Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Fabulous Barrymores

Hi. I’m Renee Ryan. Like most writers of historical romance, I love researching the past. I adore getting lost in former days and learning what life was like “back then.” I am consistently amazed at the unusual tidbits I come across, things I never learned in my high school or college history classes. It’s these small factoids and glimpses into times-gone-by that make the past come alive for me.

Having said that, while in the early plotting stages of HANNAH’S BEAU, the second book in my CHARITY HOUSE series, I knew I wanted to focus on characters with unique backgrounds. In other words, I didn’t want to focus on the typical outlaw or cowboy or even rancher. I wanted something different. Thankfully, I fell across an article on the Golden Age of Theater and the ideas quickly burst forth.

During my research I became fascinated with the premiere acting family of the American Theater: The Barrymores. You’ve probably heard of Drew Barrymore, an accomplished actor in her own right who has garnered a lot of popularity and success, despite a few setbacks in her youth.

Maybe you’ve even heard of Drew’s famous grandfather and his equally talented siblings: Lionel, Ethel and John Barrymore. There is no question that these three Barrymores dominated early American cinema. But, contrary to what I had thought prior to my research, Lionel, Ethel and John weren’t the first to “tread the boards” in their family. They literally grew up in the theater. Their parents, Maurice Barrymore and Georgiana Drew (AKA Georgie Drew Barrymore), were famous stage actors during the Golden Era of American Theater – 1880-1920.

The patriarch of the family, Maurice Barrymore, was born Herbert Arthur Chamberlayne Blythe in India. His father was a surveyor for the British East India Company. Young Herbert was sent back to England for his education. He attended Harrow School and then went on to study law at Oxford University. Much to his father’s chagrin, Herbert fell in with a group of actors and never became a barrister. In order to spare his father the shame of his chosen profession, Herbert changed his name to Maurice Barrymore.

After some success on the British stage, Maurice left for America in 1874. He made his Broadway debut in December 1875 in the play Pique. In the cast was a young actress, Georgiana Drew. After a short courtship the two married and proceeded to have three children, the above mentioned, Lionel, Ethel and John.

Maurice eventually started his own theater company and toured to cities in Arkansas, Louisiana and even Texas. He was a true pioneer of the stage.

So you see. There's nothing quite like discovering new stories behind the story. I will never look at Drew Barrymore the same. And that's a good thing.


Caroline said...

How fascinating. As a Brit I never knew she had such a pedigreed background! Much more interesting than reading the gossip about her all the time. Take care. Caroline x

Pat Davids said...

Renee, I love unique tibits of history, too. Like the Boston Molasses Disaster, also known as the Great Molasses Flood. On January 15, 1919, in the North End neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts,a massive molasses tank holding 2,300,000 gallons burst and waves of molasses 8 to 15 feet high rushed through the narrow streets at an estimated 35 mph. It killed 21 and injuring 150.
If you wrote a story about something like that happening no one would believe it. Yet it's true.