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Ethel Barrymore (August 15, 1879 – June 18, 1959) was an American actress and a member of the famous Barrymore family.

Early life

Ethel Barrymore was born Ethel Mae Blythe in Philadelphia, Pennsylvaniamarker, the second child of the actors Maurice Barrymore (whose real name was Herbert Blythe) and Georgiana Drew. She spent her childhood in Philadelphia, and attended Roman Catholic schools there.

She was the sister of actors John Barrymore and Lionel Barrymore, the aunt of actor John Drew Barrymore, and the great-aunt of actress Drew Barrymore. She was also the niece of Broadway matinée idol John Drew Jr and early Vitagraph movie star Sidney Drew.


Ethel Barrymore was a highly regarded stage actress in New York Citymarker and a major Broadwaymarker performer. Many today consider her to be the greatest actress of her generation.

Her first appearance in Broadway was in 1895, in a play called The Imprudent Young Couple which starred her uncle John Drew Jr and Maude Adams. She appeared with Drew and Adams again in 1896 in Rosemary. She portrayed Nora in A Doll's House by Ibsen (1905), and Juliet in Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare (1922).
Barrymore playing the male character Carrots in a play of the same name, 1902
Ethel Barrymore in 1896
She was also a strong supporter of the Actors' Equity Association and had a high-profile role in the 1919 strike. In 1926, she scored one of her greatest successes as the sophisticated spouse of a philandering husband in W. Somerset Maugham's comedy, The Constant Wife. In July 1934 she starred in the play Laura Garnett, by Leslie and Sewell Stokes, at Dobbs Ferrymarker, New York State.

Barrymore was a baseball and boxing fan. Her admiration for boxing ended when she witnessed as a spectator the brutality of the July 4, 1919, Dempsey/Willard fight in which Dempsey broke Willard's jaw and knocked out several of his teeth. Ethel vowed never to attend another boxing match though she would later watch boxing on television.

She made her first motion picture in 1914 and, in the 1940s, she moved to Hollywood, Californiamarker and started working in motion pictures. The only two films that featured all three siblings—Ethel, John and Lionel Barrymore—were National Red Cross Pageant (1917) and Rasputin and the Empress (1932). The former film is now lost.

She won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role in the 1944 film None but the Lonely Heart opposite Cary Grant, but made plain that she was not overly impressed by it. On March 22, 2007, her Oscar was offered for sale on eBay.

She made such other classic films as The Spiral Staircase (1946) directed by Robert Siodmak, The Paradine Case (1947) directed by Alfred Hitchcock, Portrait of Jennie (1948), Pinky (1949), Kind Lady (1951), and Young at Heart (1954). Her last film appearance was in Johnny Trouble (1957). She also made a number of television appearances in the 1950s, including one memorable encounter with comedian Jimmy Durante on NBC's All Star Revue on December 1, 1951 (preserved on a kinescope).

Private life

Ethel Barrymore, husband Russell Griswold Colt and their three children, circa 1914.
Winston Churchill proposed to her around 1900, but she turned him down. Ethel married Russell Griswold Colt (1882–1959), grandnephew of American arms maker Samuel Colt (1814-1862), on March 14, 1909. The couple had been introduced by her brother John. The couple had three children: actress/singer Ethel Barrymore Colt (1912–1977), who appeared on Broadwaymarker in Stephen Sondheim's Follies; Samuel Colt (1909-1986); and John Drew Colt (1913–1975). Her marriage to Colt was a precarious one from the start, with Ethel filing divorce papers as early in the marriage as 1911, much to Russell's surprise. At least one source claims that he abused Ethel and also that Colt fathered a child with another woman while married to Ethel. They divorced in 1923 and, quite surprisingly, she did not seek alimony from Colt, which was her right. A devout Roman Catholic, she never remarried, though her religious belief, as she herself stated, was not the reason she never remarried. She simply did not receive more offers nor had found the right man the second time around. She had platonic relationships with other men, most notably actors Henry Daniell and Louis Calhern.


Ethel Barrymore died of cardiovascular disease in 1959, at her home in Hollywood, Californiamarker, after having lived for many years with a heart condition. She was two months shy of her 80th birthday. She was entombed at Calvary Cemeterymarker. The Ethel Barrymore Theatremarker in New York Citymarker is named after her.

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