John Barrymore

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Barrymore in c. 1922

John Sidney Blyth Barrymore (February 15, 1882May 29, 1942) was an American actor of the early 20th century.


  • Don't worry. For a man who has been dead for fifteen years I am in remarkable health. Love. Mr. Barrymore.
    • Telegram sent to Garson Kanin regarding Barrymore's rumored stroke following his collapse prior to a 1939 performance of Catherine Turney's My Dear Children at the Selwyn Theater in Chicago, as quoted in Kanin's Hollywood (1974), p. 45
  • Orson Welles? What are they?
    • When asked by a radio interviewer what he thought of his old friend (about one week prior to portraying Cassius to Welles' Brutus in a scene from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, performed live on Rudy Vallée's radio program); as quoted in "Hedda Hopper's Hollywood: Orson in Wonderland," Los Angeles Times (December 14, 1940)
  • A person is not old until regrets take the place of dreams.
  • He neither drank, smoked, nor rode a bicycle. Living frugally, saving his money, he died early, surrounded by greedy relatives. It was a great lesson to me.
    • The Stage January (1941) (J. P. McEvoy)

About John Barrymore

  • Mr. [John] Barrymore’s smile was the smile of an actor who hates actors, and who knows that he is going to kill two or three before the play is over. I am not an actor-killer, but I like my Hamlets to dislike actors, if you know what I mean, and I think you don’t.
  • The death of John Barrymore made us think again for a minute of F. Scott Fitzgerald. They were very different men: a lot alike. Undoubtedly, they both worked hard, but there was the same sense of a difficult technique easily mastered (too easily perhaps); there was the same legend of great physical magnetism, working incessantly for its own destruction; there was the same need for public confession, either desperate or sardonic; and there was always a good deal of time wasted, usually accompanied by the sweet smell of grapes. We have seen Scott Fitzgerald when everything he said was a childish parody of his own talent, and the last time we saw John Barrymore he was busy with a sick and humiliating parody of his. The similarity probably ends there. Up to the day he died, we believe, Fitzgerald still kept his original and eager devotion to his profession, along, we like to think, with the strict confidence that he might still achieve the strict perfection that was so often almost his. Barrymore, on the other hand, had given up long ago.
  • I know that back in the twenties everyone who saw it judged John Barrymore's Hamlet to be unforgettable. Great though it was, I found his Richard III even more impressive. Barrymore's sinister, half-mad hunchback became incandescent as he gleefully anticipated his conquest of the Lady Anne. The genius of the actor contrived a slight but inspired alteration of Shakespeare's: 'Was ever woman in this humour wooed? Was ever woman in this humour won?' The change to 'Never was woman in this manner wooed; never was woman in this manner won' heightened the deviltry in Richard's gloating.
    • Marc Connelly Voices offstage: a book of memoirs, (1968) p. 237; Cited in: Michael A. Morrison (1999) John Barrymore, Shakespearean Actor. p. 345
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