Friday, July 29, 2016

Updates, etc

I've enjoyed the research for this blog, but it must needs wind down some--I'll be off next week to a conference in Puerto Rico (yes, I'm really going to a conference--with my boss!), leaving my poor Bear home with the cats and dogs.  I've added quite a few things, including a page on LB's stage performances (starting with The Jest and Macbeth), some radio moments (including John and Lionel speaking about their sister and John's Streamlined Shakespeare Macbeth and many more LB moments), and of course images, images, images!

I'm hoping to find more of LB's films to watch, with an eye to reviewing them for the blog. I'm learning so much and there's so much more to learn. Hopefully this will be enjoyable for fans of Mr. B--it's fun for me, though it's had its bittersweet moments.

I'll be sporadically online next week, but carry with me a USB drive of Mr. B's films that I may keep amused in between meetings!  Really! Have a great day/weekend!

Here are some of my favorite recent finds: 

Biograph Bulletin of this 1912 film, LB at center

With second wife Irene Fenwick, 1933
My favorite picture of the Brothers Barrymore

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Mary, Ethel...Mary? Ethel II and Mary Barrymore's tragically short lives

Because it has been bugging me and many other biographer/fans of Lionel Barrymore, a man who loved kids but had no surviving children of his own, I dug a little more for information on the (at least 2) daughters he had with Doris Rankin, to whom he was married from 1904-1923.

It appears there was a child born in Paris to them, named Mary, who seemingly was born and died in 1906, the first year they were in Paris. Peters mentions the survey by Daniel Blum LB answered in "the 1950s", in which he said he and Doris had two daughters, neither of whom survived infancy. In the same bio, she says John, Lionel's nephew (I presume she means John Jr) said a daughter died in the flu epidemic of 1917-18.  With that, I set forth and starting digging--and oh, what a dig.

It is clear Ethel Barrymore II was indeed born, in Paris, in 1908 and died in 1910 in New York.  She was with Lionel and Doris when they arrived in New York August of 1909, and was about a year old, according to news accounts. I have gathered from the PHENOMENAL site various New York newspaper accounts of this period, including several which mention Ethel II's death.

What I find perhaps most sad in this is that scarcely three or so weeks later, Doris Rankin, her father McKee Rankin, and her husband Lionel Barrymore were once more performing on stage at the Alhambra theater on April 19th, 1910, as noted in the NY Evening Post of that day.

On Mary Barrymore, born in the US, I was able to find out the following:
Mary Barrymore, aged one and a half
years, the infant daughter of Mr. and
Mrs.Lionel Barrymore and niece of Ethel
Barrymore, died at the family residence
in Garden City, Long Island, Monday
from pneumonia. The child had been ill
five days prior to her death. 
(excerpted from  The New York Clipper, March 21, 1917, page six, Vaudeville section,

Mary Barrymore, daughter of Mr.
and Mrs. Lionel Barrymore, died
Monday from pneumonia at the age
of two years. Interment was made
at Philadelphia. 
(excerpted from the Hempstead Sentinel, Tuesday, March 22, 1917, 


Monday, July 25, 2016

1.1 years down, 42 more to go! 1911-12 films done

I am fairly gleeful about announcing I've finished a detailed (well, I will still add more detail later) filmography for Lionel Barrymore's first two years of film work, 1911-12. It was not really overly hard,  but there were some challenges in terms of stills and casts. I left out The Miser's Heart for reasons I explain, offering some evidence for my choice. I'm quite proud to have dug up screengrabs from LBs first film,  The Battle, and to have found images with him for most of the films.

I'm not as familiar with film archives as others are, so there may be a way to see some of the films I haven't that aren't lost.  I'd quite like to see The God Within, which apparently exists,  and the one in which LB gets to play the hero as a tramp and rescue a doctor.

I'm quite impressed with the range of parts he had,  from full out lead to "man at table". His early work already demonstrates a naturalism and comfort with the new technology,  even if at times he acts a trifle "stagy". Friends, The New York Hat, and The Burglar's Dilemma show him managing the parts and blocking/movement well--he was a big guy in comparison with most of his costars, but his mild preacher helping tiny Mary Pickford in NYHat contrasts beautifully with his somewhat hulking, shy Fallon in Friends, while his older, confident  brother in TBD moves between the two. In 1913, an epically prolific year for him, he would increase his skills in front of the camera and start directing (Her Secret) and writing more short films.

In addition,  I saw an LB film I hadn't,  So Near Yet So Far, where he is in a club scene,  tuxedoed! My checklist of LB films I've seen is getting filled in nicely. I look forward to new discoveries (as well as frustrations!) in 1913.
1911-12 Films of Lionel Barrymore

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Weekend Wheelchair Musings

Astute readers probably noted I mentioned I have a blog on MS. That's because I have relapsing-remitting MS, Dxed 2009. I'm probably one of the lucky ones.  Now that I think about it, in a roundabout way it led me to Lionel Barrymore's acting, so I'm quite lucky! [Note: his brother John is indirectly responsible for my grad degree...more on that later!]

In reading about LB and his chair, what I found interesting is the Kildare/Gillespie films were done so well (Bucquet directing very nicely many) the wheelchair became almost irrelevant to the plot. Now and then, we are reminded of the good Dr. Gillespie's need for it, but the doc himself is never an object of pity. We learn very quickly there's nothing to pity about Dr. G!

There are the typical "hero" disabled person moments spoken by others, as when an aside is used to "prepare" people who are about to meet Dr. G for the first time,  along the lines of "he's brilliant, but his legs are hopelessly crippled". They become fewer as the films continue.  I've seen that used in just about every film with someone in a wheelchair who has a major part.  Now,  I can see the need to establish the background story quickly,  but seemingly,  given the popularity of the films, LB was the attraction,  and the fact he was acting circles around people while IN a wheelchair meant his skill "normalized" for viewers a person in a wheelchair.

 I'm not claiming he did this all on his own, or that he even meant it to happen. He does note he's a good "jockey" in his chair and doesn't mind answering or forwarding to his chair manufacturer letters from the public about it.  Others, including Ronald Reagan,  noted the already skilled scene-stealer would use his "chromium contraption"* to great use in dominating a scene--even smacking into people's shins with the wheels. LB is absolutely masterful in the films in the way he moves his chair to emulate what he'd likely be doing on two feet. It's really astonishing.

I think without Barrymore's incredible talent, a shift in the audience's acceptance of a character (based on film gross, at least) in a wheelchair would not have happened at that time. How many actors in wheelchairs who really need them can you think of? He led the way, willingly or not, to better roles and social acceptance of wheelchair users--significant, I think, as the Second World War was going to start in 1939.  Too many people came back with orthopedic disabilities--but while they were gone fighting, one actor was rolling through an enormous number of popular films, getting audiences to ignore the chair and focus on the person. That's impressive. I think the financial success of the films also testifies to the acceptance of Dr. Gillespie and he seemed to walk-off, if you will, with just about every Kildare film. Dr. G was only ever stopped by his own exhaustion.  That I can also appreciate,  being a cantankerous,  stubborn type myself.

Intriguingly,  LB really disliked being photographed using his crutches to get around. I've only seen one pic of him using crutches outside a film. I'll likely not post it,  but I found that reluctance interesting.  When I have to use crutches or, very occasionally my wheelchair, I brace for questions and that stupid, inane "poor thing" voice. So I developed a response that, while I have yet to use it,  I think will halt any probing. When asked "what happened?" (recall my MS comes & goes, sometimes day by day), I want to reply "they never took the bullet out of my spine".  Ha!

There's a lot to ponder on this, and I still need to finish coding the Kildare/Gillespie films! I'm not only intrigued,  psyched, even inspired,  but also in awe of Lionel Barrymore for his persistence.  Seriously.  Chronic illness as he seemed to have had is a pain in the ass, a huge no-no in our world today too unless you "rise above!" it and are a "supercrip", to use a phrase used in disabled folks' writing sometimes as shorthand for "the person who lost legs/lost half a brain, etc, but rises above all and competes in the Olympics."  The most recent of that type apparently killed his girlfriend in South Africa. Yes, there's an occasional dark side to my bloggish humor.

Do I think LB would mind the bleak humor? Not at all! I'm looking forward to exploring this much more,  too. Meanwhile...thank you, Mr B.
The grand old man, Key Largo, 1948. LB's disability is used to effect in the film.
* "chromium contraption" was what LB called his chair in a neat postscript in the first Ayres/Barrymore film, Young Dr Kildare.  He and Lew Ayres appear at the end of the film as themselves. Funny bit, too.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The loneliness of the long-suffering researcher..ain't that bad!

I'm kidding, really, I got a true geek high out of finding some info on LB's family in Paris via a painting/painter. Of course, what happens when something like that happens to me is I get overly-obsessive and keep looking and looking.. and then it's midnight and I'm not home.

I tend to get quite fixated on certain types of long-term research, as this is and will be, but I also enjoy doing little research projects, like finding sources. I find that my head craves mental input almost all the time, which makes it difficult to get to sleep. But let's look at a few things one finds when one obsesses:

1918, The Copperhead (stage)
This pic I dug out of a NYT article, which in itself was pretty interesting and is linked on the right under Articles on LB.  Quality of pics like these are not the best, but this one was exceptional for an old scan. I adore LB in the 1920 Copperhead film. It's really very, very nice work!

On set of Duel in the Sun
I love a man or woman or person who loves cats. I find it odd when people do not. Mr. B was quite the lover of cats, having more than a few at his home in Chatsworth, CA. This pic above of course isn't from the film, but in one of the Kildare films, there's a random shot of a kitten lapping up milk as LB's Dr. Gillespie exits a scene--he stops, smiles at the kitten, and then the film goes on. Odd moment! Here it is, from Dr. Gillespie's Criminal Case:

About halfway thru the film, this happens...
That's a genuine smile of delight!

I adore watching these weird little moments when it comes to Lionel Barrymore's acting. Sometimes it's the director, sometimes you realize how much people must have missed in his films if they could only watch them once.  He has a few idiosyncratic motions he does, as did his brother, and many are with his hands. Early, he had a tendency to run his hands through his hair, which he seems to not utilize as must after the early 1930s. He did have longer and floppier hair than John Barrymore did, though, as he got older--slicked-back hair was in, not the neat trim you see him with in the 1920s films like Sadie Thompson.

Now that we can not only rewatch films but pause, rewind, fast forward, take screengrabs--there's so much to be noticed about films, especially silent ones, I think. I became way more enchanted by Lionel's work than John's after watching a few films like Mysterious Island, Sadie Thompson, even The New York Hat. Not that JB doesn't have some very nice small moments, as he does in A Bill of Divorcement and Grand Hotel. Both have amazing body mastery and vocal skills. But their sister once mentioned that if Lionel had to play a dwarf, he'd make you believe he was one.  That seems to be really true, even of his "gruff old man" parts.

So even though obsession can lead one to losing sleep, the benefits are often an explosion of good brain vibes and an enthusiasm that, oddly you might find one or two people share. And even if they didn't..I could always share with one of my cats. They don't mind:)
Casy, Benni, and Bjorn, cuddle-puddle

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

FASCINATING find on LB daughter/life in Paris!

After some searching in all kinds of esoteric ways, I was able to find a NYT image of Ernest Blumenschein's portrait of Lionel Barrymore's family circa 1909 in Paris! Lionel is tending toward the "aldermanesque girth" sister Ethel remarked him having when she saw him either just after or in Paris.

I have not been able to find a picture of the painting itself yet, but as it was shown at the Art Institute of Chicago as well, I may be able to. This was being shown at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in the Jan-Mar 1909 exhibition. Note the info below on Blumenschein's relationship with LB:

According to this excerpt, Mary was the firstborn, while Ethel was the second. But according to the NYTimes, August 30, 1908 (and it would make sense given Ethel Barrymore was subsidizing their Paris life while Lionel studied art), Ethel would have been the child unless she died very, very early after being born (some accounts indicate one of the girls only lived a few months):

If one of his daughters died while both Blumenschein and Barrymore were studying in Paris, it would have been between 1907/8 and about late 1910.  If so, it was likely Ethel II who was represented in the above portrait.  For some reason, this portrait was also chosen for satirizing by "the Fakirs", which you can see in the NYT of 17 Apr 1910.

Generally little is still known about the daughters of Doris and Lionel. I will keep plugging away.

Barrymore remained on friendly terms with Blumenschein after they both left Paris: I found this letter on the Smithsonian Institution's page for the painter:

The letter referenced in the google book sample may well reside at the University of Iowa, as Ellis Parker Butler was an Iowa native. The library has a goodly collection of his letters, including some from Blumenschein.

On fellowships of the silent/classic film ring

I'm hardly into this blog for a week,  and I was initially a little hesitant to share it. However, one person on a FB page asked for the link,  then another,  so I gave in and shared the blog with that page of kind and generous folk.

This particular page on FB, Silent Films Today, has been a great boon to me in a season of physical owies and setbacks, as well as work overload. The knowledge of people there is incredible,  as is their generosity answering questions and giving help and hints to those hunting their favorite stars of the silent age. I've Barrymore-bombed the page from day one (sometimes shamelessly,  other times sheepishly), joining a little before LB's birthday of April 28.

There seems to be a sizable community of silents fans online,  several with outstanding pages of great depth and information.  Some other pages are less helpful in terms of organization,  but I was surprised by how popular these films are!  I seem to be a little young on many pages as a fan, but I've been sharing images and links to the films and hope "this younger generation" recognizes their value.

I mention relative "youngness" because something I want to avoid is any sense of superiority or condescension on this page.  I've felt that a few times on some sites from posters there.  Some recognize I've some skills derived from education,  but I'm not a title-dropper. No need to unless someone mistakes me for a fool or idiot, and even then I prefer my facial expressions and/or words to work for me.  A little of that is from my career in ed as prof and administrator. But of course,  on the Web,  no one can see you scowl unless you live stream. :)

However,  I've a huge practical streak of competence as well, so it's a balanced approach to research/posting! I appreciate what I've observed and learned from silent film pages and am very happy I discovered this "fellowship"!  I hope some stroll with me on this trip--elevenses (with martinis), anyone??

Jean Harlow & Lionel Barrymore in The Girl from Missouri

Monday, July 18, 2016

A Little Lionel Love...

A quick and dirty slideshow of some favorite Lionel Barrymore pics. I hope to update it occasionally, but really, the filmography will be taking up a lot of time !:) Click on the link to browse (must be a flickr member--it's free!)
 Lionel Barrymore


Because clearly I am not only a little ADHD from way before the term existed but also an exhaustive and committed researcher, I thought I would finally begin to document on line the work I've been doing on Lionel Barrymore, oldest of the "Royal Family" of Broadway and Hollywood, actor, director, writer, composer, artist, and all around reticent guy.
Lionel Barrymore, 1913--not looking VERY reticent

I began this trip in part because I wanted to look at his performance as Dr. Leonard B. Gillespie in the "Dr. Kildare" series of films begun in 1938, when he was beginning to appear in films in his wheelchair. From 1938 onward, Barrymore was rarely seen in a film in anything else but his wheelchair, with the occasional use of crutches now and then. I have a personal interest in disability studies myself, and noticing John Barrymore's brother used a wheelchair in films...and that he did this for over a dozen me intrigued.

Having embarked on the research by determining how to best "code" the Kildare/Gillespie films for usable academic content for an article on how the films' success may have helped change public attitudes about people in wheelchairs, then by getting all the films, I set out to watch them and code. I discovered much more than I expected, so of course, I began researching Lionel Barrymore--a LOT.

So, here we are: another blog so my blog on multiple sclerosis doesn't get bogged down with Barrymorish thoughts, regardless of how much people might like to be reminded being in a wheelchair does not mean the end, destruction, woe, etc., etc. I know when I have had to use wheelchairs (thanks to puckish and missing brain synapses in my motor cortex area), it has been an exercise in realizing how depressingly similar human reactions are to the disabled. The cane I used for two years was bad enough!

In this blog you will find not only my own musings, but some pretty well-researched information on all Lionel Barrymore's films, derived from online and other sources, and sometimes verified by my own viewing of his films. Neither AFI nor Wikipedia has a perfect filmography, but I've tried to correct some of the more egregious errors on Wiki. There is a page, right-side menu, of his filmography as best I can determine right now.  I will also add a very brief bio, as not only was Mr. Barrymore reticent with information, he had no problem changing facts or dates for whatever reason. His own "autobiography", We Barrymores, written with Cameron Shipp and a student/stenographer via long conversations, is only middling to fairly faithful to known facts--he gives April 12, 1878 for his birthdate, for example, when his birth certificate and WWI draft card indicate:
Lionel Barrymore's draft card; note birthdate given

Verifying Barrymore-biography for all three of the Royal Family--Lionel, Ethel, or John--is always something slippery and potentially hazardous to a researcher's health. While all three wrote biographies of a kind (John "wrote" 2), all three were private, regardless of media mania. On the other hand, things like verifying film roles is enjoyable because it means I've watched more Barrymore Brother films than almost anyone I know. That's a good thing, right?

Things I plan on developing as I go along: a filmography with at least one photo of each film; a "check-off" list for my few readers to follow along when I see a Lionel Barrymore film I had not seen before; some academic musings on LB's importance to disability imaging in WWII era-America; links to media such as mp3s of Barrymore's compositions and radio work; and hopefully some revelatory moments, of which there could be a few or none at all, if I don't get moving.

Please bear with me as I work out the kinks and links! I'm blogging as fast as I can...
My LB tattoo, from original through process to completed tat. Thx Matt at Dandyland, San Antonio!