Barrymore in 1923
|Born||Lionel Herbert Blythe
April 28, 1878
|Died||November 15, 1954
Van Nuys, California
|Cause of death||Heart Attack|
|Notable work(s)||A Free Soul
It's a Wonderful Life
Young Dr. Kildare
|Spouse(s)||Doris Rankin (m. 1904–1923) (divorced)
Irene Fenwick (m. 1923–1936) (her death)
Lionel Barrymore (April 28, 1878 – November 15, 1954) was an American actor of stage, screen and radio as well as a film director. He won an Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in A Free Soul (1931), and remains perhaps best known for the role of the villainous Mister Potter character in Frank Capra's 1946 film It's a Wonderful Life. He was a member of the theatrical Barrymore family.
Early life 
Lionel Barrymore was born Lionel Herbert Blythe in Philadelphia, the son of actors Georgiana Drew Barrymore and Maurice Barrymore. He was the elder brother of Ethel and John Barrymore, the uncle of John Drew Barrymore, Diana Barrymore, Sam, Ethel, and John Drew Colt and the grand-uncle of Drew Barrymore. Barrymore was raised a Roman Catholic. He attended the Episcopal Academy in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
He was married twice, to actresses Doris Rankin and Irene Fenwick, a one-time lover of his brother John. Doris's sister Gladys was married to Lionel's uncle Sidney Drew, which made Gladys both his aunt and sister-in-law.
Doris Rankin bore Lionel two daughters, Ethel Barrymore II (b. 1908) and Mary Barrymore (b. 1916). Neither child survived infancy, though Mary lived a few months. Barrymore never truly recovered from the deaths of his girls, and their loss undoubtedly strained his marriage to Doris Rankin, which ended in 1923. Years later, Barrymore developed a fatherly affection for Jean Harlow, who was born about the same time as his two daughters and would have been about their age. When Jean died in 1937, Lionel and Clark Gable mourned her as though she had been family.
Stage career 
Barrymore began his stage career in the mid-1890s, acting with his grandmother Louisa Lane Drew. He appeared on Broadway in his early twenties with his uncle John Drew Jr. in such plays as The Second in Command (1901) and The Mummy and the Hummingbird (1902), both produced by Charles Frohman. In 1905 Lionel and his siblings, John and Ethel, were all being groomed under the tutelage of Frohman. That year Lionel appeared with John in a short play called Pantaloon while John appeared with Ethel in Alice-Sit-By-The-Fire.
In 1910, after he and Doris had spent many years in Paris, Lionel came back to Broadway, where he established his reputation as a dramatic and character actor. He and his wife often acted together on stage. He proved his talent in many plays, including Peter Ibbetson (1917) (with brother John), The Copperhead (1918) (with Doris), and The Jest (1919) (again with John). Lionel gave a short-lived performance as MacBeth in 1921. The play was not successful and more than likely convinced Lionel to permanently return to films. One of Lionel's last plays was Laugh, Clown, Laugh (1923) with his second wife, Irene Fenwick. This play would later be made into a 1928 silent film starring Lionel's friend, Lon Chaney, Sr.
Film career 
Barrymore began making films about 1911 with D.W. Griffith at the Biograph Studios. There are claims that he made an earlier film with Griffith called The Paris Hat (1908) but no such movie exists. Lionel and Doris were in Paris in 1908, where Lionel attended art school and where their first baby, Ethel, was born. Lionel mentions in his autobiography, We Barrymores, that he and Doris were in France when Bleriot flew the channel on July 25, 1909.
Entering films the same year his uncle Sidney Drew began a film career at Vitagraph, Barrymore made The Battle (1911), The New York Hat (1912), Friends and Three Friends (1913). In 1915 he co-starred with Lillian Russell in a movie called Wildfire, one of the legendary Russell's few film appearances. He also made a foray into directing at Biograph. The last silent film he directed, Life's Whirlpool (Metro Pictures 1917), starred his sister, Ethel.
Before the formation of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1924, Barrymore forged a good relationship with Louis B. Mayer early on at Metro Pictures. He made numerous silent features for Metro, most of them now lost. He occasionally freelanced, returning to Griffith in 1924 to film America. His last film for Griffith was in 1928's Drums of Love.
After Lionel and Doris divorced in 1923, he married Irene Fenwick. The two went to Italy to film The Eternal City for Metro Pictures in Rome, combining work with their honeymoon. In 1924 he went to Germany to star in British producer-director Herbert Wilcox's Anglo-German co-production Decameron Nights, filmed at UFA's Babelsberg studios outside Berlin.
Prior to his marriage to Irene, he and his brother John fell out over the issue of Irene's chastity in the wake of her having been one of John's lovers. The brothers didn't speak again for two years and weren't seen together until the premiere of John's film Don Juan in 1926, having patched up their differences. In 1924, he left Broadway for Hollywood. He starred as Frederick Harmon in director Henri Diamant-Berger's drama Fifty-Fifty (1925) opposite Hope Hampton and Louise Glaum, and made several other freelance motion pictures, including The Bells (Chadwick Pictures 1926) with a then-unknown Boris Karloff. After 1926, however, he worked almost exclusively for MGM, appearing opposite such luminaries as John Gilbert, Lon Chaney, Sr., Jean Harlow, Wallace Beery, Marie Dressler, Greta Garbo, Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, and his brother John.
On the occasional loan-out, Barrymore had a big success with Gloria Swanson in 1928's Sadie Thompson and the aforementioned Griffith film, Drums of Love. Talkies were now a reality and Barrymore's stage-trained voice recorded well in sound tests. In 1929, he returned to directing films. During this early and imperfect sound film period, he made the controversial His Glorious Night with John Gilbert, Madame X starring Ruth Chatterton, and Rogue Song, Laurel & Hardy's first color film. Barrymore returned to acting in front of the camera in 1931. In that year, he won an Academy Award for his role as an alcoholic lawyer in A Free Soul (1931), after being nominated in 1930 for Best Director for Madame X. He could play many characters, like the evil Rasputin in the 1932 Rasputin and the Empress (in which he co-starred with siblings John Barrymore and Ethel Barrymore) and the ailing Oliver Jordan in Dinner at Eight (1933 – also with John Barrymore, although they had no scenes together).
During the 1930s and 1940s, he became stereotyped as grouchy but sweet elderly men in such films as The Mysterious Island (1929), Grand Hotel (1932, with John Barrymore), Captains Courageous (1937), You Can't Take It with You (1938), On Borrowed Time (1939, with Cedric Hardwicke), Duel in the Sun (1946), and Key Largo (1948).
In a series of Doctor Kildare movies in the 1930s and 1940s, he played the irascible Doctor Gillespie, a role he repeated in an MGM radio series that debuted in New York in 1950 and was later syndicated. He also played the title role in the 1940s radio series, Mayor of the Town. Barrymore had broken his hip in an accident, hence he played Gillespie in a wheelchair. Later, his worsening arthritis kept him in the chair. The injury also precluded his playing Ebenezer Scrooge in the 1938 MGM film version of A Christmas Carol, a role Barrymore played every year but one on the radio from 1934 through 1953.
Perhaps his best known role, thanks to perennial Christmastime replays on television, was Mr. Potter, the miserly and mean-spirited banker in It's a Wonderful Life (1946) opposite James Stewart. The role suggested that of the "unreformed" stage of Barrymore's "Scrooge" characterization. Lionel's wife, Irene, died on Christmas Eve of 1936 and Lionel did not perform his annual Scrooge that year. John filled in as Scrooge for his grieving brother.
Barrymore loathed the income tax system which kept him working to the end of his life. He expressed an interest in appearing on television in the 1950s but felt compelled to remain loyal to his old friend and employer Louis B. Mayer and MGM.
Medical issues 
Several sources argue that arthritis alone confined Barrymore to a wheelchair. The onset of the arthritis is not clear. Film historian Jeanine Basinger says it was serious by at least 1928, when Barrymore made Sadie Thompson in 1928. Screenwriter Anita Loos claimed that the arthritis was so bad by 1929, Barrymore was taking large quantities of morphine. Film historian David Wallace says it was "well known" that Barrymore was "addicted" to morphine due to arthritis by 1929, when Louis B. Mayer hired Barrymore to direct Redemption (a film from which Barrymore was removed). A history of Oscar-winning actors, however, says Barrymore was only "suffering" from arthritis, not crippled by it. Marie Dressler biographer Matthew Kennedy notes that when Barrymore won his Best Oscar award in 1930, the arthritis was still so minor that it only made him limp a little as he went on stage to accept the honor.
Others claim that Barrymore's broken hip alone was the cause of Barrymore's incapacity. Paul Donnelly says Barrymore's inability to walk was caused by a drawing table falling on him in 1936, breaking Barrymore's hip. Barrymore tripped over a cable while filming Saratoga in 1937, and broke his hip again. (Film historian Robert A. Osborne says Barrymore also suffered a broken kneecap.) How bad were these hip injuries? Donnelly, quoting Barrymore, says that Louis B. Mayer bought Barrymore $400 worth of cocaine every day to help him cope with the pain and allow him to sleep. Author David Schwartz says the hip fracture never healed, which was why Barrymore could not walk, while MGM historian John Douglas Eames claims that the injury was "crippling". Barrymore himself said in 1951, that it was breaking his hip twice that kept him in the wheelchair. He said he had no other problems, and that the hip healed well, but it made walking exceptionally difficult. Film historian Allen Eyles reached the same conclusion.
However, Lew Ayres biographer Lesley Coffin and Louis B. Mayer biographer Scott Eyman argue that it was the combination of the broken hip as well as Barrymore's worsening arthritis that put him in a wheelchair.
Syphilis has also been suggested as a cause of Barrymore's disability. Syphilis can severely affect joint movement. Barrymore family biographer Margot Peters says that close Barrymore friends Gene Fowler and James Doane both said Barrymore's arthritis was caused by syphilis, which they say he contracted in 1925. Eyman, however, explicitly rejects this hypothesis.
Whatever the cause of his disability, Barrymore's performance in Captains Courageous in 1937 was one of the last times he would be seen standing and walking unassisted. Afterward, Barrymore was able to get about for a short period of time on crutches even though he was in great pain. During the filming of 1938's You Can't Take It With You, the pain of standing with crutches was so severe that Barrymore required hourly shots of painkillers. By 1938, Barrymore was confined to a wheelchair and never walked again. He could, however, stand for short periods of time.
Barrymore was also a prolific composer. His works ranged from solo piano pieces to large-scale orchestral works, such as "Tableau Russe". His piano compositions, "Scherzo Grotesque" and "Song Without Words", were published by G. Schirmer in 1945.
Graphic artist 
Barrymore was a skillful graphic artist. For years, he maintained an artist's shop and studio attached to his home in Los Angeles. His etchings and drawings are prized by collectors around the world.
He is honored with two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, in the motion picture and radio categories.
Popular culture 
- In the classic animated series Jonny Quest in the episode Turu the Terrible the villain is a character called 'Deen'. He is elderly and wheelchair bound and is in command of a large pteranodon, an apparent survivor from the prehistoric dinosaur age. While Deen does not look like Lionel Barrymore, he is voiced by actor Everett Sloane whose voice is a dead ringer for Barrymore's.
- In the animated series "Underdog," the recurring villain Simon Bar Sinister's voice is an impersonation of Barrymore.
- In another animated series Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated episode "Theatre of Doom" Vincent Van Ghoul (a parody of Vincent Price) remarked that he saw Barrymore smashed his own play with a pipe.
- In the 1948 cartoon short Hot Cross Bunny, Bugs Bunny does an impression of Barrymore as Dr. Gillespie.
Partial filmography 
|1911||Fighting Blood||Directed by D. W. Griffith|
|The Battle||wagon driver||Directed by D. W. Griffith|
|The Miser's Heart||Directed by D. W. Griffith|
|1912||Friends||Grizzley Fallon (Dandy Jack's friend)||Directed by D. W. Griffith|
|The Chief's Blanket||Directed by D. W. Griffith|
|Heredity||woodsman||Directed by D. W. Griffith|
|The New York Hat||minister||Directed by D. W. Griffith|
|1913||The Tender Hearted Boy||Directed by D. W. Griffith|
|Oil and Water||In First Audience/In Second Audience/Visitor||Directed by D. W. Griffith|
|Almost a Wild Man||In audience|
|The Work Habit||The father|
|The Strong Man's Burden||John|
|The Battle at Elderbush Gulch||Directed by D. W. Griffith|
|Death's Marathon||The Financial Backer||Directed by D. W. Griffith|
|1914||Judith of Bethulia||extra||Directed by D. W. Griffith|
|1917||The Millionaire's Double|
|1920||The Copperhead||Title role|
|1921||The Great Adventure||Priam Farll|
|1923||Enemies of Women||Prince Lubimoff|
|1923||The Eternal City||Baron Bonelli|
|1924||I Am the Man||James McQuade|
|The Woman Who Did||Allan Merrick|
|1927||The Show||The Greek|
|Body and Soul||Dr. Leyden|
|The Thirteenth Hour||Professor LeRoy|
|1928||Sadie Thompson||Alfred Davidson|
|West of Zanzibar||Mr. Crane|
Nominated — Academy Award for Best Director
|The Unholy Night||director|
|The Mysterious Island||Count Dakkar||This film began production in 1927 as a silent. It was completed and released with sound and talking sequences in 1929.|
|1930||The Sea Bat||director (uncredited)|
|1931||Ten Cents a Dance||director|
|A Free Soul||Stephen Ashe, Defense Attorney||Academy Award for Best Actor|
|Guilty Hands||Richard Grant|
|The Yellow Ticket||Baron Igor Andrey|
|Mata Hari||Gen. Serge Shubin|
|1932||Broken Lullaby||Dr. Holderlin|
|Arsène Lupin||Det. Guerchard|
|Grand Hotel||Otto Kringelein|
|Rasputin and the Empress||Rasputin||includes John, Ethel, and Lionel|
|1933||Dinner at Eight||Oliver Jordan|
|One Man's Journey||Eli Watt|
|1933||Should Ladies Behave?||Augustus Merrick|
|The Girl from Missouri||Thomas Randall "T.R." Paige|
|Treasure Island||Billy Bones|
|1935||David Copperfield||Dan’l Peggotty|
|The Little Colonel||Col. Lloyd|
|Mark of the Vampire||Professor|
|Public Hero No. 1||Dr. Josiah Glass|
|Ah, Wilderness!||Nat Miller|
|1936||The Voice of Bugle Ann||Spring Davis|
|The Road to Glory||Pvt. Moran|
|The Devil-Doll||Paul Lavond|
|The Gorgeous Hussy||Andrew Jackson|
|1937||Captains Courageous||Captain Disko Troop|
|A Family Affair||Judge James K. Hardy|
|Navy Blue and Gold||Capt. "Skinny" Dawes|
|1938||A Yank at Oxford||Dan Sheridan|
|Test Pilot||Howard B. Drake|
|You Can't Take It with You||Grandpa Martin Vanderhof|
|Young Dr. Kildare||Dr. Gillespie|
|1939||Let Freedom Ring||Thomas Logan|
|Calling Dr. Kildare||Dr. Leonard Gillespie|
|On Borrowed Time||Julian Northrup (Gramps)|
|The Secret of Dr. Kildare||Dr. Leonard Barry Gillespie|
|1940||The Stars Look Down||Narrator||voice, uncredited|
|Dr. Kildare's Strange Case||Dr. Leonard Gillespie|
|Dr. Kildare Goes Home||Dr. Leonard Gillespie|
|Dr. Kildare's Crisis||Dr. Leonard Gillespie|
|1941||The Penalty||"Grandpop" Logan|
|The Bad Man||Uncle Henry Jones|
|The People vs. Dr. Kildare||Dr. Leonard Gillespie|
|Dr. Kildare's Wedding Day||Dr. Leonard Gillespie|
|Lady Be Good||Judge Murdock|
|1942||Dr. Kildare's Victory||Dr. Leonard Gillespie|
|Calling Dr. Gillespie||Dr. Leonard Gillespie|
|Dr. Gillespie's New Assistant||Dr. Leonard Gillespie|
|Tennessee Johnson||Thaddeus Stevens|
|1943||Dr. Gillespie's Criminal Case||Dr. Leonard Gillespie|
|The Last Will and Testament of Tom Smith||Gramps|
|A Guy Named Joe||The General|
|1944||Three Men in White||Dr. Leonard B. Gillespie|
|Since You Went Away||Clergyman|
|Dragon Seed||Narrator||voice, uncredited|
|1945||Between Two Women||Dr. Leonard Gillespie|
|The Valley of Decision||Pat Rafferty|
|1946||Three Wise Fools||Dr. Richard Gaunght|
|It's a Wonderful Life||Henry F. Potter|
|The Secret Heart||Dr. Rossiger|
|Duel in the Sun||Sen. Jackson McCanles|
|1947||Dark Delusion||Dr. Leonard Gillespie|
|1948||Key Largo||James Temple|
|1949||Down to the Sea in Ships||Capt. Bering Joy|
|1950||Right Cross||Sean O'Malley|
|1952||Lone Star||Andrew Jackson|
|1953||Main Street to Broadway||Himself (with his sister Ethel)|
|1953||Seven Angry Men|
See also 
- Obituary Variety, November 17, 1954.
- "NOTABLES ATTEND BARRYMORE RITES; Hollywood Stars Join Throng at Burial of Member of Famed Acting Family". The New York Times. November 19, 1954. Retrieved May 7, 2010.
- "A Quiz about Main Line Schools". The Main Line Times. 2008-09-03. Retrieved 2008-12-26.[dead link]
- Farjeon, Eleanor, A Nursery in the Nineties (Gollancz, 1935).
- The Barrymores in Hollywood by James Kotsilibas Davis, c.1981;...Davis talks about the second girl dying while Lionel was working for Metro Studios which was formed in 1916.
- Advertisement appearing in National Geographic, February 1920
- Landazuri, Margaret. Archives Spotlight: Young Dr. Kildare. Turner Classic Movies.com. Accessed: 7 December 2007.
- The Barrymores by Hollis Alpert c.1964
- Marzano, p. 49; Willian, p. 37; Silvers, p. 234; "Movie of the Week: 'On Borrowed Time'." Life. July 10, 1939, p. 56, accessed 2013-05-10.
- Norden, p. 145.
- Basinger, p. 230.
- Wayne, p. 105.
- Wallace, p. 78.
- Bergan, Fuller, and Malcolm, p. 32.
- Kennedy, p. 177.
- Donnelly, p. 68.
- Culbertson and Randall, p. 141.
- Osborne, p. 31.
- Schwartz, p. 241.
- Eames, p. 139.
- Barrymore and Shipp, p. 287.
- Eyles, p. 118.
- Coffin, p. 72.
- Eyman, p. 219.
- Peters, p. 438, 597.
- Block and Wilson, p. 203.
- Reid, p. 193.
- "Lionel Barrymore Is Dead at 76.". New York Times. November 16, 1954, Tuesday.
- Barrymore, Lionel and Shipp, Cameron. We Barrymores. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1951.
- Basinger, Jeanine. Silent Stars. Hanover, N.H.: Wesleyan University Press, 2000.
- Bergan, Ronald; Fuller, Graham; and Malcolm, David. Academy Award Winners. New York: Smithmark Publishers, 1994.
- Block, Alex Ben and Wilson, Lucy Autrey. George Lucas's Blockbusting: A Decade-by-Decade Survey of Timeless Movies, Including Untold Secrets of Their Financial and Cultural Success. New York: itBooks, 2010.
- Coffin, Lesley L. Lew Ayres: Hollywood's Conscientious Objector. Jackson, Miss.: University Press of Mississippi, 2012.
- Culbertson, Judi and Randall, Tom. Permanent Californians: An Illustrated Guide to the Cemeteries of California. Chelsea, Vt.: Chelsea Green Pub. Co., 1989.
- Donnelly, Paul. Fade to Black: A Book of Movie Obituaries. London: Omnibus, 2003.
- Eames, John Douglas. The MGM Story: The Complete History of Fifty Roaring Years. New York: Crown Publishers, 1975.
- Eyles, Allen. That Was Hollywood: The 1930s. London: Batsford, 1987.
- Eyman, Scott. Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005.
- Kennedy, Matthew. Marie Dressler: A Biography. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co., 2006.
- Marzano, Rudy. The Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1940s: How Robinson, MacPhail, Reiser, and Rickey Changed Baseball. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2005.
- Norden, Martin F. The Cinema of Isolation: A History of Physical Disability in the Movies. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1994.
- Osborne, Robert A. Academy Awards Illustrated: A Complete History of Hollywood's Academy Awards in Words and Pictures. La Habra, Calif.: E.E. Schworck, 1969.
- Peters, Margot. The House of Barrymore. New York: A.A. Knopf, 1990.
- Reid, John Howard. Hollywood Movie Musicals: Great, Good and Glamorous. Morrisville, N.C.: Lulu Press, 2006.
- Schwartz, David. Magic of Thinking Big. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987.
- Silvers, Anita. "The Crooked Timber of Humanity: Disability, Ideology and the Aesthetic." In Disability/Postmodernity: Embodying Disability Theory. Mairian Corker and Tom Shakespeare, eds. New York: Continuum, 2002.
- Wallace, David. Lost Hollywood. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2001.
- Wayne, Jane Ellen. The Leading Men of MGM. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2005.
- Willian, Michael. The Essential It's a Wonderful Life: A Scene-by-Scene Guide to the Classic Film. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2006.
Further reading 
- Menefee, David W. The First Male Stars: Men of the Silent Era.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Lionel Barrymore|
- Lionel Barrymore at AllRovi
- Lionel Barrymore at the Internet Movie Database
- Photographs of Lionel Barrymore
- Lionel Barrymore at Internet Broadway Database
- Lionel Barrymore photo gallery NYP Library
- NY Times August 29 1908 A NEW ETHEL BARRYMORE; Daughter Born To Lionel in Paris
- Lionel Barrymore and several other actors on Orson Welles Radio Almanac 1944
- Lionel Barrymore in 1902 in "The Mummy and the Hummingbird", portrait by Burr McIntosh for Munseys Magazine
- Lionel with brother John Barrymore, 1917
- Lionel Barrymore as a child (* if photo doesn't load click -> the worthpoint link then return and click)