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John Barrymore (1882-1942)

  1. Richard Barthelmess, The Dawn Patrol, 1930.      Howard Hawks, The Grey Fox,wanted the silent icon. He had never made a talkie and to continue his humiliation of the star,MGM’s LB Mayer would only release him if was not paid.
  2. Frederic March, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, 1930.     Having made a major comeback in the 1919 version, Barrymore was invited to repeat the titular double-act.  He was probably the first to say: Been there, done it, got the make-up. 
  3. John Gilbert, Queen Christina, 1933.     The Great Profile was out. So were Leslie Howard, Laurence Olivier, Franchot Tone. Garbo knew who she wanted as her lover.  He said of his famous profile: “The right side of my face looks like a fried egg. The left side has features… found in almost any normal anthropological specimen, and those are the apples I try to keep on top of the barrel.”
  4. Ricardo Cortez, Hat, Coat and Glove, 1934.   The New York Times review stated Barrymore declined the leading role. Rubbish! The Barrymore vehicle crashed into his alcoholism. He could no longer remember his lines lines (nor the name of his character) and was dumped after three days - of getting nothing on film. Great break for Cortez. MRS B, Dolores Costello, was preparing to declare him mentally incompetent, when he shot off to UK and India. From his next gig, Dinner At Eight, onwards, he used cue cards… years before Brando!
  5. Otto Kreuger, Vanessa:  Her Love Story, 1934. Poor Helen Hayes’ insane husband went from two Barrymores (John and Lionel), Charles Laughton and Frank Morgan to Kreuger.   This was the year when Barrymore  earned $75,000 -  and spent $260,000.
  6. Charles Boyer, Break of Hearts, 1935.      A senseless title.  Breaker of Hears was more like it, as the central character was ex-The Music Man, not THE Music Man, but a skirt-chasing orchestral conductor falling for Katharine Hepburn’s fledgling composer. Kate’s agent, lover and nearly second husband Leland Hayward suggested: “Jack must have read the script... a marathon talk with cigarettes” - but  MGM wouldn’t loan John Barrymore. After a fortnight’s rehearsals, Kate couldn’t cope with Francis Lederer, the Czech actor who’d already been a musician in a play. “He’s so slow, he doesn’t grasp the lines.” And then he refused a scene because it was shot on his bad side. Kate was incandescent. RKO chief JP MacDonald turned up an hour later with Boyer In tow.  Kate was enchanted. Not the public. This was Kate’s second consecutive flop after Little Minister.   Kate and Boyer co-starred again in The Madwoman of Chaillot… 34 years later!  
  7. Lionel Barrymore, Camille, 1935.      Robert Taylor’s lovestruck Armand was having a Barrymore for his father.  Fine  but  which one? One MGM story is that John was due as Monsieur Duval, contracted  pneumonia  and Lionel took over.  Then again, John had first been chosen for Baron de Varville, but...  
  8. Henry  Daniell, Camille, 1935.   …the titular Greta Garbo complained of alcoholic John’s  appalling  body odour and Daniell entered the baronetcy. “It was observed,” said his daughter Allyson,  “that, unlike Barrymore, Daddy didn't smell.”  Cukor’s story of seeing him about playing Camille’s protector wound up in 1936’s A Star Is Born  (and his own 1954 re-make).  “Jack had put himself into some kind of home in Culver City to stop  drinking...  Jack came in, with a sort of aide called Kelly.  He took us into a gloomy sitting room and said: Can we sit here, Kelly? Nobody's going to come through and disturb us by pretending he’s Napoleon?”
  9. Ian Hunter, That Certain Woman,  1936.      Change  of Lloyd Rogers, the guy wanting to leave his wife and marry Bette Davis. That says it all! New Republic critic Stark Young said much  more, calling Barrymore’s  films “rotten, vulgar, empty, in bad taste, dishonest, noisome with a silly and unwholesome exhibitionism, and odious with a kind of stale and degenerate studio adolescence. Their appeal is cheap, cynical and specious.
  10. Peter Lorre, Nancy Steele Is Missing, 1936.       Two Barrymores in a jail cell…? John was a bizarre idea for the bespectacled convict Sturm, as brother Lionel was in the mix for his cellmate, Nancy’s kidnapper.

  11. Guy Kibbee, Joy of Living,1938.   Change of  booze-loving father for Irene Dunne‘s  Broadway songstress (Lucille Ball was her sister and understudy) in what was first called Joy of Loving.  Cue: Douglas Fairbanks Jr  - and the fun begins.
  12. Charles Coburn, Unexpected Uncle, 1940.   It is  possible that Ginger Rogers quit once renowned scene-stealer  Coburn became her uncle”…  Barrymore and Charles Laughton were looked over earlier for the  canny old codger trying to save  the romance of salesgirl Anne Shirley and playboy James Craig (so bad he nearly buried the comedy).
  13. Raymond Massey, Reap The Wild Wind, 1941.   All hands on deck - and fathoms below - for a boisterous CB DeMille adventure classic… with a last minute change of villainous King Cutler.

  14. Monty Woolley, The Man Who Came To Dinner, 1941.  
    When the comedy tickled director Howard Hawks’ fancy, he wanted Cary Grant as the titular critic Sheridan Whiteside However, public  insisted that  only Woolley could and should play his famous stage role. Orson Welles wanted to direct and play Whiteside. (And he did so in a 1972 TVersion). Bette Davis wanted John Barrymore, but he could no longer remember his lines. Tests of Robert Benchley and Laird Cregar were respectively deemed too mild-mannered and overblown and extravagant,” by producer Hal Wallis. (Probably why Charles Coburn refused to test at all). Director William Keighley also saw Charles Laughton (he made two terrible tests) and  Fredric March. And Grant was still around - far too young and attractive, said Wallis.  Anyway, acerbic or no, causing havoc or not, who’d be upset if Cary Grant suddenly came to dinner?

  15. Joseph Schildkraut, The Cheaters, 1944.    “One of the major mistakes of my life,” bemoaned Schildkraut about signing a Republic Pictures contract for financial security and John  Barrrymore’s discarded role. The Austrian-born actor’s  better decisions included  The Life of Emile Zola, 1936, The Shop Around The Corner, 1939 and playing Anne’s father in The Diary of Anne Frank. 1958. 
  16. Ronald Colman, The Paradine Case, 1947.     Producer David Selznick's choice in 1933... for  what Barrymore called Hollywoodus in Latrina.
  17. Errol Flynn, That Forsyte Woman, 1949.     This time,  or rather  in 1934, producer  David Selznick planned it as The Barrymore Saga.... John was a great boozehound with Errol Flynn, who played him in  Too Much Too Soon, the 1958 biopic of his daughter, Diana.






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