Maurice Barrymore

Maurice Barrymore
Maurice Barrymore

Maurice Barrymore as Mr. Weilding in 'Captain Swift', 1891
Born Herbert Arthur Chamberlayne Blythe
September 21, 1849(1849-09-21)
Amritsar, Punjab, India
Died March 26, 1905(1905-03-26) (aged 55)
Amityville, New York, U.S.[1]
Spouse Georgiana Drew Barrymore
Mamie Floyd
Children Lionel Barrymore
Ethel Barrymore
John Barrymore

Herbert Arthur Chamberlayne Blythe (September 21, 1849[2] – March 26, 1905) —stage name Maurice Barrymore — was the patriarch of the Barrymore acting family and great-grandfather of actress Drew Barrymore.


Early life

Born Herbert Arthur Chamberlayne Blythe in the Sikh holy city, Amritsar, Punjab or more precisely Fort Agra, India, he was the son of William Edward Blythe, a surveyor for the British East India Company and his wife Matilda Chamberlayne. Herbert had an older brother named Will and a sister named Evelin. Matilda, after a difficult pregnancy died shortly after giving birth to Herbert on September 21, 1849. In his formative years Herbert was raised by his Aunt Amelia Blythe, his mother's sister. Amelia, a Chamberlayne by birth, had married a brother of Herbert's father and was a Blythe by marriage. Herbert was sent back to England for education at Harrow School, England and studied Law at Oxford University where he was Captain of his class football team in 1868. Herbert also became enamored of the sport of boxing. The Marquess of Queensberry rules were firmly established at this time but it wasn't unusual to see bare knuckle fights. On March 21, 1872 Herbert won the middleweight boxing championship of England. Years later many of Herbert's friends would be sports figures of the day particularly boxers and wrestlers such as William Muldoon, John L. Sullivan, James J. Corbett and a young actor named Hobart Bosworth, the latter of whom Herbert would stage in an amateur bout with his son Lionel.[3] Herbert's father expected him to become a barrister, but Herbert fell in with a group of actors, which scandalized the elder Blythe. That same year 1872 Herbert sat for his first posed theatrical photographic portrait by noted photographer Oliver Sarony, an older brother of the better remembered Napoleon Sarony. In order to spare his father the "shame" of having a son in such a "dissolute" vocation, he took the stage name Maurice Barrymore (though he never legally changed from "Blythe"), inspired by a conversation he had with fellow actor Charles Vandenhoff about William Barrymore, an early 19th-century English thespian, after seeing a poster depicting Barrymore in the Haymarket Theatre. He wanted his first name to be pronounced in the French manner (môr-ĒS) instead of the English (MÔR-is). His friends avoided that altogether by simply calling him "Barry".[4]

Career and Marriage to Georgiana Drew

On December 29, 1874, Barrymore emigrated to the United States, sailing aboard the Boston, and joined Augustin Daly's troupe, making his debut in Under the Gaslight.

He made his Broadway debut in December 1875 in Pique; in the cast was a young actress, Georgiana Drew, known as Georgie. Maurice and Georgiana had been introduced earlier by her brother John Drew Jr. who had befriended Maurice when he first arrived in America. After a brief courtship, Barrymore and Georgie married on December 31, 1876, and had three children: Lionel (b. 1878), Ethel (b. 1879), and John (b. 1882). While on tour, the children lived with Georgiana's mother in Philadelphia. Maurice also owned a farm on Staten Island to keep his collection of exotic animals. Georgiana died July 2, 1893, from consumption. For a summer in 1896, Lionel and John were left on the farm in the care of the man who fed the animals. Barrymore re-married exactly one year after Georgie's death to Mamie Floyd, much to Ethel's consternation. During his career, Maurice Barrymore played opposite many of the reigning female stars of the time including Helena Modjeska, Mrs. Fiske, Mrs. Leslie Carter, Olga Nethersole, Lillian Russell, and Lily Langtry.

Marshall, Texas Incident

On March 19, 1879, in Marshall, Texas, Barrymore and fellow actor Ben Porter were shot by an intoxicated Texas and Pacific Railway engineer named Jim Currie (who shared a cell with the accused killer of Diamond Bessie). Porter was killed; doctors spent the night operating on Barrymore to save his life. He made a full recovery, and returned to Marshall for the legal procedures that followed. Currie's brother was mayor of Shreveport, Louisiana and apparently used his influence to secure a not guilty verdict (after a 10 minute deliberation). An enraged Barrymore vowed never to return to Texas.

According to a 2004 A&E Biography piece, after the Ben Porter tragedy, Barrymore asked Georgiana to tour with him and Helena Modjeska in a play he had written. Georgiana and the children had converted to Roman Catholicism under Helena's influence. Learning that he and Helena had resumed their romance, Georgiana, who had been given ownership of the play by Barrymore, forced his hand by closing it. Helena's husband, its producer, sued her. The real reason for Georgiana's actions never got into the press. However, Barrymore's many dalliances did make the tabloids.


Around 1884 and 1885, Barrymore wrote a play titled Nadjezda. During this period he sailed with his wife Georgiana and their children Lionel, Ethel and John, then respectively 6, 5 and 2, to England to visit relatives he hadn't seen since migrating to America. He had previously come into some money left to him by his now deceased aunt Amelia, the woman who raised him. During the trip to Europe in 1885, Barrymore came into contact with the great French actress and star Sarah Bernhardt. Without copyrighting his play, he gave a copy of the manuscript to Bernhardt. Between 1885 and 1887, Bernhardt had the copy in her possession and allegedly had given it to playwright Victorien Sardou to review. Sardou, in 1886, wrote his famous play La Tosca, which later achieved great fame as an opera. Barrymore, upon the creation of Sardou's play, realized that La Tosca was a plagiarization of his story Nadjezda.

Last Years

In 1896, Barrymore became the first major Broadway star to headline in vaudeville—a brave foray at the time that he speculatively would have later made into motion pictures had he lived. In the 1895 theater season on Broadway he co-starred with Mrs. Leslie Carter in The Heart of Maryland. In the 1899 season on Broadway he had a success playing opposite Mrs. Fiske in the part of Rawdon Crawley in Becky Sharp. This play was based on a character from William Thackeray's novel Vanity Fair. Becky Sharp was Barrymore's last Broadway success. In 1900, Barrymore toured the U.S. with a play called The Battle of the Strong. In the company of this play was a five year old child actress, Blanche Sweet, who grew up to be a silent movie actress and acted with Lionel in his first film. When the Battle of the Strong company stopped in Louisville, Kentucky Barrymore sat for his last posed photograph. Also during this time he got to spend time with his son John, who was now in his late teens. Lionel and Ethel were on the road in theater companies having already started their careers.

Mental breakdown and death

The March 25, 1905, the New York Times reported: "He was playing a vaudeville engagement [in 1901] at a Harlem theatre when he suddenly dropped his lines and began to rave, (to the horror of his son John). The following day he became violent and was taken to Bellevue insane ward by John. No easy task as John had to lure his father away at the pretense of starring in a new play. At Bellevue and later Amityville he was diagnosed with the lingering effects of syphilis, an incurable disease in his day. Nothing could be done for him. During his stay at Bellevue he nearly strangled his daughter Ethel when she paid a visit to him. Ethel, through her early success on the stage, would pick up the tab for her father's stay in the institutions. A trained boxer, Barrymore's strength remained as in a scuffle with one of the Bellevue attendants, he picked the man up over his head and threw him into a corner. He died at Amityville in his sleep, and Ethel had him buried at Glenwood Cemetery in Philadelphia.[1] Barrymore had lived long enough to see all three of his children grow to adulthood and enter the family business of acting. There are no photographs that survive of Barrymore taken with any of his three children.[5]

In memoriam

In honor of his life, Michael J. Farrand penned the memorial narrative poem "The Man Who Brought Royalty to America" in 2000; based on the definitive biography Great Times, Good Times: The Odyssey of Maurice Barrymore by James Kotsilibas Davis (Doubleday, 1977).


  1. ^ a b Said that Maurice had died in Amityville, New York, pp. 21-22,41.
  2. ^ GREAT TIMES GOOD TIMES: The Odyssey of Maurice Barrymore by James Kotsilibas Davis c.1977
  3. ^ Great Times Good Times: The Odyssey of Maurice Barrymore by James Kotsilibas Davis c. 1977
  4. ^ American History From About at
  5. ^ "Tribute to Maurice Barrymore" by actor/friend Henry Miller

External links

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  • Barrymore — noun 1. United States actor; son of Maurice Barrymore and Georgiana Barrymore (1882 1942) • Syn: ↑John Barrymore • Instance Hypernyms: ↑actor, ↑histrion, ↑player, ↑thespian, ↑role player 2. United States a …   Useful english dictionary

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  • Barrymore, Maurice — (1847 1905)    Born in Fort Agra, India, Herbert Blyth, who changed his name to Maurice Barrymore when he left Oxford University to go on the stage, became the amateur middleweight boxing champion of England before his 1872 stage debut at the… …   The Historical Dictionary of the American Theater

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  • Barrymore, Maurice — ▪ British actor original name  Herbert Blythe   born 1846, Fort Agra, India died March 26, 1905, Amityville, N.Y., U.S.       actor and sometime playwright, founder, with his wife, Georgiana Barrymore, of the renowned Barrymore theatrical family …   Universalium

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