Friday, July 28, 2017

Ethel Barrymore at age 10


An excerpt from John Barrymore's mini-autobiography entitled WE THREE (published in 1935).


"It was Ethel who decided we should just put on a show. Even at the age of ten she was consumed with ambition.
"Grandmother Drew (Mrs. John Drew) was a great actress in England when she was eight years old! Here am I getting older every day and I haven't done anything!"

Ethel had little idea what the title role of Camille demanded of the actress, but she realized that every great actress at one time or another had played it. To actresses in those days it was the part of parts in the play of plays.

Matilda Heron as Camille
The best was none too good for our first appearance on any stage (albeit in a boarding house). Ethel decided to produce "The Three Barrymores in Camille."    She got one of the older boys who had seen the play but who had forgotten most of it, to write it for her. The adaptation retained little of the original version.

The first that Lionel and I knew about Camille was when Ethel produced a sheaf of pages covered with pencil scrawls, and told us that here were our parts.  "It's about time we were doing something in the theater", she said.

Lionel and I looked upon it as good fun. To Ethel it was the beginning of a career.

Georgie Drew Barrymore with children
Lionel wanted to play my part because I wore an imposing, droopy black mustache, but I wouldn't give up the part or the mustache, which I loved.  He complained bitterly because as Armand he had to play a lover.  That was the first and last lover that Lionel ever played on any stage. Lionel despised love scenes and hated them with all his heart and soul.

Our show was to be a grand surprise for a number of guests, including my Uncle John Drew, who were coming to spend the Fourth of July. Only the actors and the author were in on the secret.

Modjeska as Camille
About all that Ethel knew about Camille was that she had a magnificent cough.  Old actresses who had played Camille often boasted without reservation about the shudders that ran through the audience when their coughing got really under way.

      So Ethel began to practice her cough. She liked best to lock herself in the one bathroom that the big boarding house provided and to do her coughing in secret.  My grandmother heard her once or twice and became quite upset. "Something must be done about that child," she said in alarm. "She's started to bark like a dog!" The climax came one Saturday night when Ethel locked herself in the bathroom and tried out her two kinds of coughs. First she would cough in high soprano, then in what she thought was a hollow, sepulchral tone, while angry boarders in bathrobes and slippers, towels over their arms, stood outside in line, waiting to get in for their Saturday night bath.
      My grandmother heard the noise and cried "My God, she's got a bone in her throat!" and hammered on the door. Ethel came out, red-faced, and in order to keep my frightened grandmother from sending for a doctor, was forced to confess that it was all a rehearsal for Camille.
        It worked out splendidly.  The news about Ethel's cough spread to all our friends, and when we appeared, we had a crowded house.  The box-office receipts were thirty seven cents, the price for orchestra seats being one cent each.  My grandmother protested bitterly after the show, saying we had charged entirely too much.   Ethel, manager, producer and star, gave Lionel and me a dime and kept the rest.  We felt we deserved more but didn't say so."
#JohnBarrymore  #EthelBarrymore  #Modjeska  #MatildaHeron #LionelBarrymore #GeorgieDrewBarrymore  #Mrs.JohnDrew  #Camille  #JohnDrew

No comments:

Post a Comment