THE BARRYMORES: The Royal Family in Hollywood by James Kotsilibas-Davis

THE BARRYMORES: The Royal Family in Hollywood

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In his lumbering biography of Maurice Barrymore, Great Times, Good Times (1977), Kotsilibas-Davis appeared to be a whiz at research but not much of a writer. And here that's true again--though the research involved is a lot less freshly informative than the Maurice Barrymore material: anecdotes, domestic gossip, and movie-by-movie data on the Hollywood careers of Maurice's kids--Ethel, Lionel, John--and (in an especially tepid last chapter) on the piddling movie careers of two third-generation Barrymores, Diana and John, Jr. With no real revelations and with few esthetic judgments or insights, Kotsilibas-Davis merely strings together facts, quotes, reviews, hearsay, and trivia; and he makes no apparent attempt to weigh the veracity or significance of his cut-and-paste material--which includes much old-time, strictly-for-the-fans interview/press-release pap. (He does, however, at least pooh-pooh that John Barrymore corpse anecdote.) So here is great-profile Jack, making early silent action-comedies (""unduly neglected by film historians""), dabbling in films through the Twenties for mostly financial reasons, peaking in the early Thirties (Grand Hotel, A Bill of Divorcement, Twentieth Century), and then sliding into a ""gaudy decline"" of potboilers; here, too, are his marriages, drinking, and roistering. Somewhat less numbingly familiar is the documentation on Lionel and Ethel: he was the family's real film actor and real character actor (though he preferred art and music), a man plagued by family illness and crippling injuries; she was the imperious stage star who (aside from an early photoplay and the three-Barrymore circus, Rasputin and the Empress) spurned Hollywood until her later years. Virtually all the good stuff here has been told before, in biographies and nostalgia assemblages. The rest--especially Kotsilibas-Davis' often-fatuous, generally uncritical comments--can easily be done without.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1981
Publisher: Crown