In Remembrance: John Drew Barrymore

     John Drew Barrymore, member of the famous acting family, has passed away on November 29, 2004 in Los Angeles, CA. He was 72.

     Born John Blythe Barrymore, Jr. on June 4, 1932 in Los Angeles, Barrymore was the son of legendary actor John Barrymore and his third wife, actress Dolores Costello and the nephew of Lionel and Ethel Barrymore and actress Helene Costello. When he was 18 months old, his parents separated and he lived with his mother. In later years he would claim to remember seeing his father only once.

     His mother attempted to dissuade him from entering acting, sending him to St. John’s Military Academy. In 1945 at age 13 Barrymore and his cousin Dirk Drew Davenport successfully enlisted in the United States Navy, posing as 17 year olds. They were discovered several weeks later by the Navy and their families and sent home.

     Upon graduation from college, Barrymore decided to bypass studying acting on the stage and leapt right to the silver screen, signing a contract with the independent LeMay-Templeton Productions. He appeared in lead roles in The Sundowners and High Lonesome (both 1950) under the billing John Barrymore, Jr. In 1951 he made Quebec for Paramount Pictures and the noir drama The Big Night for United Artists. In 1952 he starred opposite John Derek in the World War II film Thunderbirds. Perhaps the victim of high expectations due to his family name, Barrymore’s performances were greeted with poor reviews. Although perhaps embarrassed by this, he still received encouragement from his more successful family members.

     By the mid 1950s, Barrymore’s career derailed as he struggled with alcohol. He was jailed several times for speeding, drunk driving and spousal abuse. He had also been suspended from Actor’s Equity for a year.

     In 1956, Barrymore appeared in Fritz Lang’s While The City Sleeps, though his performance didn’t compare favorably with the rest of the cast. His appearance in 1957’s The Shadow In The Window wasn’t received much better.

     Perhaps hoping to change his luck, Barrymore changed his screen name to John Drew Barrymore. He got some notice for his turn as a gang leader in 1958’s High School Confidential. His next two films, Never Love A Stranger (1958) and Night Of The Quarter Moon (1959), failed to live up to expectations.

     In 1959, he left for Hollywood for Italy to appear in over a dozen low-budget Italian films. The most notable of these was the “sword and sandal” film The Trojan War (1959), where he starred as Ulysses opposite Steve Reeves.

     He returned to Hollywood in 1964, although he worked primarily on television, appearing in guest roles on series such as Gunsmoke, Rawhide, The Wild, Wild West and Kung Fu. He reportedly had been cast for a guest-starring role on the original Star Trek television series in 1967 but walked off the set.

     Barrymore’s last two big screen roles were small roles in the low budget science-fiction actioner The Clones (1974) and the drama Baby Blue Marine (1976). In 1975, he and third wife Jaide had daughter Drew, who would become an actress in her own right.

     In 1979, Barrymore had inherited numerous family photos, journals and letters from his mother which he turned over to his friend Carol Stein Hoffman, who organized the material into the coffee table book The Barrymore’s: Hollywood’s First Film, published in 2001. Barrymore became more reclusive during the last three decades of his life.