John Drew Barrymore (born John Blyth Barrymore Jr.; June 4, 1932 – November 29, 2004) was an American film actor and member of the Barrymore family of actors, which included his father, John Barrymore, and his father’s siblings, Lionel and Ethel. He was the father of four children, including actor John Blyth Barrymore and actress Drew Barrymore. Diana Barrymore was his half-sister from his father’s second marriage.
Barrymore was born in Los Angeles to John Barrymore (born John Blyth) and Dolores Costello. His parents separated when he was 18 months old, and he rarely saw his father afterward. Educated at private schools, he made his film debut at 17, billed as John Barrymore Jr. One of the schools he attended was the Hollywood Professional School.
Barrymore’s film career began with a small role in The Sundowners (1950), a Western with Robert Preston. As he was a minor he needed his mother’s permission. His fee was $7,500. He was promoted to leading man in just his second movie, the Western High Lonesome (1950), written and directed by Alan Le May, who also wrote Barrymore’s next film, Quebec (1951). He starred in The Big Night (1951), written and directed by Joseph Losey, and was in Thunderbirds (1952) with John Derek at Republic. In 1953, he was briefly jailed for failing to appear on three old traffic charges.
Barrymore’s films were not particularly successful. He moved into television, guest-starring on shows like Schlitz Playhouse and The 20th Century-Fox Hour . He did some TV movies, including The Reluctant Redeemer (1954) and The Adventures of Lt. Contee (1955), and appeared in several episodes of Matinee Theatre. In 1957 he directed an episode of Matinee Theatre, “One for All”. “Television gives me the chance to do what movies didn’t”, he said. In 1955, Barrymore was sued by Lanny Budd Productions for not making a series of movies in Europe. Barrymore counter-sued.
Barrymore returned to features with supporting parts in While the City Sleeps (1956), for director Fritz Lang, and The Shadow on the Window (1957). In 1957, he appeared in a production of Romeo and Juliet at the Pasadena Playhouse with Margaret O’Brien. He guest starred in Playhouse 90 (the original production of The Miracle Worker), Climax!, Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse and Wagon Train.
In 1958, he changed his middle name to Drew, although he had previously been credited in past works as Blyth. He had a supporting part in High School Confidential! (1958) at MGM, and the lead in Never Love a Stranger and MGM’s interracial drama, Night of the Quarter Moon (1959) with Julie London. In December 1958, he was sentenced to three weekends in prison after a drunken public fight with his wife in a car park. In January 1959, his ex-wife sued for non payment of alimony. In March 1959, he was arrested for suspected hit-and-run drunk driving. In October 1959, he quit the touring company of Look Homeward, Angel after a week and a half of rehearsals.
Barrymore journeyed to Italy to star in The Cossacks (1960) with Edmund Purdom. The actor stayed in Italy for the next few years, with lead or main cast roles including appearances in The Night They Killed Rasputin (1960, playing Felix Yusupov), The Pharaohs’ Woman (1961), The Centurion (1961), The Trojan Horse (1961, playing Ulysses), Pontius Pilate (1961, playing both Judas and Jesus), Invasion 1700 (1962) and Rome Against Rome (1964).
During his five years in Europe, Barrymore appeared in the UK film The Christine Keeler Story (1963, filmed in Denmark) as Stephen Ward.
Return to LA
Barrymore returned to Los Angeles. He announced he made 16 films abroad but “I’m not going to do anything bad any more. I feel I’m straightened out and down the block. Somewhere around the block I lost half my ego, so I don’t work for applause.” He also said he had started to write scripts. He guest starred on episodes of various television series, including Gunsmoke, Rawhide, Run for Your Life, Jericho, and Dundee and the Culhane, and appeared in the 1967 television film Winchester ’73.
Barrymore’s antisocial and erratic behavior continued to obstruct his professional progress. In the 1960s, he was occasionally incarcerated for drug use, public drunkenness, and spousal abuse. In 1964, he went to prison for possession of marijuana.
In 1966, Barrymore was signed to play a guest role as Lazarus in the Star Trek episode “The Alternative Factor”. However, he failed to show up (replaced at the last minute by Robert Brown), resulting in a SAG suspension of six months.
After the SAG suspension was served to Barrymore in 1967, he sporadically worked on-screen, sometimes with a few years between appearances.
In 1967, he was imprisoned for possession of drugs following a car crash. In 1969, he was again arrested for possession of drugs after another car accident.
As Barrymore became more and more reclusive, he withdrew from acting, with his final two appearances being a 1974 episode of Kung Fu and an uncredited role in the 1976 film Baby Blue Marine. Barrymore suffered from the same addiction problems that had destroyed his father. Although he continued to appear occasionally onscreen, he became more and more reclusive, eventually disappearing into the wilderness to live a mystical existence that has also been described as derelict. He was estranged from his family, including his children, and his lifestyle continued to worsen as his physical and mental health deteriorated.
In 2003, his daughter Drew moved him near her home, despite their estrangement. She paid his medical bills until his death from cancer the following year at age 72. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his contributions to television.
All of Barrymore’s marriages ended in divorce. His first marriage was to actress Cara Williams in 1952; they had one child, John Blyth Barrymore (b. 1954), before their divorce in 1959. A year later, in 1960, Barrymore married Gabriella Palazzoli. Their daughter, Blyth Dolores Barrymore, was born that same year. Their marriage lasted 10 years before ending in divorce in 1970.
John Blyth Barrymore III, born May 15, 1954
Blyth Dolores Barrymore, born 1960
Drew Barrymore, born February 22, 1975
Brahma (Jessica) Blyth Barrymore (1966–2014)