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Summary Article: Barrymore, Ethel (1879 Philadelphia, PA-1959 Beverly Hills, CA)
from Encyclopedic Dictionary of Women in Early American Films: 1895-1930, An

Born into the Barrymore-Drew acting dynasty, Ethel Barrymore initially wanted to become a concert pianist but accepted a future in acting. Prior to making her stage debut opposite her uncle John Drew Jr. in a play when she was fifteen years old, Barrymore was educated at a convent.

Her first starring role on stage was in Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines (1900-1901), and she became known as “the first lady of the American theater.” She made her film debut in The Nightingale (1914), but returned to the stage in 1919 because she was not comfortable working in films, where there was no feedback from an audience.

Although she was not exempt from the “Barrymore curse” of overindulgence in alcohol, she never let it affect her performances. She was very popular with the social leaders of the period and supposedly even turned down a marriage proposal from the then up-and-coming British politician Winston Churchill.

She was brought back to films by the prospect of appearing with her two brothers, John and Lionel. The three co-starred in Rasputin and the Empress (1932) in which she played the Czarina Alexandra, with Lionel playing Rasputin and John playing Prince Paul Chegodieff, one of the conspirators in Rasputin's death.

After several unsuccessful plays, she again returned to films, achieving success and comfort playing supporting roles. In 1944 she won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Ma Mott in None but the Lonely Heart. She received three other Oscar nominations for The Spiral Staircase (1946), The Paradine Case (1947), and Pinky (1949).

She was the longest-lived of the “Fabulous Barrymores” and lived long enough to break into the newest entertainment medium—television. In addition to appearing on some of the dramatic anthology programs, she had her own series, The Ethel Barrymore Theater (1956), which she hosted, as well as occasionally starring in the plays that were presented.

Her autobiography, Memories, was published three years before her death.

Film Credits
1914 The Nightingale
1915 The Final Judgment
1916 The Kiss of Hate; The Awakening of Helena Ritchie
1917 The White Raven; The Call of Her People; The Greatest Power; The Lifted Veil; Life's Whirlpool; The Eternal Mother; An American Widow; National Red Cross Pageant
1918 Our Mrs. McChesney
1919 The Divorcee
1932 Rasputin and the Empress
1935 All at Sea
1943 Show Business at War
1944 None but the Lonely Heart
1946 The Spiral Staircase
1947 The Farmer's Daughter; The Paradine Case; Moss Rose
1948 Night Song; Moonrise; Portrait of Jennie
1949 The Great Sinner; Pinky; That Midnight Kiss; The Red Danube
1951 It's a Big Country; The Secret of Convict Lake; Kind Lady
1952 DeadlineU.S.A.; Just for You
1953 The Story of Three Loves; Main Street to Broadway
1954 Young at Heart
1957 Johnny Trouble
© 2005 by Denise Lowe

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Full text Article Barrymore, Ethel (1879 - 1959)
The Penguin Biographical Dictionary of Women

Ethel Barrymore, a member of the famous Barrymore family of actors, was known as the first lady of the American theatre. Born...

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