Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Happy birthday "Ee-thel"!


 The spectacularly successful, famous (as in her illness and recovery were broadcast in Times Square in lights in her heyday) Ethel Barrymore was born this day in 1879. She was, both Lionel and John declared, the only Barrymore to ever try and take care of any other members of the family, the one who was most successful in raising a family (though not in marriage--her only one ended in divorce/annulment, and she never remarried after Samuel Colt), the one most lauded in her time and over a very long career.  Both boys were in awe of her, though she, like them, laughed at the "legend" speak around the 3 Great Barrymores. She was known to be wickedly funny, biting in wit, generous, giving, and impatient with stupidity but very patient with those learning. 

On the audio tidbits part of this blog is a birthday celebration for her in 1949, on her 70th birthday. This was LIVE, across the nation, and filled with memories and greetings from two presidents (Truman and Hoover), Eleanor Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and just a whole bunch more. Lionel introduces the family in the end, and before that he spoke of her rise on the stage and her supporting him for two years while he played artist in Paris with wife Doris Rankin.

Her life was interesting and wide ranging, an her own interests ran the gamut form baseball to boxing to politics and of course, books.  While she seemed imperious, many people who worked with her described her as quite warm and friendly in reality. 




I recommend her autobiography Memories, which is on archive.org to read. It was completed and going to the publisher when she heard her brother Lionel had died in 1954. Her addendum to the book is indicative of her personality and, though no Barrymore was demonstrative, her affection for her older and younger brother:

Since I have finished this book, Lionel has died. I like to think that he and Jack are together--and that they will be glad to see me.


1932, during Rasputin filming, Barrymores and Colts had a photo session to introduce John Jr.


Ethel adored little brother John (or Jack, Jake, or for Ethel, "Gus")
LB Mayer snagged Ethel late in her life to add to Lionel at MGM


Happy birthday Miss Barrymore!

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Cue the bad puns: Beary interesting. Mr. B, a bear, & Elitch's Gardens, Denver

So, among the many wild things I've acquired and read and heard in my foray into LB-land is a "blooper" radio moment wherein Mr. B tells a story about winning a bear in a crap game in Denver, seemingly quite a long time ago (I would guess when he was still doing stage tours circa 1897-1905 or so) and eventually delivering it to the well-known Elitch's Gardens, which back then "had a regular bear pit". He had taken the bear home to the hotel he was staying at from the bar because, as he says, "I was more afraid of the bartender than I was of the f***in' bear."

It's a funny (and often profane) story of how he got the bear up to his room in the Brown Palace Hotel late at night, fell asleep on the bed--"and I guess the bear did, too"-- then wakes to find himself in need of feeding a hungry bear and himself.  He ordered two steaks: the bear, "et my breakfast. Jesus, he ate everything!" The room service waiter, "who happened to be a nice guy", says he'll get more food, then advises the young actor to take the bear to Elitch's Gardens, which Mr B does.

Well, as he ends the story, "the bear gets out of the taxicab and goes RIGHT up that pole they have, you know, and sits on the top, and I say, 'well, goodbye, boy.'" Then he adds, which brings great guffaws from his audience, "I got a bill, for two years, for that f***in' bear."

So I figured this was an old LB (this recording was made when he was hosting Hallmark Hall of Fame on radio, which was 1953-1955) talking trash--then I let my sister hear it. She'd lived in Denver in the 1980s about 6 years, and started nodding.. "yeah, I know the Brown Palace Hotel...Elitch's Gardens, yep...". Suddenly I realized he might well be telling a true story! This from a guy who once lied (in HIS AUTOBIOGRAPHY) about his birthday!

Number 1: The Brown Palace Hotel still stands in Denver, and is 125 years old. It is also apparently haunted! "According to author Corrine Hunt’s book, The Brown Palace: Denver’s Grande Dame, many entertainers and heads of state, including Russian President Boris Yeltsin, stayed at the hotel. They included Buffalo Bill Cody, Lionel Barrymore, John Philip Sousa, Lillian Russell, Jack Benny, Peter Lorre, Robert Taylor, George Jessel, Helen Hayes..." (http://arizonanotebook.com/historic-denver-hotels-elegance-and-role-in-colorado-history-offer-an-escape)   Denver's Brown Palace Hotel

Number 2: Elitch's Gardens (the site of the first zoo west of the Mississippi) still exists, and the old theater at the original site still exists (it's not clear if LB was at that theater, but I don't find evidence he was). Map of Elitch's Gardens, 1904 .  Fascinating stuff! More info on Elitch's Gardens (old one)  
Here's a book that has a LOT on the place and its theater: Denver's Elitch Gardens: Spinning a Century of Dreams  by Betty Lynne Hull (2003)
Number 3: Lionel Barrymore did indeed play games of chance now and then, and Denver was on the old theater and vaudeville routes.

Number 4: the female proprietor the Elitch's was very fond of bears, especially two named Sam and Dewey:


 Number 5: There was a bear pit/pole in the gardens!
This is Dewey at Elitch's, probably around 1900, 1910. One of the bears would waltz to music. :)
Wide World Magazine, Vol 2 Oct 1898-Mar 1899 (google ebook, free)

Now, there are lots of things written on Elitch's and the Brown Palace, and I can probably contact someone at those places, but given the sum total... it's quite likely the insane story he told was true! Now if I can just find out when he was in Denver performing....

*The recording is pretty profane, though VERY funny. I'll not link it here, but it's findable on Google or Amazon. I have no idea who would have recorded it! :)


The Joys of Error! 1934 addition to LB film list

Well, while one never likes to be wrong, I can say that I am happy to be proven wrong and that, unlike what I have on my filmography here, Lionel Barrymore was indeed in the Spanish-language Fox film La Ciudad de Carton (Cardboard City), appearing briefly as himself while in character makeup for some other role he was doing in 1933 when Ciudad was shot.

Many thanks to the people at Silent Films Today on FB for pushing me to check again! I have no idea now why I thought John was in the film, not Lionel.

The IMdB link is not greatly complete, but AFI and others note the cast was gathered from extant Fox information in archives: La Ciudad de Carton, IMdB

The NYTimes review, which has the wrong Young:

Hollywood in Spanish.

H.T.S.

Published: February 28, 1934
This time Hollywood is poking fun at itself in Castilian and is doing it so well that persons with even a slight knowledge of the Spanish language are likely to enjoy "La Ciudad de Carton" ("Cardboard City"), now at the Teatro Variedades. That excellent Spanish actress, Catalina Bárcena, makes the best of the double rôle of Mrs. Collins, wife of a rancher in hard luck (Señor Moreno) and of Diana Dane, the "great European star" opportunely killed in a train wreck just before reaching the well-known suburb of Los Angeles. Señora Bárcena's good work is well supported by the principals, including José Crespo, as a leading actor in love with the false Diana; Luis Alberni, as a director with all sorts of bright ideas, and Don Segurola, as president of the producing company. Incidentally, Janet Gaynor, Roland Young and Lionel Barrymore welcome the "foreign celebrity" to Hollywood in good Spanish.

After the proper amount of semiserious sentiment, mingled with many amusing scenes, the cardboard city remains true to itself and wins the likely couple away from the ranch—which had been lost anyway.

LA CIUDAD DE CARTON, a dialogue film in Spanish, with Catalina Barcena, Antonio Moreno, Jose Crespo, Luis Alberni and Andreas de Segurola; directed by Louis King; a Fox production. At the Teatro Variedades.


The visual evidence (LB seems to be in makeup for Carolina, filmed in 1933)
That's Robert Young he's next to.