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Maurice Barrymore

barrymore

Herbert Arthur Chamberlayne Blythe (September 21, 1849 – March 26, 1905) is the patriarch of the Barrymore acting family and great-grandfather of actress Drew Barrymore.

Early life

Born Herbert Arthur Chamberlayne Blythe in the Sikh holy city, Amritsar, Punjab or more precisely Fort Agra, India, he was the son of William Edward Blythe, a surveyor for the British East India Company and his wife Matilda Chamberlayne. Herbert had an older brother named Will and a sister named Evelin. Matilda, after a difficult pregnancy died shortly after giving birth to Herbert on September 21, 1849. In his formative years Herbert was raised by his Aunt Amelia Blythe, his mother's sister. Amelia, a Chamberlayne by birth, had married a brother of Herbert's father and was a Blythe by marriage. Herbert was sent back to England for education at Harrow School, England and studied Law at Oxford University where he was Captain of his class football (soccer US) team in 1868. On March 21, 1872 he won the middleweight boxing championship of England. His father expected him to become a barrister, but Herbert fell in with a group of actors, which scandalized the elder Blythe. That same year 1872 Herbert sat for his first posed theatrical photographic portrait by noted photographer Oliver Sarony. In order to spare his father the "shame" of having a son in such a "dissolute" vocation, he took the stage name Maurice Barrymore(though he never legally changed Blythe), inspired by a conversation he had with fellow actor Charles Vandenhoff about William Barrymore, an early 19th-Century English thespian after seeing a poster depicting Barrymore in the Haymarket Theatre. He wanted his first name to be pronounced in the French manner (môr-?S) instead of the English (MOR-is). His friends avoided that altogether by simply calling him "Barry".

 

Career

On December 29, 1874 Barrymore boarded the SS America for Boston, and joined Augustin Daly's troupe making his debut in Under the Gaslight.

He made his Broadway debut in December 1875 in Pique; in the cast was a young actress, Georgiana Drew.

Maurice and Georgiana had been introduced earlier by her brother John Drew Jr. who had befriended Maurice when he first arrived in America. After a brief courtship Maurice & 'Georgie' married on December 31, 1876, and had three children: Lionel (b.1878), Ethel (b.1879), and John (b.1882). Georgiana died July 2, 1893 from consumption, and Barrymore re-married exactly one year after her death to Mamie Floyd much to Ethel's consternation. During his career, Maurice Barrymore played opposite many stars of the time including Helena Modjeska, Mrs. Fiske, Olga Nethersole, Lillian Russell, and Lily Langtry.

On March 19, 1879, in Marshall, Texas, he and fellow actor Ben Porter were shot by an intoxicated Texas and Pacific Railway engineer named Jim Currie (who shared a cell with the accused killer of Diamond Bessie). Porter was killed; doctors spent the night operating on Barrymore to save his life. He made a full recovery, and returned to Marshall for the legal maneuverings that followed. Currie's brother was mayor of Shreveport, Louisiana and apparently used his influence to secure a not guilty verdict (after a 10 minute deliberation). An enraged Barrymore vowed never to return to Texas.

According to a 2004 A&E Biography piece, after the Ben Porter tragedy, Maurice asked Georgiana to tour with him and Helena Modjeska in a play he had written. Georgiana and the children had converted to Roman Catholicism under Helena's influence. Learning that he and Helena had resumed their romance, Georgiana, who had been given ownership of the play by Maurice, forced his hand by closing it. Helena's husband, its producer, sued her. The real reason for Georgiana's actions never got into the press. However, Maurice's many dalliances did make the tabloids.

 

Death

He eventually became infected with syphilis. The March 25, 1905 New York Times reported: "He was playing a vaudeville engagement(in 1901) at a Harlem theatre when he suddenly dropped his lines and began to rave. The following day he became violent and was taken to Bellevue insane ward by his son John." He died in his sleep, and was buried by his daughter Ethel at Glenwood Cemetery in Philadelphia.

Source: encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com


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