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!