Ethel Barrymore

Last updated

Ethel Barrymore
Julius Cahn's official theatrical guide. (1896) (14595127410).jpg
Barrymore in 1896
Ethel Mae Blythe

(1879-08-15)August 15, 1879
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
DiedJune 18, 1959(1959-06-18) (aged 79)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Years active1895–1957
Russell Griswold Colt
(m. 1909;div. 1923)
Parent(s) Maurice Barrymore
Georgiana Drew
Family Barrymore
Ethel Barrymore signature.svg
Ethel with her brothers and their mother in 1890. Georgie Drew Barrymore with Ethel, Lionel, and Jack Barrymore.jpg
Ethel with her brothers and their mother in 1890.

Ethel Barrymore (born Ethel Mae Blythe; August 15, 1879 – June 18, 1959) was an American actress and a member of the Barrymore family of actors. [1] [2] Barrymore was a stage, screen and radio actress whose career spanned six decades, and was regarded as "The First Lady of the American Theatre". She received four nominations for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, winning for None but the Lonely Heart (1944).


Early life

Barrymore was born Ethel Mae Blythe in Philadelphia, the second child of the actors Maurice Barrymore (whose real name was Herbert Blythe) and Georgiana Drew. [3] She was named for her father's favorite character—Ethel in William Makepeace Thackeray's The Newcomes.

She was the sister of actors John and Lionel Barrymore, the aunt of actor John Drew Barrymore and grand-aunt of actress Drew Barrymore. She was also a granddaughter of actress and theater-manager Louisa Lane Drew (Mrs. John Drew), and niece of Broadway matinée idol John Drew Jr and early Vitagraph Studios stage and screen star Sidney Drew.

She spent her childhood in Philadelphia and attended Roman Catholic schools there.

Barrymore, 1896 EthelBarrymore1896.jpg
Barrymore, 1896

In 1884, the family sailed to England and stayed two years. Maurice had inherited a substantial amount of money from an aunt and decided to exhibit a play and star in some plays at London's Haymarket Theatre. [4] Ethel recalled being frightened on first meeting Oscar Wilde when handing him some cakes and later being reprimanded by her parents for showing fear of Wilde. Returning to the U.S. in 1886, her father took her to her first baseball game. She established a lifelong love of baseball and wanted to be a concert pianist. [5] The years in England were the happiest of her childhood years due to the fact the Barrymores were more of a nuclear family in London than in the United States.


Barrymore in 1901 in one of the costumes from Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines Ethel Barrymore, three-quarter length portrait, seated, facing front.jpg
Barrymore in 1901 in one of the costumes from Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines

In the summer of 1893, Barrymore was in the company of her mother Georgie, who had been ailing from tuberculosis and took a curative sabbatical to Santa Barbara, California, not far from where family friend Helena Modjeska had a retreat. Georgie did not recover and died in July 1893 a week before her 37th birthday. Essentially Ethel's and Lionel's childhood ended when Georgie died; they were forced to go to work in their teens with neither finishing high school. John, a few years younger, stayed with their grandmother and other relatives. Barrymore's first appearance on Broadway was in 1895, in a play called The Imprudent Young Couple which starred her uncle John Drew, Jr., and Maude Adams. She appeared with Drew and Adams again in 1896 in Rosemary . [6]

In 1897 Ethel went with William Gillette to London to play Miss Kittridge in Gillette's Secret Service. She was about to return to the States with Gillette's troupe when Henry Irving and Ellen Terry offered her the role of Annette in The Bells. A full London tour was on and, before it was over, Ethel created, on New Year's Day 1898, Euphrosine in Peter the Great at the Lyceum, the play having been written by Irving's son, Laurence. Men everywhere were smitten with Ethel, most notably Winston Churchill, who asked her to marry him. Not wishing to be a politician's wife, she refused. Winston, years later, married Clementine Hozier, a ravishing beauty who looked very much like Ethel. Winston and Ethel remained friends until the end of her life.

Barrymore playing the male character Carrots in a play of the same name, 1902 EthelBarrymoreCarrots.jpg
Barrymore playing the male character Carrots in a play of the same name, 1902

After her season in London, Ethel returned to the U.S. Charles Frohman cast her first in Catherine and then as Stella de Grex in His Excellency the Governor. [7] After that, Frohman finally gave Ethel the role that would make her a star: Madame Trentoni in Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines, [8] which opened at the Garrick Theatre in London's West End on February 4, 1901. Unbeknownst to Ethel, her father Maurice had witnessed the performance as an audience member and walked up to his daughter, congratulated her and gave her a big hug. It was the first and only time he saw her on stage professionally. When the tour concluded in Boston in June, she had out-drawn two of the most prominent actresses of her day, Mrs. Patrick Campbell and Minnie Maddern Fiske.

Following her triumph in Captain Jinks, Ethel gave sterling performances in many top-rate productions and it was in Thomas Raceward's Sunday that she uttered what would be her most famous line, "That's all there is, there isn't any more." [9]

She portrayed Nora in A Doll's House by Ibsen (1905), and Juliet in Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare (1922).

Actors' Equity strike

Barrymore, along with friend Marie Dressler, was a strong supporter of the Actors' Equity Association and had a high-profile role in the 1919 strike. AEA came into being primarily to allow performers to have a bigger share in the profits of stage productions and to provide benefit to elderly or infirm actors. Barrymore's involvement in AEA may have been motivated by the fate of both of her parents, both long standing actors, her mother who had needed proper medical care and her father who required years of institutionalized care. Her support for the strike angered many producers and cost Barrymore her friendship with George M. Cohan, an actor, songwriter and producer. [10]


Time cover, 10 Nov 1924 TIMEMagazine10Nov1924.jpg
Time cover, 10 Nov 1924

In 1926, she scored one of her greatest successes as the sophisticated spouse of a philandering husband in W. Somerset Maugham's comedy, The Constant Wife (Maugham counted himself among her admirers, saying that during rehearsals for the play he had "fallen madly in love with her.") [11] She starred in Rasputin and the Empress (1932), playing the czarina married to Czar Nicholas. In July 1934, she starred in the play Laura Garnett, by Leslie and Sewell Stokes, at Dobbs Ferry, New York.

After she became a stage star, she would often dismiss adoring audiences who kept demanding curtain calls by saying "That's all there is—there isn't any more!" This became a popular catch phrase in the 1920s and 1930s. Many references to it can be found in the media of the period, including the Laurel and Hardy 1933 film Sons of the Desert , and Arthur Train's 1930 Wall Street Crash novel Paper Profits. It is sometimes recalled on modern day radio stations annually every August 15 when Ethel's birthday is mentioned.

Barrymore was a baseball and boxing fan. Her admiration for boxing ended when she witnessed the brutality of the July 4, 1919, Dempsey/Willard fight in which Dempsey broke Willard's jaw and knocked out several of his teeth. Ethel vowed never to attend another boxing match, though she would later watch boxing on television.

In 1928, the Shuberts opened the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, which operates under that name to the present day.

Film and broadcasting career

Barrymore, c. 1908 Ethel Barrymore LOC.jpg
Barrymore, c. 1908


Barrymore appeared in her first feature motion picture, The Nightingale, in 1914. Members of her family were already in pictures; uncle Sidney Drew, his wife Gladys Rankin, and Lionel had entered films in 1911 and John made his first feature in 1913 after having debuted in Lubin short films in 1912. She made 15 silent pictures between 1914 and 1919, most of them for the Metro Pictures studio. Most of these pictures were made on the East Coast, as her Broadway career and children came first. A few of her silent films have survived: for example, one reel from The Awakening of Helena Richie (1916) which survives at the Library of Congress, and The Call of Her People (1917) held at the George Eastman House. [12] [13]

The only two films that featured all three siblings—Ethel, John, and Lionel—were National Red Cross Pageant (1917) and Rasputin and the Empress (1932). The former film is now considered a lost film.

Barrymore won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in the film None but the Lonely Heart (1944) opposite Cary Grant, but made plain that she was not overly impressed by it.

She appeared in The Spiral Staircase (1946) directed by Robert Siodmak, The Paradine Case (1947) directed by Alfred Hitchcock, in which she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for both as well for the 1949 film Pinky . She played the repressed wife of Charles Laughton's character. Another important role of hers was in Portrait of Jennie (1948), and "The Red Danube" (1949), among others. Her last film appearance was in Johnny Trouble (1957).


Barrymore starred in Miss Hattie, described as "a short-lived situation comedy," on ABC in 1944–1945. [14] In one episode, Barrymore's character was "asked by Rob Thompson to direct a play which the workers of his war plant are presenting in order to raise money for war bonds." [15] Barrymore starred, along with Gene Kelly, in the 01/06/1949 episode of Suspense, entitled "To Find Help".


Barrymore also made a number of television appearances in the 1950s, including one memorable encounter with comedian Jimmy Durante on NBC's All Star Revue on December 1, 1951, which is preserved on a kinescope. In 1956, she hosted 14 episodes of the TV series Ethel Barrymore Theatre , produced by the DuMont Television Network and presented on the DuMont flagship station WABD just as the network was folding. Unfortunately none of the episodes were preserved on kinescope. A 1952 appearance on What's My Line? survives, however, in addition to several radio broadcasts.

In the romantic time travel film Somewhere in Time (1980), a photo of Barrymore wearing nun's habit from her 1928 play The Kingdom of God can be seen. Christopher Reeve plays a journalist rummaging through old theater albums at a large Michigan hotel. He uncovers the photos of Barrymore in the play and childhood photos of actresses Blanche Ring and Rose Stahl.

Private life

Barrymore with her husband Russell Griswold Colt and their three children, c. 1914. Ethel Barrymore family 1914.jpg
Barrymore with her husband Russell Griswold Colt and their three children, c. 1914.
Portrait by Carl Van Vechten, 1937 Ethel Barrymore.jpg
Portrait by Carl Van Vechten, 1937

Winston Churchill was among Barrymore's many new friends in England. Churchill reportedly proposed to her in 1900; [16] Barrymore mentions no such thing in her autobiography, though she includes a photograph of herself and Churchill on the lawn at Blenheim Palace in 1899. While touring in England at age 19, she had been rumored to be engaged to the Duke of Manchester, actor Gerald du Maurier, writer Richard Harding Davis and Churchill. [17] Upon her engagement to Laurence Irving, son of Sir Henry Irving, an old friend of Mrs. John Drew, she cabled her father Maurice, who responded with a cable "Congratulations!" When she broke up with Irving, she cabled Maurice who wired back, "Congratulations!" [4]

Ethel Barrymore married Russell Griswold Colt (1882–1960) on March 14, 1909. The couple had been introduced, according to Barrymore's autobiography, when Colt had strolled by the table where she was having lunch with her uncle, actor John (Uncle Jack) Drew, in Sherry's Restaurant in New York. [18] A New York Times article of 1911, when Barrymore first took preliminary divorce measures against Colt, states that Colt had been introduced to Barrymore by her brother John Barrymore some years before while Colt was still a student at Yale. [19]

The couple had three children: Samuel "Sammy" Colt (1909–1986), a Hollywood agent and occasional actor; actress-singer Ethel Barrymore Colt (1912–1977), who appeared on Broadway in Stephen Sondheim's Follies ; and John Drew Colt (1913–1975), who became an actor.

Barrymore's marriage to Colt was precarious from the start, with Barrymore filing divorce papers as early in the marriage as 1911, much to Colt's surprise, and later recanted by Barrymore as a misunderstanding by the press. At least one source alleged Colt abused her and that he fathered a child with another woman while married to Barrymore. They divorced in 1923. Barrymore did not seek alimony from Colt for herself, but she demanded that his entailed wealth provide for their children.[ citation needed ] A devout Catholic,[ citation needed ] Ethel Barrymore never remarried.


Barrymore's crypt at Calvary Cemetery Ethel Barrymore Grave.JPG
Barrymore's crypt at Calvary Cemetery

Ethel Barrymore died of cardiovascular disease on June 18, 1959, at her home in Hollywood, after having lived for many years with a heart condition. She was less than two months shy of her 80th birthday. She was entombed at Calvary Cemetery. The Ethel Barrymore Theatre in New York City is named for her. [20]


In 1960, Barrymore was posthumously inducted into the Hollywood Walk of Fame with a motion pictures star for her contributions to the film industry. Her star is located at 7001 Hollywood Boulevard. [21] Barrymore was a member of the American Theater Hall of Fame, along with her brothers, John and Lionel. [22]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Lionel Barrymore</span> American actor, director, screenwriter (1878–1954)

Lionel Barrymore 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 best known to modern audiences for the role of villainous Mr. Potter in Frank Capra's 1946 film It's a Wonderful Life.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">John Barrymore</span> American actor (1882–1942)

John 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".

The Barrymore family is an American acting family.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Maude Adams</span> American actress (1872–1953)

Maude Ewing Adams Kiskadden, known professionally as Maude Adams, was an American actress who achieved her greatest success as the character Peter Pan, first playing the role in the 1905 Broadway production of Peter Pan; or, The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up. Adams's personality appealed to a large audience and helped her become the most successful and highest-paid performer of her day, with a yearly income of more than one million dollars during her peak.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">John Drew Jr.</span> 19th/20th-century American actor

John Drew Jr., commonly known as John Drew during his life, was an American stage actor noted for his roles in Shakespearean comedy, society drama, and light comedies. He was the eldest son of John Drew Sr., who had given up a blossoming career in whaling for acting, and Louisa Lane Drew, and the brother of Louisa Drew, Georgiana Drew, and Sidney Drew. As such, he was also the uncle of John, Ethel, and Lionel Barrymore, and also great-great-uncle to Drew Barrymore. He was considered to be the leading matinee idol of his day, but unlike most matinee idols Drew's acting ability was largely undisputed.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Dolores Costello</span> American actress (1903–1979)

Dolores Costello 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" by her first husband, the actor John Barrymore. She was the mother of John Drew Barrymore.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Elsie Ferguson</span> American actress

Elsie Louise Ferguson was an American stage and film actress.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Maurice Barrymore</span> British stage actor (1849–1905)

Herbert Arthur Chamberlayne Blythe, known professionally by his stage name Maurice Barrymore, was an Indian-born British stage actor. He is the patriarch of the Barrymore acting family, father of John, Lionel and Ethel, and great-grandfather of actress Drew.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Louisa Lane Drew</span> American actress (1820-1897)

Louisa Lane Drew was an English-born American actress and theatre owner and an ancestor of the Barrymore acting family. Professionally she was often known as Mrs. John Drew.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Georgiana Drew</span> American actress (1856–1893)

Georgiana Emma Drew, a.k.a.Georgie Drew Barrymore, was an American stage actress and comedian and a member of the Barrymore acting family.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mary Nash (actress)</span> American actress (1884–1976)

Mary Nash was an American actress.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Irene Fenwick</span> American actress (1887–1936)

Irene Fenwick was an American stage and silent film actress. She was married to Lionel Barrymore from 1923 until her death in 1936. Fenwick has several surviving feature films from her productions for the Kleine-Edison Feature Film Service, which also has numerous surviving shorts in the Library of Congress.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Henrietta Crosman</span> American actress (1861–1944)

Henrietta Foster Crosman was an American stage and film actress.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Martha Hedman</span> American dramatist

Martha Hedman was a Swedish-American stage actress popular on the Broadway stage.

<i>The Nightingale</i> (1914 film) 1914 American film

The Nightingale is a 1914 American silent drama film directed and written by Augustus Thomas and released by Alco Film Corporation. It is the motion picture debut of Ethel Barrymore in a story written especially for her by Thomas. Thomas, famed as a Broadway playwright, was the best friend of Barrymore's father Maurice and had known the actress since she was a child. As with many of Barrymore's films to come, the advertising for this film says the film is told in 'acts' as with a stage play, an effort to remind the audience of the star's status and preference for the legitimate stage. This film is long thought to be lost.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Louise Drew</span> American actress

Louise Drew was an American stage actress.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Hattie Williams</span> American actress

Hattie Williams was an American stage actress, comedian and vocalist from Boston. She was a popular player in vaudeville and with Charles Frohman's theatrical company at the turn of the twentieth century and appeared often at his famous Empire Theatre, New York.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ethel Barrymore on stage, screen and radio</span>

Ethel Barrymore was an American actress of stage, screen and radio. She came from a family of actors; she was the middle child of Maurice Barrymore and Georgie Drew Barrymore, and had two brothers, Lionel and John. Reluctant to pursue her parents' career, the loss of financial support following the death of Louisa Lane Drew, caused Barrymore to give up her dream of becoming a concert pianist and instead earn a living on the stage. Barrymore's first Broadway role, alongside her uncle John Drew, Jr., was in The Imprudent Young Couple (1895). She soon found success, particularly after an invitation from William Gillette to appear on stage in his 1897 London production of Secret Service. Barrymore was soon popular with English society, and she had a number of romantic suitors, including Laurence Irving, the dramatist. His father, Henry Irving, cast her in The Bells (1897) and Peter the Great (1898).

<i>Lady Frederick</i>

Lady Frederick is a comedy by the British writer W. Somerset Maugham, written early in his career. The play was first seen in London in 1907, and was very successful, running for 422 performances. The title role was played by Ethel Irving. In New York it was first performed in 1908, with Lady Frederick played by Ethel Barrymore, who reprised her role in the play's film adaptation, The Divorcee.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">May Davenport Seymour</span> American actress

May Davenport Seymour Eckert (1883–1967) was an American stage actress descended from a long line of famous actors and later a patron of the arts scene in New York. She was the daughter of actor and stage manager William Gorman Seymour and actress May Marian Caroline Davenport. She had three siblings. Her maternal grandparents were E. L. Davenport and Fanny Vining Davenport, two famous mid-19th century actors. Her mother May Marian was a sister of famous 19th-century star Fanny Davenport and Hollywood actor Harry Davenport. May Eckert married William Stanley Eckert in 1908; one of their children was actress Anne Seymour who usually dropped her surname professionally.


  1. Obituary Variety , June 24, 1959.
  2. "Theatre | Alexander Street, a ProQuest Company".
  3. Famous Actors and Actresses On The American Stage Vol.1 A-J by William C. Young c. 1975 (Ethel Barrymore entry pages56-60)
  4. 1 2 House of Barrymore, The by Margot Peters c.1990] Retrieved April 6, 2016
  5. Memories, Barrymore, Ethel c.1955] Retrieved April 6, 2016
  6. "Ethel Barrymore|", Internet Broadway Database, January 20, 2016
  7. Frohman, Daniel, & Isaac F. Marcosson, "The Life of Charles Frohman," Cosmopolitan, Volume 61, 1916, p. 370.
  8. "Hardcover Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines with a likeness of Ethel Barrymore".
  9. Peters, Margot, The House of Barrymore (Simon & Schuster, 1991), pp. 95, 97; Barrymore, Ethel, Memories, An Autobiography (Harper, 1955), p. 148.
  10. The House of Barrymore; Peters, Margo c.1990
  11. Raphael, Frederic (1976). W. Somerset Maugham and his world . London: Thames & Hudson. p.  62. ISBN   0-684-14839-0.
  12. Catalog of Holdings, The American Film Institute Collection and the United Artists Collection at The Library of Congress, page 10 published by The American Film Institute c. 1978; for The Awakening of Helena Ritchie (1916)
  13. The Call of Her People.
  14. Sies, Luther F. (2014). Encyclopedia of American Radio, 1920-1960, 2nd Edition, Volume 1. McFarland & Company, Inc. ISBN   978-0-7864-5149-4. P. 56.
  15. "WHMA". The Anniston Sun. February 11, 1945. p. 6. Retrieved April 16, 2015 via Open Access logo PLoS transparent.svg
  16. Wenden, D.J. (1993). "Churchill, Radio, and Cinema". In Blake, Robert B.; Louis, William Roger (eds.). Churchill. Oxford: Clarendon Press. p. 236. ISBN   0-19-820626-7.
  17. Great Stars of the American Stage by Daniel Blum c.1952 Profile #56
  18. Memories: An Autobiography by Ethel Barrymore. (Harper and Brothers, 1955, page 162.)
  19. "Ethel Barrymore to Sue for Divorce". The New York Times. July 8, 1911.
  20. "Ethel Barrymore Is Dead at 79; One of Stage's 'Royal Family'". The New York Times, June 19, 1959.
  21. "Hollywood Walk of Fame - Ethel Barrymore". Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. Retrieved November 14, 2017.
  22. "Theater Hall of Fame members" . Retrieved June 2, 2020.