Thursday, September 29, 2016

1913 is DONE! And Mr. B's widely varying looks

FINALLY! So I have my doubts about one or two films in which Mr. B is supposed to have a role, and I added Pa Says to the list based on external research. But 1913 and its 40+ films is done! I was able to get at least a poorly scanned image of the majority, even of the most obscure.  My favorites? Let's see...

The Wanderer (wish the whole thing was available online!)
Death's Marathon (absolutely brilliant Henry B. Walthall!)
The Switchtower (an amusing and very well-directed story, well-preserved--many LB tics and habits on display here, and a lot of physicality)
The Strong Man's Burden (I want this with English titles! But a great melodrama--some very nice small acting from LB and Harry Carey)

Now, all of these are extant. A great number of the 1913 films are not or are only in archives. I still need to go back for my own purposes and mark the extant ones (I think I noted all of them one way or the other.)

Mr. B appears in a wide range of roles and widely divergent looks:

Telephone Girl & The Lady, earliest 1913 extant LB film. (Jan 6) Dark hair, smoking, a cop again!

The Wanderer (before the Switchtower and Strong Man's Burden--his weight seemed to fluctuate over 1913. Lots of black floppy hair in 1913)

The Work Habit (near the end of 1913)

He apparently ALWAYS mussed his own hair, film and in life!
Above 6 from The Switchtower--Lionel's long fingers, Jack would have envied! Mid 1913

From The Strong Man's Burden, filmed after The Switchtower--LB looks much bigger here (Sept 1913)

Really, he's all over the place. In this year we also see the rise of performer names in film reviews and ads--many things changed after 1913 in American film. Next up will be Mr. B's (blessedly!) dozen plus films of 1914! Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016


Over on the already lengthy right side of the blog, you'll notice a new page! FILM REVIEWS will cover pretty much anything I can find and particularly those films of LB's that are not as well known. First up, for example, The Burglar's Dilemma, a 1912 short written by Barrymore, with an awful lot happening and some very fine acting overall.  Give it a look-see!

Monday, September 19, 2016

Even more from the archaic files: Ethel and Lionel, early portraits

I'm back after happily spending time in the archives at the Ransom Center in Austin, TX--ironically, I discovered two fascinating items when I got back!

Cecil Clark Davis was a turn of the 20th century British painter who was relatively famous for portaits she did of high-profile people--including Lionel and Ethel Barrymore! Ethel, it seems, was friends with the Davis family as far back as the 1890s, and Davis did her portrait in 1896:

Lionel's, above, was done in 1919, when he was at a particularly thin weight. Here's a photo from about the same period:
As Milt Shanks in The Copperhead (stage), 1920
I'm not quite sure the portrait looks much like him, while the one of his sister looks pretty close to some images I've seen of her at that time.  I'm intrigued by the portrait of him because it shows something I've long thought--that he was a remarkably difficult person to capture in an image or two looking the same way--sometimes he almost looks like a different person:

Friends, 1912

Enemies of Women, 1923
c. 1920
The Burglar's Dilemma, 1913
c. 1917 portrait
Unseeing Eyes, 1923
Poor portrait caricature of LB, 1990s mural
There are some attributes which make it easier to determine who you are looking at, such as his dimples and often his eyes, but interestingly, it's when you see his movements that you begin to realize "ah! THAT'S Lionel Barrymore!" It has certainly served me when I've watched silents and he's wearing beards--watching his movements, especially his hands, is a good clue to which fuzzy-appearing character he is!

Enjoy the findings! :)

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Reviews forthcoming forthwith!

So as I do more research,  especially getting the filmography in order, I realize I should review some lesser seen films of Lionel Barrymore. Tomorrow I'm off to research again,  and I plan on drafting  a few reviews of LB films I am particularly fond of: initial ideas are to do The Bells, one of the Kildares, and possibly Sadie Thompson or The Show. I'm not sure I have many readers,  but if anyone had a thought of a film they'd like to see reviewed (esp extant silents), drop me a line here!

Because I can rewatch the films now, I hope to be able to describe more in detail the fine,  "small" acting LB is so excellent at--the hands, voice inflections, eyes. There was a perception thanks especially to the Kildare films and MGM's rather greedy overworking of LB in the late 30s and 40s that he was phoning in performances.  While I've seen a few performances where he had nothing to work with,  it's quite rare to see him phone in a performance.  But how hard must it have been to notice the small stuff before rewind and pause!

I'm looking forward to the reviews! Let me know any thoughts!

Friday, September 9, 2016

The brain dead/marriage post

Today I've spent many hours already waiting for the partner-bear's cochlear implant to be complete. It is nerve-wracking, a little boring, and lots exciting. He has had progressive hearing loss for our entire 11 year marriage...kind of a two-disability family! I'm reading my blog, fb, etc etc and pondering age differences. LB was about 24, 25 or older when he married his first wife, Doris Rankin, who was 16. He recalls in his bio thinking bleakly she had no idea what she was getting into marrying him. They must have been profoundly affected by the loss of their children, too. That at least we won't experience in terms of human kids.

I think I knew what I was getting into marrying someone 15 years older than I. The MARRYING/staying married part has been harder!

But we've managed!

Lionel and Doris, 1920, in The Copperhead film

Friday, September 2, 2016

Lionel Barrymore's "anti-celebrity"

So I've been much pondering this here blog and my research, as I come down to the point where at least the Kildare/Gillespie films are done and ready for data mining. I realize not only that I'm a little obsessed with the topic, but that the subject is rather more complex than the relatively scarce information about him indicates. I've blogged before on what it's like to research a private man (well, private as one can be in a public field), and why I respect his desire to keep the private private.  I still hold by that post.

But aside from what I've already talked over, I find myself more and more drawn into the sociocultural phenomenon the Barrymores represent, and the sociocultural impact Lionel Barrymore had on society via his films (here, referring primarily to his 1938 and beyond films, as other concerns about earlier, silent, pre-Code films are a whole 'nother blog!).

Now, we are accustomed in our society in the US to celebrity kind of being brayed about here and there, and there are plenty of internet and print sources to feed this mania, and I think the majority of people find celebrity gossip stuff inane, stupid, but not harmful. It's true celebrity has always in the US had a significant impact on things like fashion, but now we find ourselves looking at celebrities either in anticipation of a public political statement or ready to condemn them for making one.  Lionel Barrymore himself had this to say about celebrity:

 He wrote later for the national show "This I Believe":
First off, I think the world has come a mighty long way toward believing that what a man does to make a living can’t rob him of his integrity as a human being, when it will listen to an actor talk about what he believes. I can remember when nobody believed an actor and didn’t care what he believed. Why, the very fact that he was an actor made almost everything he said open to question, because acting was thought to be a vocation embraced exclusively by scatterbrains, show-offs, wastrels, and scamps. I don’t believe that’s true today and I don’t think it ever was. I don’t think there were ever any more ne’er-do-wells, rogues, poseurs, and villains in the acting profession than in any other line of work. At least I hope that’s the case. If it isn’t, it’s too late to change my mind and much too late to change my profession. (You can read and listen to this here: Lionel Barrymore: This I Believe, 1950's radio essay)

I don't think it's fair for celebrities or athletes or really almost anyone to be castigated for speaking on something JUST because of their profession. There may be exceptions, but I think overall, every American at least knows she or he has a constitutional right to speak, whether they should or not at that moment being the judgment call. It may be an inane or a brilliant statement--such is life!

So LB was at least very aware and, based on interviews and books and whatnot, critical of the "Barrymore Legend" or "Aura" or whatever--heaven forbid someone use the word "mystique"!  He was also very aware of the way his brother John was written about in media during his fast and furious and too-short life.  Most interviewers of Lionel Barrymore either start with his legendary reticence or mention his lack of self-disclosure during the interview itself. He did not seem very interested in himself or what most people thought of him.  He did not seem overly impressed with celebrity, titles, or money, though he certainly valued the latter and spent it freely.  He seemed outwardly grumpy, terse, and short-tempered: all of which help keep the public away!

Co-workers  more often speak of his grumpiness as masking a very soft heart and of course, later in life a great deal of physical discomfort--Lauren Bacall in one of her biographies speaks of sitting next to Barrymore during the making of Key Largo and the crew and her being distressed because they could hear him moaning quietly in pain between shots.  But Margaret O'Brien recalls how quickly he moved over to comfort her when she began crying on a Kildare film set, promising her a doll if she would stop crying--then proceeding later to make her rag dolls between shots on the set, which she cherished.

Those are all fascinating aspects, though tiny ones, of the man himself.  He may not have fully grasped how much value he had to MGM in particular, but the sheer number of his films, even post-wheelchair, tell us he was valued highly and sought after by other studios as well, where MGM could make a great profit by lending him out and reaping money beyond his salary.  He did not seemingly ever benefit from a profit cut of a film, though I have seen some documents that may bring that into question.  Some biographers have posited his excessively busy 1930s were in part due to his second wife, Irene Fenwick, and her interest in Hollywood glamor and parties.  Some believe he just always thought he wasn't making enough money for taxes, life, etc--and all of the Barrymores had a talent for running through money! 
Irene Fenwick and Lionel Barrymore, 1933

I have to admit it's pretty astonishing, that he felt so like he was under imminent threat of the poorhouse or tax liens, and that he felt the need to have MGM parcel out his paychecks carefully-- it all speaks of a man who really didn't want to do more than exactly what he wanted to do, not deal with the minutiae of banking. But it brings me back to celebrity and the need for proper and excellent management of celebrity; society builds them up, and freakishly it seems like we take perverse pleasure in bringing them down. John Barrymore proved a frightening and sadly comical example of that, flaming out in 60 years, while his admirer Errol Flynn flamed out at 50.

Lionel Barrymore lasted much longer, though perhaps near the end of his life he was a little astonished to still be there. He seemingly rarely made a print article in terms of scandal, and there was not as much interest in his "romantic" life when the fan mags and tabloids really went full-out around the 1920s.  His chameleon-like ability to alter his appearance in performances, and his darker, often more "pedestrian" appearance than brother John probably worked against fan mag profiles (not to mention he didn't like giving interviews or talking about himself).  I have read a few letters asserting fan admiration for both his acting and looks, but the variation in roles kept it hard to pin Lionel Barrymore down.  He was an old man, and then a grand old man, before he was out of his 40s, it seems!  Even his role choices suggest his own interest in character acting, stage and screen:

LB as he appears at the beginning of the 1919 play The Copperhead, as Milt Shanks, in his 20s or 30s

The much-aged 75-year old or so Milt Shanks, at the end of the 1919 play. Same actor!

He was interviewed on how people show their age while he was playing Cortelon in The Claw, opposite his first AND second wives, and opined that someone who was a careful observer of people could accomplish a great deal on stage, noting how people who are aged seem to sag, break down, collapse into themselves physically. After the writer told him his makeup choice for the much-aged Cortelon was brilliant in the last act, Barrymore smiled and told her "My makeup was exactly the same as it had been in the first act! You saw those signs [of aging] because you felt they ought to be there. It was for me to make you expect to see them--and you would see them". ("LB Tells How People Show Their Age", Mary Mullatt, The American magazine, Feb 1922)
LB as Cortelon in The Claw, 1922, beginning of the play

...and at the end, with Irene Fenwick. Note the slack jaw and loose muscles.
In 1922, he also appeared like this in films: Boomerang Bill...
...and Jim the Penman. VERY different looks!

Mind-boggling, the man's physical facility!  What he could have taught some actors, this man most unwilling to become one when he started. Perhaps he was speaking rather more deeply than it first seems when he wrote this for "This I Believe":
We don’t make anything up out of whole cloth when we decide the way we want to play a role, anymore than the author, who wrote it, made it up out of thin air. The author has one or two or perhaps a great many more models in mind from which he takes a little here and a little there until he’s built up a new character out of substantial material. Now the actor who must play this part has to dig back into his life and recall one or two or more people who are, in some way, similar to the person the author put on paper...I think this is the way a person must plan his life. Adopting, borrowing, and adapting a little here and a little there from his predecessors and his contemporaries, then adding a few touches until he’s created himself.
Lionel Barrymore certainly created himself uniquely out of many models--and he did it over and over again,without being precious or "method" about it. How does one try to make a "celebrity" as we know them today out of someone so happy to subsume himself in the roles he plays for the public?  I'm not sure I even want to try. And I admire him for it.

Happy Friday and Happy Labor Day, y'all!