Friday, August 26, 2016

The long, hot, end of a summer exploring a secretive life

I hope those who are reading along with me are enjoying the endeavor so far! I've been very excited to research so much Lionel Barrymore, though it has come with a little sadness at some discoveries.  As I read more and more on him, as widely as I can right now, I find myself even more fascinated with the quietly rebellious way he led his life. I appreciate the hesitancy in his rebelliousness--I myself have a streak of perverse rebelliousness which I tamp down because well, I don't want to go to jail!

While reading everything I can on him, by him, about him, I find a consistent streak of frustration in Barrymore biography and biographers. Obviously the Barrymores played their cards close to the proverbial vest, so there are a few things about which we may never be certain when it comes to the three siblings, Lionel, Ethel, and John.  However, because I really do believe in verifying facts and using the best possible sources, it also seems to me that patience and time and, ok, a little money for travel could clear up a few things.

I seem to have cleared up Lionel and Doris' two daughters (whether there was a third requires some French and money I don't have right now) via cross-referencing, etc. I can't clarify all the variety of reasons LB was in a wheelchair (yet!), but careful reading is adding up to things that make sense overall and which guide me to further research.

Perhaps I'm less frustrated by Lionel Barrymore's reticence and secrecy because I appreciate it and value it as a human trait. It has to be very difficult to be so publicly "known" and crave privacy and quiet. In his marriage to Irene Fenwick, which was by every account one of deep devotion on his part, he seems to have been willing to suffer more Hollywood brouhaha than he usually would have out of love for her, per co-workers like George Cukor. Indeed, if one reads deeply on LB and his coworkers, we see he possessed a deep romantic streak about his wives--both of them.

First wife Doris Rankin, whom LB married when she was 16

Second wife Irene Fenwick, to whom LB remained devoted after her 1936 death

It's not fair really to speculate on a long-departed person's romantic life, though I guess it never stops anyone. I say that because there has to be things we all keep to ourselves, and the complicated issues of who gets divorced, who cheated on whom, who left whom... these are very human, emotional, private things. Now add a person who was obsessed with privacy and avoided speaking of himself, his wives, and his children--and you have your really frustrated Barrymore biographer needing to craft filler for scarce facts.

I'm trying to avoid that. There's no way for me to "get into the head" of another person; all I can do is lay out as much info as I can and try to connect dots without getting fanciful. I am quite fascinated by LB's mind and energy for creativity; he might even have been a fun guy to talk with, have a drink with, and perhaps work with--but I can't say I "know" who he was.

Even in the age of Google.

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