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John Barrymore

The Life and Legacy of Early 20th Century America's Most Famous Actor
Narrated by: Bill Hare
Length: 1 hr and 23 mins

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Publisher's Summary

"A man is not old until regrets take the place of dreams.” (John Barrymore)

Movie stars are revered for their ability to captivate audiences, and Hollywood began to flourish before the onset of television, allowing movies to enjoy relatively uncontested supremacy over American entertainment. The popularity of various actors would, thus, extend well beyond the success of any of their individual films, reflecting their much broader cultural significance as monuments of Hollywood during its Golden Age. 

In the 1920s, the burgeoning movie industry was starting to come into its own, and virtually no actor was as famous - or infamous - as John Barrymore. Like many other film stars his age, Barrymore’s career had started in other forms of entertainment, in his case theater. By the time movies were becoming popular, Barrymore was one of the world’s foremost Shakespearean actors. 

After standout performances in productions of Richard III and Hamlet, Barrymore transitioned for a time to working on films, including Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920), Sherlock Holmes (1922), and The Sea Beast (1926). His career would not be hampered by the end of the silent film era either, and he would continue to star in movies throughout the 1930s, including in critically acclaimed films like Grand Hotel (1932), Twentieth Century (1934), and Midnight (1939). 

For a time, Barrymore was one of the most popular actors of the day, but more than 75 years after his death, he is likely better remembered more for his family lineage and his contributions to pop culture, voluntarily and involuntarily. 

Barrymore hailed from an acting family, and he would become the patriarch whose descendants continued to be acclaimed actors, most recently his granddaughter Drew Barrymore. But while that might be his most tangential legacy in the 21st century, Barrymore’s personal life continues to draw interest, from his many marriages and paramours to the substance abuse that was common knowledge by the end of his life. 

Barrymore even tried to play to his reputation and get in on the joke, often taking on roles that served as parodies of his own outlandish behavior. In a self-deprecating reference to his love life, he once joked, “I am thinking of taking a fifth wife. Why not? Solomon had a thousand wives, and he is a synonym for wisdom.”

And when he appeared in My Dear Children in 1939, a critic for The New York Times noted, “Although he has recklessly played the fool for a number of years, he is nobody's fool in My Dear Children, but a superbly gifted actor on a tired holiday.” 

As it turned out, he didn’t have much time left after that performance, as all of his excesses took a fatal toll on him in 1942, at the age of 60. 

John Barrymore: The Life and Legacy of Early 20th Century America’s Most Famous Actor chronicles the dramatic life and career of Barrymore on and off the screen.

©2019 Charles River Editors (P)2019 Charles River Editors

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