Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Major additions: pics, filmography, audio!

I have updated again and provided more info on the 1914 filmography (especially interesting is the Klaw and Erlanger era of Biograph), added a lot more to favorite pics, and posted a few times here. I also found some amazing audio work by Mr B! Much recommended you check them out on the "Audio Bits" page.

I'm working on finishing up the semester and the job is CRAZY busy, but my next goal is to finish the 1914 filmography and then tweak the film list here, as well as do more film reviews. I'm pulled to review Strongheart, Guilty Hands, and/or a Kildare because you know what? Some of them are really good! :)

I'm still taking requests or suggestions for film reviews, though!

And now a few new finds:

Between shots on Body and Soul

Body and Soul, as Dr Leyden. LB's hair is its own character in films! I love it!

I think I'd kill to be able to see Lionel and Jack on stage The Jest!
Had to replace my other San Lio pendant...this is solid SSteel!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Giving thanks and all that: Barrymore edition

Thanksgiving is an odd time in my family--it appears family members have a tendency to die around this time of the year, and while surely it's all coincidence, it's the kind of thing that puts a definite damper on late November. Plus, I think it's a good idea to be grateful for what we have as much as possible.

So in that spirit, for this blog, let me list a few things researching and watching Lionel (and indeed, John) Barrymore have made me thankful for:

1- Lionel's infrequent but brilliant smile.
Most of us know this picture of LB with a brilliant smile:
He's looking at his new bride, Irene Fenwick, on the boat which brought them back to the US from Rome post-marriage. But not too many have seen this, I think:

 Also with Irene, a genuine smile, LB is relaxed and clearly very, very happy.

Lovely; from his first MGM portrait session, 1926.
2- The range of parts I have to enjoy and explore which Mr. B played.
In a little bit of order, they include Stephen Ashe, Billy Saunders, Milt Shanks, Preacher Bolton, Andre Dakkar,  Grizzley Fallon, and Walter Butler: Lawyer, student, farmer/spy, minister, rich inventor, prospector, amoral soldier. Runs the gamut. It's so enjoyable to see so much variety to choose from! And with DVD and e-versions of these films to watch as often as I want? REJOICE!

3- The stories he left behind, some possibly apocryphal, some clearly not.
We Barrymores is not the most reliable of biographies, but it is not only amusing, it can at times really be verified by external sources! Mr. B's tale (well-told) of nearly drowning in his twenties was also recounted in his sister's biography. His stories of familiarity with different wrestling and boxing heroes is attested to by others and photos. And really, it's in the very economy of some of the storytelling (i.e., his very brief account of the dissolution of his first marriage) that I am most gratified by the stories. I appreciate the way he both reveals and hides some things--he will muse on his brother's self-destructiveness or Garbo's apparent aloofness with some great concepts, then ultimately admit he just doesn't know for sure why they were the way they were. Darn good vocabulary too, says the word-nerd.

4- and last, I'm thankful for his absolute determination to keep going, even when he was bitterly disappointed or dismayed with life. I don't think I can overemphasize how much, as I read more about him, reread his bio and other essays, I'm in awe of how someone with so much pain to go through (personal, physical) can hide it well enough for the films he makes not to be mere pity-parties. Consider his life: no complete education, lack of parental guidance, a need to start work early, no interest in the family trade, knowing your father is going mad slowly, struggling to be an artist and discovering it's not going to happen, marrying, watching all your children die before the age of two, "flopping" and then hitting the heights again, watching brother and sister rise well above you then joining them only to then fail yet again and "drop" into films; moving, divorcing, remarrying, overworking, watching your little brother self-destruct, working more, wife slowly dying, then death, shutting yourself off for a long while, requiring a wheelchair, burying your baby brother, and more work, work, work. And all the while, slowly building a talent for music and etching and finding some solace in that very solitary (usually) work.  And you know when I can find the most frequent pictures of him smiling outside of films? After 1940. After the wheelchair, the Kildares, the "grand old man"-ness descended on him. He had nothing to prove, to anyone except, sometimes, himself.

And as for John? I have loved you ever since age 9 or 10, for all your incredibly troubled life--you still fought on to find something you may have lost or never had. Thank you for your brilliance on film. Thank you for being in Hamlet so very very long ago. Because once I discovered Hamlet the play (via Richard Burton's biography), I discovered the actors who'd played Hamlet, and you, and your films and story, and through that Francois Villon, whom I love and who was the subject of my entrance essay for graduate school (which I not only got into but got out of with a Ph.D. in English). Grad school saved my sanity, sir, and unleashed a potential I hadn't known, and you were there in the beginning.  Did you hear about that essay I wrote in the great hereafter, or by the riverside where, someone once wrote, you and your brother were sitting and throwing your riches into the water, and he was not sure which one of you was the more wasteful?

Jack's abandonment of his gifts was described as 'Roman extravaganzas, casting golden plates into the river.' How doubly extravagant is the picture of Jack and Lionel seated together at the river's edge. I would not attempt to say which was the more wasteful.
Arthur Hopkins, 1949, in K-D's bio

Thank you, gentlemen, from someone you won't even get to know until the great hereafter. I'm not sure I buy channeling or mind-melding, but I will say my physical condition is degenerating faster than I thought it would (well hell-O Lionel!). Maybe there's an inkling someone's researching you back on earth. In the sweet bye and bye, I'll be the one trailed by lots of cats and a few dogs, but since both of you were quite fond of animals, you won't mind if they tag along and make themselves comfortable, will you? I think by then I will have been blessed with overcoming my awe of the talent you evidenced and your determination, and I'll be happy to pour the Benedictine because we will have all the time in the world at last for everything. Ultimately, perhaps that is what you both are thankful for right now. Thanks, honestly.

Happy Thanksgiving, my American friends, and happy day to all, everywhere.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Thank you, Mr. B. (Ap 28, 1878- Nov 15, 1954)

On this 62nd (!) anniversary of Lionel Barrymore’s death, I’ve a lot to think about. Yes, a great deal of it isn’t about Mr. B, but a good deal is, for several reasons.*

First, I sincerely admire the man’s acting talent. He was very good, and if people only saw some Kildares or It’s a Wonderful Life or Duel in the Sun, I can’t help them thinking he had “a lot of ham” in him, as he once said. I love being able to watch some films over and over to see how well he managed his roles, from the small physical acting to the vocal control. Even in Rasputin, where the character called for excess, he manages wonderful things with a grin, a nod, a shrug. It’s no wonder his brother John was in awe of him.

Second, I hugely appreciate his determination after he needed to use a wheelchair. I don’t think people fully appreciate what he did by maintaining a good career after 1938, and actually appearing in some exceptional roles, not just fillers. Even in the Kildares, there are some terrific moments of Barrymore showing WHY studios kept borrowing him from MGM.  I appreciate his sense of “well, what am I supposed to do? Stay at home and mope?” even when he would have really liked to paint and etch and mostly, write and share music.  I know the feeling!

There is a bittersweet aspect to his entire life, from his early frustrated ambitions to be a painter to the slow dying of his first marriage (and the loss of three children in infancy) to the injuries he collected compounding with immune system problems (rheumatoid arthritis and the later, more natural osteo-) and the death of his second wife after her own long illness, Christmas Eve 1936.  He, like his siblings, was very private, uninterested in himself as an “artiste”—he took music seriously, he once wrote, not himself. When he was successful on the stage, he was still wary of it and was able to have the breath knocked from him by his failures—but he kept on getting up. Mr. B was capable of great anger and sarcasm, and just as capable of touching emotional bonds with people. He was wickedly funny (ask me one day about the profane, hysterical “Lionel Barrymore Story” I downloaded), stupendously well-read though lacking any kind of diploma—not even high school—and personally and professionally generous. And in some respects I believe he was terrified life would close down on him, via lack of money, disability, or fickle public appeal, and that he would not be able to pursue art or music, the things he found essential to living.

If anything, I think he was unable to really trust that things would go well in his life, perhaps because of the initial 15 or so unstable years of his childhood. He simply was driven in spite of himself to work, and work ridiculously hard for someone who confessed to his “yearning for mañana is only exceeded by the yearning for more mañana”. He had some ecstatically beautiful moments, including apparently all the years of his second marriage, but they were transitory for him and he almost anticipated that, perhaps both optimist and pessimist in one. Perhaps music helped him find a beauty that was immanent.  Certainly art did.

Yet this talented, successful, and frankly much-loved of the masses actor decided to end his collaborative autobiography not with a list of successful films, but a list of stage performances and the following from Macbeth (Act V, Scene 5):

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Here’s to you, Mr. Barrymore. I think I understand some of your perception of the world as a beautiful but dangerous thing.  I don’t always share your fatalism, but then again, neither did you always see the glass as shattered. Thank you for inspiring me in my own research and in my own struggles with chronic illness and mobility. I hope one day in the great hereafter we can talk, have a drink, and share music. Thanks for doing what you did and persisting the way you did. And thanks, great and sincere thanks, for adding to the art in the world in many different ways.

*one more reason is the arrival of my LB pendant--San Lio, protect me from taking myself and others too seriously when there is no need to. And remind me to persist, with grace if possible, with humor if not. Thanks for the inspiration, Mr B.
San Lio, patron saint of the suspicious yet persistent.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The Great Man Votes: John Barrymore, Screen Actors Guild radio show

In honor of the day, I thought you might like to hear this amusing radio play--JB also did a film with the same name and content.

Happy day!
In Raffles

Monday, November 7, 2016

Research, rewriting, and revisiting the beginning

Today I sent off my application for a fellowship to do research in the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin, specifically to work in the David O. Selznick Archive on Lionel Barrymore and Duel in the Sun. It was positively nerve-wracking to do so, and I edited and altered right until I hit submit. Three pages, one for project description, one on what materials I would use, one a shortened CV. A 100-word summary.  A short lifetime of agonizing over it all for a couple of weeks.

Now, in two days I'll be at the University of Notre Dame. I'm comfortable in academic worlds, and of course I'll head my lapsed Catholic self off to the Grotto for prayer, especially for perseverance. I am pleased with what I submitted, and I know I have a unique niche occupied only by myself. I have no idea why I'm so stressed about it. Here's a "gist" version of  what "it" is:

Disability, a relatively new field in critical analysis, has been defined as both "the attribution of corporeal deviance--not so much a property of bodies as a product of cultural rules about what bodies should be or do" (Thomson 1996) and theorized by Siebers as an identity which, among all possible ones, destabilizes "norms" of what society thinks human means. I posit that Lionel Barrymore is an unacknowledged pioneer in destabilizing representations of physical disability in film, from the time he required a wheelchair starting in 1938 until the end of his life. Due to the archive's extent, I am going to use Duel in the Sun as a microcosm of how Mr. B's career was managed to great success via accommodation of his wheelchair-use for a very popular actor. I can show public appeal via film gross and polling, and I can show in the archival material how the studio and actor collaborated to create strong roles (in this case Senator Jackson McCanles). As such, I place Lionel Barrymore in disability history as a pioneer both in his roles and in his very public image and almost constant work: his value as an actor led to studios making huge adaptations to films and roles in order to have him even in the smallest parts. Duel in the Sun just has a tremendous amount of material to show how those vast changes were made.

Don't worry, I"m actually quite fun at parties ! :) And thank you, Mr. Barrymore.

Mr. B on the set of Duel in the Sun with friend

Thursday, November 3, 2016

1908-2016: oh how sweet it is!

Lionel Barrymore was 30 years old the last time the Chicago Cubs won the World Series. He was also playing baseball for an all-actor team in summers in his 20s and 30s for fun and tells a magnificent story of driving in 3 runs off a wild pitcher in We Barrymores. He, I, and millions more are shedding happy,  celebratory tears tonight. Fly the W, Cubbies!!
Mr. B, as Andre Dakkar,  The Mysterious Island