John Sidney Blyth Barrymore was an American actor. He first gained fame as a stage actor in light comedy, then high drama and culminating in groundbreaking portrayals in Shakespearean plays Hamlet and Richard III. His success continued with motion pictures in various genres in both the silent and sound eras. Barrymore’s personal life has been the subject of much writing before and since his passing in 1942. Today John Barrymore is mostly known for his roles in movies like Grand Hotel, Dinner at Eight, Twentieth Century, and Don Juan, the first ever movie to use a Vitaphone soundtrack.
A member of a multi-generation theatrical dynasty, he was the brother of Lionel Barrymore and Ethel Barrymore, and was the paternal grandfather of Drew Barrymore.
Barrymore was born in the Philadelphia home of his maternal grandmother. His parents were Maurice Barrymore and Georgie Drew Barrymore. His maternal grandmother was Louisa Lane Drew, a prominent and well-respected 19th century actress and theater manager, who instilled in him and his siblings the ways of acting and theatre life. His uncles were John Drew, Jr. and Sidney Drew.
Barrymore fondly remembered the summer of 1896 in his youth, spent on his father’s rambling estate on Long Island. He and Lionel lived a Robinson Crusoe-like existence, attended by a black servant named Edward. John was expelled from Georgetown Preparatory School in 1898 after being caught entering a bordello.