John Barrymore, "The Great Profile," was one of the Twentieth Century's more beautiful and notorious actors. Gene Fowler's "Good Night, Sweet Prince," published shortly after Barrymore's death, did a pretty good job of chronicling his doings. But Fowler, who was close to Barrymore in life, published less than everything that he knew. So along came John Kobler, a sturdy freelance and former star crime reporter for "PM", newspaper that pioneered the "you are there" style, to rectify the situation. For "Damned in Paradise," Kobler drew upon Fowler's unpublished material, previously unpublished letters and diaries, and interviewed about 50 people, some of whom only then felt free to tell it like it was. He produced 374 indexed, illustrated pages of fully-buttressed, horrifying detail about Barrymore's hellish life in Hollywood, London and New York.
Barrymore sprang from two of our more legendary theatrical dynasties: the Drews and Barrymores. His brother Lionel and sister Ethel were almost as honored and famous as he was, and little Drew Barrymore is enjoying a successful career herself. John achieved great stage success on both sides of the Atlantic, notably as "Hamlet," and left us a gallery of cinematic portraits of some stature: Beau Brummel,Svengali ,Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde . He played opposite Greta Garbo in Grand Hotel,opposite Carole Lombard in Twentieth Century , and how many actors have ever been able to play first-rate tragedy and comedy? He was an intelligent, hard-working, hard-drinking, man; who, by preference, spent his time with intelligent, hard-drinking, hard-working people.
By Barrymore's own testimony, during his 14th year he was seduced both by his father's second wife, and by the fruit of the grape. (Doctors agreed that he had been an alcoholic since his early teens.) He married four times, pursued any number of additional women, amassed and spent several fortunes, collected rare books and animals.
Presumably he occasionally enjoyed himself, though there's not much of that in this all fornication-no fun book. There's much more on the dark side of this film and matinee idol's life, in fact, than many people may care to know. As when we find him near death, sick in bed with damaged liver and kidneys, legs grotesquely swollen with fluid he was unable to pass, insisting that his daughter Diana, then 21, call a prostitute for him. We are able to judge just how damaging Barrymore's home was, and how the sins of the father can be visited on the sons, as Diana later became an alcoholic herself,committing suicide at age 38; while her brother, John Jr.,also became an alcoholic. John Jr. fathered Drew Barrymore, beat her severely when she was a child. Drew herself was a preteen drug addict who appears to have miraculously gotten herself straightened out.
It may not have been Kobler's intention, but the author surely illuminates the heavy costs of living trapped by the machismo ideal. Barrymore's close friend and neighbor W.C. Fields, another of the "Bundy Drive Boys" noted for their alcoholism and misogyny, is frequently treated quite worshipfully, and doubtless his alcoholic, misogynistic movies are wonderfully entertaining, but his private side, too, was quite dark. Fields to Barrymore: he could love the "little nectarines" if they were neither aggressive nor possessive. Barrymore to Fields:"Is there any other kind?" Barrymore upon another occasion:" Don't trust any of them as far as you can throw Fort Knox....When a woman leaves you, she has opened the door and set you free." At other times he called women "the collecting sex," and "twittering vaginas," and remarked that "I wish I'd been born a pansy." But it's not news that heavy boozing will have some lousy effects on the kidneys and liver, and seeing women as sex organs who must either be hired, or paid alimony to, is expensive in a lot of ways. On stage and screen, Barrymore doubtlessly had his act together. Offscreen, what a price he paid.
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Excellent service from the company. The book was in good condition as it said. John Barrymore belongs to a different time and age. I expect he would prefer to be remembered for his acting talent which he possessed in abundance, rather than the sad escalation into alcoholism. A fascinating read.