Lionel Barrymore 

Birth Name: Lionel Blyth
Birth: Apr 28, 1878 - Philadelphia, PA
Death: Nov 15, 1954 - Van Nuys, CA

Lionel once wrote : "My family first appeared on the stage in 1752. In the approximately two hundred [250 years to date] years past, the Barrymore-Drew clan has been accused of more nepotism than any other sibling performers. My grandmother, Mrs. John Drew Sr., my father Maurice Barrymore, my mother, Georgiana Drew Barrymore, my uncles, John Drew and Sidney Drew, my cousins and my aunts, all played together. I made my first successful Broadway appearance under the startled eye of Uncle John and my first professional bow anywhere under the disappointed frowns of my grandmother and my Uncle Googan---Sidney Drew. I have acted with my brother Jack, with my father-in-law McKee Rankin, and with my wife. With both wives. But I never weaseled my way in front of an audience with the actress I consider the most gifted and distinguished on any stage, anywhere...none of us, Drews or Barrymores, has ever attempted to influence other members of the tribe..." (). We Barrymores, Lionel Barrymore, p.p. 2-4. Photo to left is Lionel's father-in-law Rankin McKee. .Mr. Rankin had another daughter whose name was "Pixey" Rankin Gibbs." CLICK HERE FOR GREAT PORTRAIT OF ADA RANKIN IN SCOTTISH GARB.

Lionel Barrymore has to be the best known actor. In 1929 he was the first Barrymore ever to be nominated for an Oscar for Directing Madame X. Shortly thereafter in 1931 Lionel won one for the film A Free Soul. He should have received nominations for his roles in You Can't Take It With You and for It's A Wonderful Life. I am sure he would have said "You Can't Take It With You."

Googan was Sidney Drew. Lionel wrote "I am proud to claim kin to him, although in her autobiography, published in 1899, Louisa Lane Drew states that she had adopted Sidney. By reviewing Lionel's early plays you can witness that they were produced by Sidney Drew. Ibid.p.35. Photo to right is Lionel's mother-in-law, Mrs. McKee.


When Lionel was just a boy his father "Maurice" introduced him to as Mr. Clemens. aka. Mark Twain. Lionel was quite familiar with Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, he wrote: "I looked Mark Twain in the eye then and began to blurt words to father moved to fetch me a kick under the table and tried to stop me from reciting Mark Twain's own story back to the end of my recital there were tears in his eyes." Ibid. p.p. 25-26.

In 1936 Lionel gave one of his greatest performances in drag in the film The Devil's Doll. He should have been nominated for an Oscar. Yet, Lionel didn't. But within a year he would have to over come the greatest challenge in his life when he fell and had permanent disability and was then confined to crutches and a wheel chair for the rest of his life. Yet, Lionel did not dwell on his handicap, for he took up art and gave some of his greatest performances.

The photo to the left is of Mrs. and Mr. Sidney Drew.

When World War II broke out, Lionel Barrymore wrote to Winston Churchill the following letter:

"Dear Mr. Churchill:
You do not know me but you do know my sister. I am a brother of Ethel Barrymore and I have a request to make. It is this: when the time comes, as it surely will, and you get ready to spring the trap on that S.O.B. Hitler, may I ask for two front-row reserved seats? Respectfully, L.B."

Churchill responded from 10, Downing Street, Whitehall on Oct. 13, 1940:
"Dear Barrymore:
It was kind of you to write me such a charming letter and I am touched by what you say. We feel confident of success over here but it cheers us to know that we can count on the sympathy and good will of people like yourself on the other side of the Atlantic. Yours sincerely, Winston Churchill."

Before World War II, in 1936 Lionel had an accident where he tripped and fell. "I felt the stab of a hard and wrenching pain in my left hip. I fumbled and scrambled but I could not get up. When help reached me and I had been carried to the hospital it was discovered that I had broken my hip...Aside from the pain, which I bore and bellows and no fortitude, I felt betrayed and outraged...I was reminded of a remark of Jack's: "Die? I should say not, old fellow. No Barrymore would allow such a conventional thing to happen to him." Gradually, Lionel learned to walk a little. ibid. 284.

At the request of Louis B. Mayer's instructions M.G.M. wrote scripts in which Lionel could play. One may recall Lionel's great fil ever with Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed's in the classic It's A Wonderful Life." Ibid. 285

In 1926 Lionel was in the silent film "The Show" in which John Gilbert was at his peaked, and blacklisted from the film industry for punched out his boss Louis B. Mayer the day he was to marry Greta Garbo, who did not show up for the wedding. Lionel plays a mean and jealous assassin and a circus side show performer. No Chucko the Clown is Lionel. This was Lionel's second film for MGM and he would remain with MGM the rest of his life.

In 1929 Lionel was in Jules Verne's film The Mysterious Island. Great photography and it began as a talking film. If you look closely you can see Lionel Barrymore reading his cue cards. Then it goes into a silent film mode. The photography especially unwater is well done for the time. One gets the feeling that they are visitng another plant and that Lionel Barrymore as Count Dakkar is the leader of a space ship. Very creative and the film is still in excellent condition nevermind all of those years. While Lionel's brother "John" would perform in the first film with sycronized sound, this film takes sound to the next step and is a masterpiece and a monument in early film history.

1935 Public Hero Number One. Lionel gets to act with Jean Arthur two years before their greatest film by Frank Capra's You Can't Take It With You. Lionel Barrymore is the doctor whose alcoholic addiction keeps him on good terms with the mob.

While Lionel might have been stereotyped into wheel chair roles, he was a man who suggested the opposite. Lionel was known to give advice freely, to friend and neighbor of my aunt, Audrey Totter told me that "Lionel said 'Audrey, don't get stereotyped into acting only in noir films.'"

A perfect example of Lionel Barrymore's character lies in an incamera investigation of his disability. Sure he must have been upset at first. Yet, he did not complain, instead he became a great artist. He fell in 1937 and he was plagued for the rest of his life to acting roles in a wheelchair. You may want to watch the film Temptress which was filmed in 1926 starring Greta Garbo and Lionel was a Giant of a man. It is a silent film and was filmed in Paris and Argentina. Great example of how well he could act.

Before his fall in 1937 Lionel worked with Cary Grant, Frank Morgan and Jean Harlow in Saratoga. Frank Morgan would become the Wizard of Oz in two yearsand in this film you can see him sitting next to the wicked witch Margaret Hamilton. What a great performance by all. Yet it was have been totally heartbreaking when that same year Jean Harlow died in Los Angeles on June 7th. This was also the year that Lionel had a terrible fall which disability he would live with for the next 15 years. In the film Saratoga at the horse track he is knocked down and leaves one wondering could this fall have been a cause to his disability which he overcame gracefully.




  • 1956 Our Mister Sun [doc]
  • 1953 Main Street to Broadway as Himself
  • 1951 Bannerline as: Hugo Trimble
  • 1951 Lone Star as: Andrew Jackson
  • 1950 Right Cross as: Sean O'Malley
  • 1949 Malaya aka Alien Orders as: John Manchester
  • 1949 Down to the Sea in Ships as: Capt. Bering Joy
  • 1948 Key Largo as: James Temple
  • 1947 Dark Delusion aka Cynthia's Secret as Dr. Leonard Gillespie
  • 1946 Three Wise Fools as: Dr. Richard Gaunght
  • 1946 The Secret Heart as: Dr. Rossiger
  • 1946 Duel in the Sun as: Senator McCanles
  • 1946 It's a Wonderful Life as: Mr. Potter
  • 1945 The Valley of Decision as: Pat Rafferty
  • 1944 Dragon Seed as: Narrator
  • 1944 Since You Went Away as: The Clergyman
  • 1944 Three Men in White as: Dr. Leonard Gillespie
  • 1944 A Guy Named Joe as: The General
  • 1944 Between Two Women as: Dr. Leonard Gillespie
  • 1943 Dr. Gillespie's Criminal Case aka Crazy to Kill as: Dr. Leonard Gillespie
  • 1943 Thousands Cheer as: Announcer
  • 1942 Dr. Gillespie's New Assistant as Dr. Gillespie
  • 1942 Calling Dr. Gillespie as: Dr. Leonard Gillespie
  • 1942 Tennessee Johnson as: Thad Stevens
  • 1941 The People vs. Dr. Kildare aka My Life is Yours as: Dr. Leonard Gillespie
  • 1941 The Bad Man aka Two-Gun Cupid as: Uncle Henry Jones
  • 1941 Dr. Kildare's Victory aka The Doctor and the Debutante as: Dr. Leonard Gillespie
  • 1941 Lady Be Good as: Judge Murdock
  • 1941 The Penalty as: "Grandpop" Logan
  • 1941 Dr. Kildare's Wedding Day Composer (Music Score) / as: Dr. Leonard Gillespie
  • 1940 Dr. Kildare's Strange Case as: Dr. Leonard Gillespie
  • 1940 Dr. Kildare's Crisis as: Dr. Leonard Gillespie
  • 1940 Dr. Kildare Goes Home as: Dr. Leonard Gillespie
  • 1939 Land of Liberty [doc]
  • 1939 Calling Dr. Kildare as: Dr. Leonard Gillespie
  • 1939 The Secret of Dr. Kildare as: Dr. Leonard Gillespie
  • 1939 Let Freedom Ring as: Thomas Logan
  • 1939 The Movies March On [doc]
  • 1939 On Borrowed Time as: Julian Northrup, "Gramps"
  • 1938 Test Pilot as: Howard B. Drake
  • 1938 A Yank at Oxford as: Dan Sheridan
  • 1938 The Young Dr. Kildare as: Dr. Leonard Gillespie
  • 1938 You Can't Take It with You as Grandpa Martin Vanderhof
  • 1937 Captains Courageous as: Captain Disko
  • 1937 Saratoga as: Grandpa Clayton
  • 1937 A Family Affair as: Judge James Hardy
  • 1937 Navy Blue and Gold as: Capt. "Skinny" Dawes
  • 1936 The Devil Doll as: PaulLavond
  • 1936 The Gorgeous Hussy as: Andrew Jackson
  • 1936 The Voice of Bugle Ann as: Spring Davis
  • 1936 Camille as: Monsieur Duval
  • 1936 The Road to Glory as: Papa LaRoche
  • 1935 Mark of the Vampire as: Prof. Zelen
  • 1935 The Little Colonel as: Colonel Lloyd
  • 1935 Public Hero No. 1 as: Dr. Josiah Glass
  • 1935 The Return of Peter Grimm as: Peter Grimm
  • 1935 Ah, Wilderness! as: Nat Miller
  • 1935 David Copperfield as: Dan Peggotty
  • 1934 This Side of Heaven as: Martin Turner
  • 1934 Treasure Island as: Billy Bones
  • 1934 The Girl from Missouri aka One Hundred Percent Pure as: T.R. Paige
  • 1934 Carolina as: Bob Connelly
  • 1933 Night Flight as: Robineau
  • 1933 Sweepings as: Daniel Pardway
  • 1933 Christopher Bean aka Her Sweetheart, Christopher Bean as: Dr. Haggett
  • 1933 One Man's Journey as: Dr. Eli Watt
  • 1933 Dinner at Eight as: Oliver Jordan
  • 1933 Should Ladies Behave? as: Augustus Merrick
  • 1933 Berkeley Square as: Innkeeper
  • 1933 The Stranger's Return as: Grandpa Storr
  • 1933 Looking Forward aka The New Deal Actor: Michael Benton
  • 1933 Reunion in Vienna
  • 1932 Grand Hotel as Otto Klingelein
  • 1932 Washington Masquerade as: Jeff Keane
  • 1932 Arsene Lupin as: Det. Guerchard
  • 1932 Broken Lullaby aka The Man I Killed as: Dr. Holderlin
  • 1932 Mata Hari as: Gen. Serge Shubin
  • 1932 Rasputin and the Empress aka Rasputin: The Mad Monk as: Rasputin
  • 1931 Guilty Hands as: Richard Grant
  • 1931 Ten Cents a Dance Director
  • 1931 The Yellow Ticket aka The Yellow Passport as: Baron Igor Andreeff
  • 1931 A Free Soul as: Stephen Ashe
  • 1930 Love Comes Along
  • 1930 The Rogue Song Producer / Director
  • 1930 Free and Easy aka Easy Go as: Director, bedroom scene
  • 1929 Stark Mad
  • 1929 The Mysterious Island as: Count Dakkar
  • 1929 The Hollywood Revue of 1929 as: Specialty
  • 1929 His Glorious Night Director / Composer (Music Score)
  • 1929 The Unholy Night aka The Green Ghost Director
  • 1929 Madame X Director
  • 1928 Sadie Thompson as: Alfred Atkinson
  • 1928 Alias Jimmy Valentine aka Jimmy Valentine as: Doyle
  • 1928 Drums of Love as: Duke Cathos De Alvia
  • 1928 West of Zanzibar as: Crane
  • 1928 The Lion and the Mouse as: John "Ready Money" Ryder
  • 1928 The River Woman as: Bill Lefty
  • 1928 Road House as: Henry Grayson
  • 1927 Women Love Diamonds aka Women Want Diamonds
  • 1927 Body and Soul as Dr. Leyden
  • 1927 Show as The Greek
  • 1927 Love
  • More Lionel History click on link here.