- (1879-1959)Born in Philadelphia to actors Maurice Barrymore and Georgiana Drew, Ethel Barrymore, along with her brothers John and Lionel, went on the stage at an early age, appearing with her grandmother Mrs. John Drew in The Rivals, after which she played opposite William Gillette in Secret Service and with Henry Irving's company at the Lyceum Theatre in London. Barrymore's 1901 New York debut in Clyde Fitch's comedy Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines made her a major star. Her career on stage and in motion pictures extended over more than 50 years. She was considered a great beauty, and Winston Churchill famously proposed marriage to her.Barrymore mellowed into a versatile character actress, capable of moving easily from comedy to drama and from classics to contemporary works. Her regal appearance and impressive voice helped make her a favorite of critics. Under Charles Frohman's management in her earliest years, she acted in both England and America in mainstream popular plays written for her, including J. M. Barrie's Alice-Sit-By-the-Fire (1905), John Galsworthy's The Silver Box (1907), W. Somerset Maugham's Lady Frederick (1908), George V. Hobart and Edna Ferber's Our Mrs. McChesney (1915), as well as important modernist dramas including Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House (1905). Barrymore also appeared in short plays in vaudeville, notably in Barrie's The Twelve-Pound Look.In 1917, Barrymore scored a success with her favorite role, Marguerite Gautier, in Edward Sheldon's adaptation of The Lady of the Camellias (1917), and followed this with a triumph in Zoe Akins's Déclassée (1919), but she failed in her attempt at Shakespeare's Juliet in 1922. Barrymore had better luck as Ophelia and Portia, both in 1925, as well as in a revival of The Second Mrs. Tangueray (1924). Two attempts at playing Lady Teazle in The School for Scandal (1923 and 1931) won her good reviews and short runs. Then Barrymore gave one of her most critically acclaimed performances, as Constance Middleton in Maugham's The Constant Wife (1926). In her next vehicle, Gregorio Martinez Sierra's The Kingdom of God (1928), translated by Harley Granville-Barker, she played a nun at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, named in her honor during the play's run. When sound films arrived, Barrymore, who had appeared in a dozen silent movies, began to act with greater frequency on screen. She made several notable films, appearing for the only time with both of her brothers in Rasputin and the Empress (1932) and winning a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for None but the Lonely Heart (1944). She returned to Broadway in Whiteoaks (1938), a modest success. Critics regarded her performance as a devoted Welsh schoolmistress in Emlyn Williams's The Corn Is Green* (1940) as her greatest. Barrymore's last Broadway appearance in Embezzled Heaven (1944) was only a modest success. She appeared in The Joyous Season on tour in 1945 before retiring permanently from the stage, although she continued to act in films into the mid-1950s.
The Historical Dictionary of the American Theater. James Fisher.
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