Dolores Costello

Last updated
Dolores Costello
June 1926 photograph
Born(1903-09-17)September 17, 1903
DiedMarch 1, 1979(1979-03-01) (aged 75)
Years active1909–1943
Spouse(s) John Barrymore
(m. 1928–1934; divorced)
Dr. John Vruwink
(m. 1939–1950; divorced)
Children2, including John
Parent(s) Maurice Costello
Mae Costello
Relatives Helene Costello (sister)

Dolores Costello (September 17, 1903 [note 1] [1] – March 1, 1979) [2] was an American film actress who achieved her greatest success during the era of silent movies. She was nicknamed "The Goddess of the Silent Screen". She was stepmother of John Barrymore's daughter Diana, by his second wife Blanche Oelrichs, the mother of John Drew Barrymore and Dolores (Dee Dee) Barrymore, and the grandmother of John Barrymore III, Blyth Dolores Barrymore, Brahma Blyth (Jessica) Barrymore, and Drew Barrymore.

Film sequence of images that give the impression of movement

A film, also called a movie, motion picture, moving picture, or photoplay, is a series of still images that, when shown on a screen, create the illusion of moving images. This optical illusion causes the audience to perceive continuous motion between separate objects viewed in rapid succession. The process of filmmaking is both an art and an industry. A film is created by photographing actual scenes with a motion-picture camera, by photographing drawings or miniature models using traditional animation techniques, by means of CGI and computer animation, or by a combination of some or all of these techniques, and other visual effects.

John Barrymore American actor of stage, screen and radio

John Sidney Barrymore was an American actor on stage, screen and radio. A member of the Drew and Barrymore theatrical families, he initially tried to avoid the stage, and briefly attempted a career as an artist, but appeared on stage together with his father Maurice in 1900, and then his sister Ethel the following year. He began his career in 1903 and first gained attention as a stage actor in light comedy, then high drama, culminating in productions of Justice (1916), Richard III (1920) and Hamlet (1922); his portrayal of Hamlet led to him being called the "greatest living American tragedian".

Diana Barrymore american Actress

Diana Blanche Barrymore Blythe, known professionally as Diana Barrymore, was an American film and stage actress.


Early years

Dolores Costello was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; the daughter of actors Maurice Costello [1] and Mae Costello (née Altschuk). She was of Irish and German descent. She had a younger sister, Helene, and the two made their first film appearances in the years 1909–1915 as child actresses for the Vitagraph Film Company. They played supporting roles in several films starring their father, who was a popular matinee idol at the time. Dolores Costello's earliest listed credit on the IMDb is in the role of a fairy in a 1909 adaptation of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream .

Pittsburgh City in western Pennsylvania

Pittsburgh is a city in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in the United States, and is the county seat of Allegheny County. As of 2017, a population of 305,704 lives within the city limits, making it the 63rd-largest city in the U.S. The metropolitan population of 2,353,045 is the largest in both the Ohio Valley and Appalachia, the second-largest in Pennsylvania, and the 26th-largest in the U.S.

Pennsylvania State of the United States of America

Pennsylvania, officially the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, is a state located in the northeastern and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States. The Appalachian Mountains run through its middle. The Commonwealth is bordered by Delaware to the southeast, Maryland to the south, West Virginia to the southwest, Ohio to the west, Lake Erie and the Canadian province of Ontario to the northwest, New York to the north, and New Jersey to the east.

Maurice Costello American actor and film director

Maurice George Costello was a prominent American vaudeville actor of the late 1890s and early 1900s, who later played a principal role in early American films, as leading man, supporting player and director.

Film career

Dolores Costello with husband John Barrymore and children John Drew Barrymore and Dolores Barrymore (1934) John Barrymore and family 1934.jpg
Dolores Costello with husband John Barrymore and children John Drew Barrymore and Dolores Barrymore (1934)

The two sisters appeared on Broadway together as chorines and their success resulted in contracts with Warner Brothers Studios. In 1926, following small parts in feature films, she was selected by John Barrymore to star opposite him in The Sea Beast , [3] a loose adaptation of Herman Melville's Moby-Dick . Warner Bros. soon began starring her in her own vehicles. Meanwhile, she and Barrymore became romantically involved and married in 1928.

Broadway theatre class of professional theater presented in New York City, New York, USA

Broadway theatre, commonly known as Broadway, refers to the theatrical performances presented in the 41 professional theatres, each with 500 or more seats located in the Theater District and Lincoln Center along Broadway, in Midtown Manhattan, New York City. Along with London's West End theatre, Broadway theatre is widely considered to represent the highest level of commercial theatre in the English-speaking world.

<i>The Sea Beast</i> 1926 film by Millard Webb

The Sea Beast is a 1926 American silent drama film directed by Millard Webb, starring John Barrymore, Dolores Costello and George O'Hara. The film was a major commercial success and one of the biggest pictures of 1926 becoming Warner Brothers' highest grossing film. The Sea Beast is the first adaptation of the novel Moby-Dick by Herman Melville, a story about a monomaniacal hunt for a great white whale. However, the film alters the novel's plotline by establishing prequel and sequel elements that are not in the original story—such as the romancing of Esther and Ahab's safe return, respectively—and substitutes a happy ending for Melville's original tragic one. Some of the characters in the film do not appear in Melville's original novel.

Herman Melville American novelist, short story writer, essayist, and poet

Herman Melville was an American novelist, short story writer, and poet of the American Renaissance period. Among his best known works include Typee (1846), a romantic account of his experiences in Polynesian life, and his whaling novel Moby-Dick (1851).

Within a few years of achieving stardom, the delicately beautiful blonde-haired actress had become a successful and highly regarded film personality in her own right. As a young adult her career developed to the degree that in 1926, she was named a WAMPAS Baby Star, and had acquired the nickname "The Goddess of the Silver Screen".

WAMPAS Baby Stars

The WAMPAS Baby Stars was a promotional campaign sponsored by the United States Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers, which honored 13 young actresses each year whom they believed to be on the threshold of movie stardom. The campaign intermittently ran from 1922 to 1934.

Warners alternated Costello between films with contemporary settings and elaborate costume dramas. In 1927, she was re-teamed with John Barrymore in When a Man Loves , an adaptation of Manon Lescaut . In 1928, she co-starred with George O'Brien in Noah's Ark , a part-talkie epic directed by Michael Curtiz.

<i>When a Man Loves</i> 1927 film by Alan Crosland

When a Man Loves is a 1927 American silent historical drama film directed by Alan Crosland and produced and distributed by Warner Bros.. The picture stars John Barrymore and features Dolores Costello in the frequently filmed story of Abbe Prevost's 1731 novel Manon Lescaut. The UK release title was His Lady.

<i>Manon Lescaut</i> novel by Abbé Prévost

Manon Lescaut is a novel by French author Antoine François Prévost. Published in 1731, it is the seventh and final volume of Mémoires et aventures d'un homme de qualité. It was controversial in its time and was banned in France upon publication. Despite this, it became very popular and pirated editions were widely distributed. In a subsequent 1753 edition, the Abbé Prévost toned down some scandalous details and injected more moralizing disclaimers.

George OBrien (actor) American actor, popular during the silent film era and into the talkie era of the 1930s, best known today as the lead actor in F. W. Murnaus 1927 film Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans

George O'Brien was an American actor, popular during the silent film era and into the talkie era of the 1930s, best known today as the lead actor in F. W. Murnau's 1927 film Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans.

Tenderloin (1928), starring Dolores Costello, was the second Vitaphone feature to have talking sequences. It is considered a lost film, where today only the Vitaphone soundtrack survives Tenderloin poster.jpg
Tenderloin (1928), starring Dolores Costello, was the second Vitaphone feature to have talking sequences. It is considered a lost film, where today only the Vitaphone soundtrack survives

Costello spoke with a lisp (something that her granddaughter, Drew Barrymore, seemingly inherited), and found it difficult to make the transition to talking pictures, but after two years of voice coaching she was comfortable speaking before a microphone. One of her early sound film appearances was with her sister Helene in Warner Bros.'s all-star extravaganza, The Show of Shows (1929).

Warner Bros. American producer of film, television, and music entertainment

Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc., commonly referred to as Warner Bros. and abbreviated as WB, is an American entertainment company headquartered in Burbank, California and a subsidiary of AT&T's WarnerMedia. Founded in 1923, it has operations in film, television and video games and is one of the "Big Five" major American film studios, as well as a member of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA).

<i>The Show of Shows</i> 1929 film by John G. Adolfi

The Show of Shows is a 1929 American pre-Code musical revue film directed by John G. Adolfi and distributed by Warner Bros. The all talking Vitaphone production cost $850,000 and was shot almost entirely in Technicolor.

Her acting career became less a priority for her following the birth of her first child, Dolores Ethel Mae "DeeDee" Barrymore, on April 8, 1930, and she retired from the screen in 1931 to devote time to her family. Her second child, John Drew Barrymore, was born on June 4, 1932, but the marriage proved difficult due to her husband's increasing alcoholism, and they divorced in 1935.

She resumed her career a year later and achieved some successes, most notably in Little Lord Fauntleroy (1936), and The Magnificent Ambersons (1942). She retired permanently from acting following her appearance in This is the Army (1943), again under the direction of Michael Curtiz.

Making a rare radio appearance, Costello appeared as the Danish Countess Elsa on the radio program Suspense with an air date of August 28, 1943. The title of the episode is The King's Birthday written by Corporal Leonard Pellitier US Army.

Later years

In 1939, she married Dr. John Vruwink, an obstetrician who was her physician during her pregnancies, but they divorced in 1950. Costello spent the remaining years of her life in semi-seclusion, managing an avocado farm. Her film career was largely ruined by the destructive effects of early film makeup, which ravaged her complexion too severely to camouflage. [4] [5] Her final film was This Is the Army (1943). In the 1970s her house was inundated in a flash flood which destroyed a lot of her property and memorabilia from her movie career and life with John Barrymore.

Shortly before her death, she was interviewed for the documentary series Hollywood (1980) discussing her film career. She died from emphysema in Fallbrook, California, in 1979, and is interred in Calvary Cemetery, East Los Angeles.

Dolores Costello has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for her contributions to Motion Pictures, at 1645 Vine Street.


Dolores Costello as a Ziegfeld girl, ca. 1923 Dolores Costello, Ziegfeld girl, by Alfred Cheney Johnston, ca. 1923.jpg
Dolores Costello as a Ziegfeld girl, ca. 1923

Child roles

Dolores Costello appeared as a child actress in many films made between 1909 and 1915 . Among them are:

1909A Midsummer Night's Dream
1910 The Telephone
1911Consuming Love, or St. Valentine's Day in Greenaway Land A Geranium
1911 The Child Crusoes
1911 His Sister's Children
1911 A Reformed Santa Claus
1911Some Good in All
1912 Captain Jenks' Dilemma
1912The Meeting of the Ways
1912For the Honor of the Family
1912She Never Knew; Lulu's Doctor
1912The Troublesome Step-Daughters
1912The Money Kings
1912A Juvenile Love Affair
1912Wanted ... a Grandmother
1912Vultures and Doves
1912Her Grandchild
1912Captain Barnacle's Legacy
1912Bobby's Father
1912The Irony of Fate
1912The Toymaker
1912Ida's Christmas
1913A Birthday Gift
1913The Hindoo Charm
1913In the Shadow
1913Fellow Voyagers
1914Some Steamer Scooping
1914Etta of the Footlights
1914Too Much Burglar
1915The Evil Men Do

Adult roles

Dolores Costello and George O'Brien in the 1928 film Noah's Ark Dolores Costello-George O'Brien in Noah's Ark.jpg
Dolores Costello and George O'Brien in the 1928 film Noah's Ark

She restarted her motion picture career in 1923 after spending several years modeling in New York.

1923 The Glimpses of the Moon Bit partlost
Lawful Larceny Nora the maidlost; six minutes survive
1925 Greater Than a Crown Isabel Frances / Princess of Lividia?
Bobbed Hair Bit partextant ; foreign archive Spain
1926 Mannequin Joan Herrickextant ; Library of Congress
The Sea Beast Esther Harperextant (George Eastman House)
Bride of the Storm Faith Fitzhughlost film
The Little Irish Girl Dot Walkerlost film
The Third Degree Annie Dalyextant (Library of Congress)
1927 When a Man Loves Manon Lescaut extant (Turner/Warner Bros.)
A Million Bid Dorothy Gordonincomplete (Library of Congress- Italian title cards)
Old San Francisco Dolores Vasquezextant (Turner/Warner Bros.)
The Heart of Maryland Maryland Calvertextant (incomplete; Library of Congress)
The College Widow Jane Witherspoonlost film
1928 Tenderloin Rose Shannonlost film
Glorious Betsy Betsy Patterson extant (silent only, Vitaphone talking, music and sound effects missing)
Noah's Ark Mary/Miriamextant (Turner and/or UCLA Film & Television Archives)
1929 The Redeeming Sin Joan Billairelost film
Glad Rag Doll Annabel Leelost film (trailer survives)
Madonna of Avenue A Maria Mortonlost film
Hearts in Exile Vera Zuanovalost film
The Show of Shows Meet My Sister numberextant (Turner/Warner Bros.)
1930 Second Choice Vallery Grovelost film
1931 Expensive Women Constance "Connie" Newtonextant (Library of Congress)
1936 Little Lord Fauntleroy "Dearest" Erroll
Yours for the Asking Lucille Sutton
1938 The Beloved Brat Helen Cosgrove
Breaking the IceMartha Martin
1939 King of the Turf Eve Barnes
Whispering EnemiesLaura Crandall
Outside These Walls Margaret Bronson
1942 The Magnificent Ambersons Isabel
1943 This Is the Army Mrs. Davidson
1980 Hollywood (documentary) Herselfher scenes broadcast posthumously


  1. Costello's obituary in The New York Times says that she was born on September 17, 1905.

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  1. 1 2 Flint, Peters B. (March 3, 1979). "Dolores Costello, 73, Film Star". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 29 September 2017. Retrieved 29 September 2017.
  2. Motion Picture Performers. A bibliography of magazine and periodical articles, 1900–1969; compiled by Mel Schuster. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1971.
  3. Rainho, Manny (March 2015). "This Month in Movie History". Classic Images (477): 26.
  4. Olive Borden: The Life and Films of Hollywood's Joy Girl   by Michelle Vogel page 89; Retrieved February 10, 2016
  5. Orson Welles: A Biography   by Barbara Leaming page 222; Retrieved February 10, 2016