8 June 2023

Ethel Barrymore, the first lady of American Theater



American actress Ethel Barrymore, also known as Ethel Mae Blythe, was born in 1879 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (USA). She was raised in a large family of actors Maurice Barrymore and Georgiana Drew. Interestingly, the girl was even named after one of her father’s favorite movie characters. Ethel spent her early years in Philadelphia where she went to Catholic school. In spite of her challenging life experiences, this woman went on to have a successful performing career and made a significant contribution to the reputation of her family’s acting dynasty. The website for Philadelphia has reported this. The website iphiladelphia will tell you more about it.

Childhood, both happy and sad

Together with her family, Ethel spent two years in England when she was five years old. The father of the family then inherited a large sum of money. He decided to put on a play and demonstrate his abilities in one of London’s theatres. It was at this time that little Ethel first met Oscar Wilde, the famed poet and playwright. The girl was supposed to treat the man with some cupcakes, but for some reason, as her parents frequently recalled, she got scared. As an adult, Ethel recalled that those two years in London were the happiest of her childhood and her family’s history in general.

Georgiana, the wife and the mother, died of TB in 1893. Contrary to the hopes of the kids and everyone in her family, she was never cured. The youngsters lost their childhood along with their mother. Ethel and her brother Lionel were unable to finish high school and were forced to work, while their younger brother John was looked after by relatives.

Interesting facts from the personal life

Ethel Barrymore came from a famous family of actors. Not only did our heroine and her parents decide to pursue a career in performing. Ethel’s brothers, John and Lionel Barrymore, were also actors. Their sister co-starred with them in two movies, Rasputin and the Empress (1932) and The National Red Cross Pageant (1917; the movie is regarded as lost). Ethel’s grandmother, Louise Drew, was also an actress and a theater manager. Ethel Barrymore herself was the aunt to actor John Drew Barrymore, and to actress Drew Barrymore she was a great-aunt. Furthermore, Ethel was John Drew Jr.’s niece. And this isn’t even a complete list of her acting dynasty’s members…

The following point of interest. It is known that Winston Churchill asked Ethel to marry him in 1900. However, this was yet another failure in his marriage proposal to a member of the acting industry. Ethel also declined, much like the woman before her. By the way, Churchill had a terrible lack of success when it came to relationships when he was younger. Some claim that his shyness and inability to dance (which was a big disadvantage in high society) hampered him and that he was not popular with the opposite sex in general. Churchill proposed to several women but did not marry until he was 34. According to rumors, Ethel Barrymore declined the marriage because she didn’t want to marry a politician. According to biographers, the actress did not include this episode in her memoir, but she did not forget to publish a remarkable photo with Churchill that was shot in 1899 nearby England’s Blenheim Palace. They most likely met in 1897, while Ethel was on tour in London. There were many men, including Churchill, who were taken in by the actress’ pleasant impression. Many years after the rejection, Churchill married another woman who resembled Ethel Barrymore a lot. Winston remained Ethel’s lifelong friend.

In 1909, Ethel married Russell Colt. A rumor has it that they met as Russell passed Ethel and her uncle, actor John Drew Jr., while they were eating lunch in a New York restaurant. According to another story, Ethel was introduced to her future husband by her brother John Barrymore while Colt was a student at Yale University. The couple had three children: sons John and Samuel, and a daughter Ethel, all of whom later became actors. The marriage of Ethel and Russell was rocky from the beginning. Colt allegedly showed his wife no respect and fathered a child with another lady. In 1923, the couple divorced. Ethel did not make any demands for herself; all she asked for from her husband was money to support their children. Ethel never married again since she was devoted to the Catholic faith.

The career of the legendary actress

Finally, let us talk about acting! Ethel Barrymore’s career lasted 60 years. She was referred to as the first lady of American theatre because of her outstanding voice and appearance. In addition to acting in theatre, Ethel also worked as a radio and cinema actor. According to her, the distinction between theatre and film is similar to that between a violin and a piano in that it is nearly difficult to play both instruments equally well.

The celebrity first debuted on Broadway in the play “The Imprudent Young Couple” in 1895, alongside her uncle John Drew Jr. Among her most renowned Broadway roles are Nora from Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House (1905) and Juliet from William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (1922). Very successful was the role of the wife of a libertine husband in W. Somerset Maugham’s comedy “The Constant Wife” (1926).

Young Ethel played one of her first successful roles in 1901. The actress’s father was in the audience for the debut at London’s Garrick Theatre. When the play was over, the dearest viewer approached, hugged and praised his daughter. It is said that this was the first and last time Maurice watched his daughter on a professional stage. As a result of the tour, Ethel Barrymore was recognized as being on par with the most successful actresses of the day. But there were still many more stunning works to come. At the height of her theatrical career, Ethel Barrymore was famous for being able to afford to ignore the audience’s insistence to take a last bow, instead, she just said:

“That’s all there is, there isn’t any more”

This was the actress’ most famous phrase. The expression became an aphorism and was often used in the 20s and 30s in the United States. 

Although she made her big screen debut in her first full-length movie (The “Nightingale”) in 1914, the actress’s film career didn’t start to take off until the 1940s, when she moved to Hollywood. By the way, other actors from the Barrymore dynasty, including both Ethel’s brothers, had already made their feature film debuts at the time of the sister’s cinematic debut. Between 1914 and 1919, Ethel Barrymore performed in fifteen silent films. The most well-known movies include “The Paradine Case,” “The Spiral Staircase,” “Portrait of Jennie” and “That Midnight Kiss” (1948).  In 1945, she won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in the film “None but the Lonely Heart.” Some claim she didn’t believe this was a remarkable event. Johnny Trouble (1957) was Ethel Barrymore’s final picture. In the 1950s, she frequently appeared on television, performed minor roles in television programs, and hosted “Ethel Barrymore Theatre” for a period. The majority of Ethel Barrymore’s films were made on the East Coast since her lovely children and Broadway career “did not allow her to go far.” 

 Other pursuits and interests

Ethel Barrymore supported the beliefs of the Actors’ Equity Association. In 1919, the actress took part in its strike. Ethel, like many others, wanted actors to be paid more for their work, as well as to protect the rights of old and sick actors. This could be attributed not only to the general situation in the acting sphere, but also to the personal one: the actress’s mother was seriously ill, and her father also needed special care.

Ethel Barrymore has also been a fan of boxing and baseball. She had a lifelong passion for baseball that began in 1886. Shortly after the girl’s family’s return from a trip to England, her father took her to the first baseball game. But Ethel’s passion for boxing persisted until 1919 before she witnessed a tough fight between two famous boxers. One fractured the other’s jaw and knocked out numerous teeth during the fight. Then Ethel vowed that she would never see such sights again. She later returned to watching boxing on TV, though…

“That’s all there is, there isn’t any more”

These well-known words serve as a perfect summary of this story. Ethel Barrymore lived for nearly 80 years and died in 1959 at her own house in Hollywood. Her heart had been ailing her for a long time. Ethel Barrymore was laid to rest at a Los Angeles cemetery. In 1960, the great actress was posthumously honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for her contributions to national cinematography. The actress was listed as a member of the American Theatre Hall of Fame alongside her brothers John and Lionel. In 1928, a theatre honoring her name opened in New York City.