TCM Summer Under the Stars: Day Thirteen — John Barrymore

The Great Profile.

John Barrymore was one of the most respected acting talents in the history of the stage and screen. He also lived an often tortured and scandalized existence, typified by highly publicized romantic entanglements and a struggle with alcohol abuse for most of his life.


John Sidney Blyth was born into a family of actors on February 15, 1882, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His father, Maurice Blyth (or Blythe) was a popular stage performer under the name Maurice Barrymore, and his mother, Georgiana, was an actress whose grandparents, parents, and brothers were actors, as were John’s two older siblings, Ethel and Lionel.

Barrymore attended various schools, including Georgetown Preparatory School, from which he was expelled, reportedly for being caught entering a brothel. He tried to avoid the stage – he wanted, instead, to become a painter, and studied for a year at the Slade School of Art in London. He also worked for a time as a freelance artist, and did sketches for the New York Evening Journal. Eventually, though, he wound up following in the footsteps of so many in his family. He first appeared on stage with his father in 1900, and then with his sister the following year. By 1909, he was a major star on Broadway.

Young John.

In the early 1910s, Barrymore made his screen debut, but he also continued his stage work, playing to great acclaim in Hamlet in 1922. He played the role for 101 performances on Broadway before touring the U.S. with the play for the next two years. After the end of the tour, Barrymore signed a contract with Warner Bros. and began his film career in earnest.


  • Barrymore was known as “The Great Profile.” In 1940, instead of leaving his hand and footprints in the forecourt of Grauman’s Chinese Theater, Barrymore imprinted his profile into the cement.
  • The actor had a beloved monkey named Clementine.

    With third wife, Dolores Costello.

  • Barrymore was married four times; the love of his life was reportedly Dolores Costello, his third wife, perhaps best known for her role in The Magnificent Ambersons (1942). Costello is the grandmother of actress Drew Barrymore.
  • A heavy drinker from the time he was a teenager, Barrymore died at the age of 60 from cirrhosis of the liver and pneumonia.
  • Although both of his siblings were Oscar winners, Barrymore was never nominated. Of this oversight, he once remarked, “I think they were afraid I’d show up at the banquet drunk, embarrassing both myself and them. But I wouldn’t have, you know.”


Pay a visit to the Grand Hotel.

With John Barrymore’s Summer Under the Stars Day, I found myself facing my greatest dilemma to date: Grand Hotel (1932) or Dinner at Eight (1933)? He was outstanding in both, and both are among my favorite films. Ultimately, I decided on Grand Hotel, primarily for the range of talent he displayed in his role. This film focuses on the lives and loves, tragedies and triumphs of a series of individuals who pass through the doors of Berlin’s Grand Hotel. Barrymore plays Baron Von Gaigern, a broke aristocrat who is desperate to raise a certain amount of cash and who’ll do just about anything to do so. Barrymore is incredibly appealing in the part – charming, funny, and poignant. (As a bonus, his brother Lionel is in the film, and it’s lovely to see them acting together.)

Do yourself a favor and visit the Grand Hotel on John Barrymore Day. You’ll be glad you did.

And join me for Day 14 of Summer Under the Stars!

~ by shadowsandsatin on August 12, 2020.

3 Responses to “TCM Summer Under the Stars: Day Thirteen — John Barrymore”

  1. Why would I want to visit Grand Hotel? People come, people go. Nothing ever happens. (A feeble joke, but it is early.) The primetime double bill is indeed outstanding and was probably a no-brainer for the programmers at TCM.

  2. […] Day 13: John Barrymore […]

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