Nationality: American. Born: Lionel Blythe in Philadelphia, 28 April 1878; brother of the actress Ethel and the actor John Barrymore. Education: Attended Gilmore School, London; St. Vincent's Academy, New York; Seton Hall, New Jersey; Arts Students League, New York. Family: Married 1) Doris Rankin, 1904 (divorced 1922); 2) Irene Fenwick, 1923 (died 1936). Career: 1900—Broadway debut in Sag Harbor ; 1904—critical and public attention for performances on Broadway in The Mummy and the Hummingbird and The Other Girl ; 1906–09—moved to Paris to study painting; 1909—returned to Broadway in Fines of Fate ; employed at Biograph as actor and writer, and worked with D. W. Griffith; 1911—starring roles in Griffith's films, as well as those of other directors, while continuing to write scripts; mid 'teens—began to do some directing; 1920s—began to play mainly character roles; 1925—abandoned theater completely for film acting; 1926—contract with MGM where he remained for the rest of his career; 1928—appeared in talking film for first time; 1932—in Rasputin and the Empress with brother John and sister Ethel; 1938—role as Dr. Gillespie, first in series of 15 Dr. Kildare films; partially paralyzed by a combination of arthritis and a leg injury, and confined to a wheelchair, but continued acting; 1942—composed tone poem "In Memoriam" for brother John; performed by the Philadelphia Symphony. Awards: Best Actor Academy Award, for A Free Soul , 1930/31. Died: In Van Nuys, California, 15 November 1954.
(in films directed or supervised by D. W. Griffith, unless otherwise noted)
The Battle ; Fighting Blood
Friends ; So Near, Yet So Far ; The Chief's Blanket ; The One She Loved ; Gold and Glitter ; My Baby ; The Informer ; Brutality ; The New York Hat ; The Burglar's Dilemma ; A Cry for Help ; The God Within ; Home Folks ; Love in an Apartment Hotel
Three Friends ; The Telephone Girl and the Lady ; An Adventure in the Autumn Woods ; Oil and Water ; Near to Earth ; Fate ; The Sheriff's Baby ; The Perfidy of Mary ; A Misunderstood Boy ; The Lady and the Mouse (+ sc); The Wanderer ; House of Darkness ; The Yaqui Cur ; Just Gold ; The Power of the Press ; A Timely Interception ; The Well ; Death's Marathon ; The Switch Tower ; A Girl's Stratagem ; Classmates (Kirkwood); House of Discord (Kirkwood); Death's Marathon ; The Rancher's Revenge ; Her Father's Silent Partner ; Pa Says ; The Fatal Wedding ; Father's Lesson ; His Inspiration ; A Welcome Intruder ; Mister Jefferson Green ; So Runs the Way ; The Suffragette Minstrels
The Massacre ; Strongheart (Kirkwood); Men and Women (Kirkwood); Judith of Bethulia (as extra); Brute Force ; Under the Gaslight
Wildfire (Middleton); A Modern Magdalen (Davis); The Curious Conduct of Judge Legarde ; The Romance of Elaine (Seitz—serial); The Flaming Sword (Middleton); Dora Thorne ; A Yellow Streak (Nigh); The Exploits of Elaine (Seitz—serial)
Dorian's Divorce (Lund); The Quitter (Horan); The Upheaval (Horan); The Brand of Cowardice (Noble)
The End of the Tour (Baker); His Father's Son ; The Millionaire's Double (Davenport)
The Valley of Night
The Copperhead (Maigne); The Mastermind (Webb); The Devil's Garden (Webb)
The Great Adventure (Webb); Jim the Penman
Boomerang Bill (Terriss); The Face in the Fog (Crosland) (as Boston Blackie)
Enemies of Women (Crosland) (as Prince Lubimoff); Unseeing Eyes (E. H. Griffith); The Eternal City (Fitzmaurice)
Decameron Nights (Wilcox); America ( Love and Sacrifice ) (as Capt. Walter Butler); Meddling Women (Abramson); I Am the Man (Abramson)
Die Frau mit dem schelechten Ruf ; The Iron Road ( A Man of Iron ) (Bennett); Fifty Fifty (Diamiant); The Girl Who Wouldn't Work (DeSano); Children of the Whirlwind (Bennett); The Splendid Road (Lloyd); The Wrongdoers (Dierker)
The Barrier (Hill); Brooding Eyes (Le Saint); Paris at Mid-night (Hopper); The Lucky Lady (Walsh); The Temptress (Niblo); The Bells (Young); Wife Tamers (Roach)
The Show (Browning); Women Love Diamonds (Goulding); Body and Soul (Barker); The Thirteenth Hour (Franklin)
Drums of Love ; Sadie Thompson (Walsh) (as Alfred Atkinson); The Lion and the Mouse (Lloyd Bacon) (as John "Ready Money" Ryder); Love ( Anna Karenina ) (Goulding); The River Woman (Henabery) (as Bill Lefty); West of Zanzibar (Browning) (as Crane)
Alias Jimmy Valentine (Conway) (as Doyle); The Hollywood Review (Riesner); The Mysterious Island (Hubbard) (as Count Andre Dakkar)
Free and Easy ( Easy Go ) (Sedgwick) (as himself, in bedroom scene); The Love Parade (Lubitsch) (as Prime Minister)
A Free Soul (Brown) (as Stephen Ashe); Guilty Hands (Van Dyke) (as Richard Grant); The Yellow Ticket ( The Yellow Passport ) (Walsh) (as Baron Igor Andrey); Mata Hari (Fitzmaurice) (as Gen. Serge Shubin)
Broken Lullaby ( The Man I Killed ) (Lubitsch) (as Dr. Holderlin); Arsène Lupin (Conway) (as Guerchard); Grand Hotel (Goulding) (as Otto Kringelein); Washington Masquerade ( Mad Masquerade ) (Brabin) (as Jeff Keane); Rasputin and the Empress ( Rasputin—The Mad Monk ) (Boleslawski) (as Rasputin)
Sweepings (Cromwell) (as Daniel Pardway); Looking Forward ( The New Deal ) (Brown) (as Michael Benton); The Stranger's Return (King Vidor) (as Grandpa Storr); Dinner at Eight (Cukor) (as Oliver Jordan); One Man's Journey (Robertson) (as Dr. Eli Watt); Night Flight (Brown) (as Rabineau); Christopher Bean ( Her Sweetheart ) (Wood) (as doctor); Should Ladies Behave? (Beaumont) (as Augustus Merrick); Berkeley Square (Frank Lloyd) (as innkeeper); La ciudad de carton ( Cardboard City )
This Side of Heaven (William K. Howard) (as Martin Turner); Carolina ( The House of Connelly ) (Henry King) (as Bob
David Copperfield (Cukor) (as Dan Peggotty); Mark of the Vampire (Browning) (as Prof. Zelen); The Little Colonel (David Butler) (as Col. Lloyd); Public Hero Number One (Ruben) (as Dr. Josiah Glass); The Return of Peter Grimm (Nicholls Jr.) (title role); Ah, Wilderness (Brown) (as Nat Miller)
The Voice of Bugle Ann (Thorpe) (as Springfield Davis); The Road to Glory (Hawks) (as Papa LaRoche); The Devil Doll (Browning) (as Paul Lavond); The Gorgeous Hussy (Brown) (as Andrew Jackson)
Camille (Cukor) (as Monsieur Duval); Captains Courageous (Fleming) (as Disko); A Family Affair (Seitz) (as Judge Hardy); Saratoga (Conway) (as Grandpa Clayton); Navy Blue and Gold (Wood) (as Capt. "Skinny" Dawes)
A Yank at Oxford (Conway) (as Dan Sheridan); Test Pilot (Fleming) (as Howard B. Drake); You Can't Take It with You (Capra) (as Martin Vanderhof); Young Dr. Kildare (Bucquet) (as Dr. Leonard Gillespie)
Let Freedom Ring (Conway) (as Thomas Logan); Calling Dr. Kildare (Bucquet) (as Dr. Leonard Gillespie); On Borrowed Time (Bucquet) (as Julian Northup, "Gramps"); The Secret of Dr. Kildare (Bucquet) (as Dr. Leonard Gillespie)
Dr. Kildare's Strange Case (Bucquet) (as Dr. Leonard Gillespie); Dr. Kildare Goes Home (Bucquet) (as Dr. Leonard Gillespie); Dr. Kildare's Crisis (Bucquet) (as Dr. Leonard Gillespie)
The Penalty (Bucquet) (as "Grandpop" Logan); The Bad Man ( Two-Gun Cupid ) (Thorpe) (as Uncle Henry Jones); Cavalcade of the Academy Awards ; The People vs. Dr. Kildare ( My Life Is Yours ) (Bucquet) (as Dr. Leonard Gillespie); Lady Be Good (McLeod) (as Judge Murdock); Dr. Kildare's Wedding Day ( Mary Names the Day ) (Bucquet) (as Dr. Leonard Gillespie); Dr. Kildare's Victory ( The Doctor and the Debutante ) (Van Dyke) (as Dr. Leonard Gillespie)
Calling Dr. Gillespie (Bucquet) (as Dr. Leonard Gillespie); Dr. Gillespie's New Assistant (Goldbeck) (as Dr. Leonard Gillespie); Tennessee Johnson ( The Man on America's Conscience ) (Dieterle) (as Congressman Thaddeus Stevens)
Dr. Gillespie's Criminal Case ( Crazy to Kill ) (Goldbeck) (as Dr. Leonard Gillespie); The Last Will and Testament of Tom Smith (Bucquet) (as Gramps); A Guy Named Joe (Fleming) (as the General); Thousands Cheer (Sidney) (as announcer)
Three Men in White (Goldbeck) (as Dr. Leonard Gillespie); Dragon Seed (Conway and Bucquet) (as narrator); Since You Went Away (Cromwell) (as clergyman); Between Two Women (Goldbeck) (as Dr. Leonard Gillespie)
The Valley of Decision (Garnett) (as Pat Rafferty)
Three Wise Fools (Buzzell) (as Dr. Richard Gaunght); The Secret Heart (Leonard) (as Dr. Rossiger); It's a Wonderful Life (Capra) (as Mr. Potter); Duel in the Sun (King Vidor and Dieterle) (as Sen. McCanles)
Dark Delusion ( Cynthia's Secret ) (Goldbeck) (as Dr. Gillespie)
Key Largo (Huston) (as James Temple)
Some of the Best (Whitbeck) (as narrator); Down to the Sea in Ships (Hathaway) (as Capt. Bering Joy)
Malaya ( East of the Rising Sun ; Alien Orders ) (Thorpe) (as John Manchester); Right Cross (John Sturges) (as Sean O'Malley)
The M-G-M Story (as narrator); Bannerline (Weis) (as Hugo Trimble)
Lone Star (Sherman) (as Andrew Jackson)
Main Street to Broadway (Garnett) (as himself)
Confession ; Madame X ( Absinthe ); His Glorious Night (+ pr, mus); The Unholy Night ( The Green Ghost )
The Rogue Song (+ pr)
Ten Cents a Dance
Fighting Blood (Griffith)
My Hero (Griffith); The Musketeers of Pig Alley (Griffith); The Tender-Hearted Boy (Griffith)
The Vengeance of Galora
The Battle of Elderbush Gulch (Griffith); date uncertain: The Woman in Black ; The Span of Life ; The Seats of the Mighty
We Barrymores , as told to Cameron Shipp, London, 1951.
"The Present State of the Movies," in Ladies' Home Journal (New York), September 1926.
"Introduction," in A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being a Ghost Story of Christmas , by Charles Dickens, Philadelphia and Chicago, 1938.
Barrymore, John, We Three: Ethel—Lionel—John , Akron, Ohio, 1935.
Alpert, Hollis, The Barrymores , New York, 1969.
Kotsilibas-Davis, James, The Barrymores: The Royal Family in Hollywood , New York, 1981.
Mullet, Mary, "Lionel Barrymore Tells How People Show Their Age," in American Magazine , February 1922.
Pringle, Henry F., "Late-Blooming Barrymore," in Collier's (New York), 1 October 1932.
Barrymore, John, "Lionel, Ethel, and I," in American Magazine , February, March, April, and May 1933.
Current Biography 1943 , New York, 1943.
Crichton, Kyle, "Barrymore, the Lion-hearted," in Collier's (New York), March 1949.
Obituary in New York Times , 16 November 1954.
"Lionel Barrymore," in Image (Rochester, New York), December 1954.
Downing, R., "Lionel Barrymore 1878–1954," in Films in Review (New York), January 1955.
Gray, B., "A Lionel Barrymore Index," in Films in Review (New York), April 1962.
Classic Images (Indiana, Pennsylvania), June 1982.
* * *
Lionel Barrymore, the oldest of the three Barrymore siblings who comprised probably the greatest acting family of the American theater and cinema, began his career in films shortly before 1910. He started out acting in Biograph shorts, and was soon starring in and occasionally writing and directing a wide variety of films for various studios. His roles were characterized by their diversity, from romantic leads and villains to character parts, in films such as D. W. Griffith's The New York Hat , Wildfire , and Just Gold .
In the 1920s Barrymore appeared in dozens of films, among them America , also directed by Griffith, Sadie Thompson , in which he played a self-righteous reformer, and Alias Jimmy Valentine , as the detective Doyle. The 1920s were a turning point in his career, for he began more and more to play character parts and older men, something he was to do for the rest of his life. Although in his younger days Lionel had resembled his younger brother John in his good looks, his jowlishness in middle age necessitated a switch to character parts when he was still relatively young. By the early 1930s Lionel usually appeared as a father-type or as a heavily made-up character, as in Rasputin and the Empress . That film marked the only time that Lionel, John, and Ethel Barrymore all played together in the same film. Lionel Barrymore won an Oscar in 1931 as Best Actor (tying with Wallace Beery for The Champ ) for A Free Soul , in which he played Norma Shearer's drunken father. His performance stands up well, as do many of his others of the period, such as Grand Hotel (in which he is memorably cast as the dying accountant attempting to squeeze every last drop of life). Barrymore is equally remembered, however, for his role as Dr. Leonard Gillespie in the long-running MGM series of Dr. Kildare films produced in the 1930s and 1940s. Barrymore appeared in all 15 of the films, more than anyone else connected with the series. His first Dr. Kildare film, Young Dr. Kildare , opened in late 1938 and seemed ideally suited to Barrymore because he was by then afflicted with severe arthritis and could act only on crutches or while sitting down. The series accommodated his illness by allowing him to remain in a wheelchair yet be vital in his characterization. Dr. Gillespie was the definitive Barrymore combination of exaggerated moves, intensity, and emotional vacillation. He could be calm and tender with patients yet extremely agitated with everyone else.
A short time before the Dr. Kildare series began, Barrymore had appeared in the first of MGM's Andy Hardy films as Judge Hardy in A Family Affair . Barrymore gave an excellent, calm performance which in retrospect seems more realistic than the wise and overtly patient characterization given by Lewis Stone in the subsequent films.
Apart from the Dr. Gillespie role, Barrymore continued to act in dozens of films throughout the final years of his life, usually in a wheelchair or deskbound yet still dominating his scenes. His screen persona in the latter years was often the butt of nightclub impressionists who copied his unusually pitched and timed voice and grandiose hand gestures. Yet Barrymore's career was a diverse one with as many calmly serious roles as flamboyant ones. It is unfortunate that the lasting impression he left is more that of Mr. Potter in Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life than the worried businessman in Dinner at Eight or the smart detective in Arsène Lupin . He was a consummate actor who worked hard and gave almost 300 screen performances of wide diversity, a great accomplishment by any standard.
—Patricia King Hanson, updated by Audrey E. Kupferberg