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Ethel Barrymore



The most regal female presence on the American stage for the first half of the 20th century, was born into one of the great acting families of the English-speaking world. Well-read, iconoclastic in her views, active in her endeavors, and entirely lacking nostalgia, she awed her colleagues on the stage and screen with her intensity and self-possession. In her youth, when she became the protege of the great English actor, Sir Henry Irving, she was a notable beauty, indeed, the first woman to be called a "glamour girl."

Her familial and professional connection with her remarkable brothers, John and Lionel Barrymore, were not close. Her craft, including her clarity of diction and extraordinary ability to modulate her voice, was picked up from practical experience in the first decade of the 20th century. While she created hit roles in original plays periodically throughout her career ('Captain Jinks,' [1901] 'Declasee' [1919], 'The Constant Wife,' [1926], 'The Corn is Green' [1940]), her formidable reputation rested more on her ability to enliven classics of the repertory in a commercial setting, the range of character types she could play, and her ability to adapt stage technique to screen settings.

Barrymore ventured into the cinema on three occasions in her career, in 1917 in the first influx of legitimate actresses into film, in 1932 for a brief foray in big budget historical pictures, including "Rasputin and the Empress," the one production in which all the Barrymore siblings acted, and her final and decisive move to Hollywood in 1944, where she would worked for the last fourteen years of her life. Highlights of her late film career include "Spiral Staircase" and "Portrait of Jennie."

From the time of her breakthrough into stardom in "Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines" (1901) to the extraordinary spate of movies she filmed in her 70s, she exercised an extraordinary power to magnetize the eyes of her audience. Her personality was so alluring that Winston Churchill once proposed to her, but was turned down. David S. Shields/ALS