thespians dating back to the early 1800's.

Her first marriage to Jeremy Thomas ended in divorce as did her second to Tom Green. She continues to perform and we look forward to seeing a lot more of Drew.


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