Diana Barrymore (Diana Blanche Barrymore Blythe)
Photos with Diana Barrymore
BiographyNew York City, New York, USA
"Too Much, Too Soon" was the story of Diana's life, and the title of her autobiography. Her father was stage and screen legend John Barrymore; and her mother was Blanche Oelrichs (who wrote under the masculine pseudonym Michael Strange), who had just divorced Mr. Thomas and had 2 children (Leonard and Robin) from that marriage. Diana's parents got married on August 15, 1920, and Diana was born 7 months later, on March 3, 1921. At age 6, Diana was attending school in Paris; she rarely saw her father, he was romancing Dolores Costello (whom he'd later marry) and divorcing Diana's mother. Read more... year she was back in the USA, and by 1929 her mom had married Harrison Tweed. By age 14, Diana hadn't seen her father in years, nor much of her mother since Diana was in boarding school. In 1934, when her father did come for one rare visit, he took Diana and an older schoolmate friend of hers to dinner and a movie; he got drunk and hit on Diana's 17-year-old schoolmate. In rebellion against years of getting no attention from her parents, Diana attended a dance wearing a "lurid red satin dress with a plunging neckline and hardly any back," and a pair of borrowed high heels; she was the life of the party. She had decided to stop feeling miserable, and stop being a victim of her parents who had ignored her since her earliest recollections, and make her own success. By 1937, Diana was enrolled in the American Academy of Dramatic Art in New York, and vacationing summers in Europe, on her $500 a month (a fortune in those days) allowance. In November 1938, David Selznick gave Diana a screen test for playing Scarlett O'Hara in "Gone With the Wind." Although she didn't get the part, next year Diana was doing summer stock in Maine for $10 a week. By 1940, her salary had increased to $150 per week when she appeared in "Outward Bound" in the Harris Theatre in Chicago, right next door to where John Barrymore was performing "My Dear Children" at the Selwyn Theatre, his first theatrical work in 15 years (he had exclusively made movies since 1925). At 19 years of age, Diana made her Broadway debut playing Caroline Bronson in "Romantic Mr. Dickens." Later, helping the War effort, she also campaigned for "Bundles for Britain." In January 1942, Diana left the stage for Hollywood; producer Walter Wanger had promised to cast her in movies at $1,000 a week, and she would appear in two of his films: Eagle Squadron (1942) with screen legend Robert Stack and later Ladies Courageous (1944). Actor Van Heflin proposed to Diana, and introduced her to producer Joe Pasternak, who had collaborated with director Henry Koster on many films; Koster was set to direct Between Us Girls (1942). Diana got the role, but not Van Heflin--two days later he married Frances Neal. Diana visited the hospital the night her father died on May 29, 1942 (of cirrhosis of the liver, from decades of too much alcohol). She let years of pent-up emotions out when she wrote, "Damn mother for her indifference and disdain of me, and damn daddy for the crazy, mixed-up life he led." Diana quickly married Bramwell Fletcher, who was 18 years older than her, on July 30, 1942 (they would divorce in 1947). Diana gave a standout performance in the starring role in the film noir classic Nightmare (1942) costarring Oscar-nominated veteran actor Brian Donlevy. But problems started with the filming of Fired Wife (1943); even though her salary was now raised to $2,000 per week, and Universal had advertised her as "1942's Most Sensational New Screen Personality"; it seemed it was all too much, too soon. The box office was down. Counting on her Barrymore name, the studio had wanted to cash in on her instantly, instead of grooming her for roles, and finding suitable vehicles. When Universal, clutching at straws, asked if she'd work with Abbott and Costello, Diana refused and was put on unpaid suspension. The suspension lasted 6 months, and when Diana was cast in "Ladies Courageous" it was in a secondary role, the lead had been reassigned to Loretta Young. December 1943, Diana and her husband headed back to New York; despite achieving some recognition in movies, her film career was over, and Diana considered herself a has-been before her 23rd birthday. The couple took the Theatre Guild production of "Rebecca" on the road to Cleveland, Detroit, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Cincinnati. By the summer of 1945, Diana returned to Hollywood, but not movies--she was offered $1,000 a week to be on Jack Carson's NBC radio show. In 1947, Diana divorced her husband, and married again on the rebound. John R. Howard was a 6'2" tennis pro (5th ranked in the nation) whom Diana met, married (January 17, 1947), and divorced after living with him as man and wife for 6 months; he was 2 years younger than her. John was broke, sponged off Diana's money, and got them both arrested one night in June in his hometown of Louisville, KY, for drunk driving--and he'd assaulted the policemen. After only 6 months of marriage, Diana asked for a divorce; John said he'd give it to her for a large sum of money. Diana never paid, but got the divorce anyway, it took her 3 years. Diana went to Salem, MA, to do summer stock, and the producer introduced her to actor Robert Wilcox, who would become husband #3. Wilcox had been in about 2 dozen B-movies, was 11 years older than Diana, and a recovered alcoholic--they celebrated his release from the rehab clinic by drinking martinis. Summer stock became a winter tour in Atlanta, with Diana earning $750 a week, and Wilcox $250. Because of Wilcox's drinking, nobody wanted to hire him, but it was a package deal: if they wanted Diana Barrymore, they'd have to hire him as her leading man. After summer stock in 1948, they returned to New York and jobs ran out; they were broke and living on the trust fund John Barrymore had set up for her. Early in 1950, CBS offered Diana a new opportunity: television. They offered her a live talk show, "The Diana Barrymore Show" at 11:00 p.m., and had guests like Earl "the Pearl" Wilson lined up. Diana showed up the first night, too drunk to work, and the show was canceled before it aired. (To make matters worse, the show became "The Faye Emerson Show" which launched the former movie actress' television career into almost a dozen TV series.) When the FBI threw husband #2 in jail (for white slavery), he no longer contested the divorce, and Diana married Robert Wilcox on October 17, 1950. Diana's mother, Michael Strange, died on November 5, 1950. As the year 1951 started, Diana was at an all-time low point: she'd been drinking steadily for weeks, got the DTs, and had gone through all her money ($250,000 from her Hollywood earnings, and almost $50,000 she'd inherited when her half-brother Robin had died). Diana hocked all her jewelry (diamond bracelets, pins, etc.) and took a job in Vaudeville; it was demeaning, but at least she was making $1,000 a week again. Rather than face humiliation in New York ("a Barrymore following a juggling act!"), Diana and Robert got booked for 3 weeks in the Celebrity Club in Sydney, Australia in the autumn of 1951--and stayed in Australia for 6 months, mainly doing stage performances at the Princess Theatre in Melbourne. Whereas she'd been shunned in New York, she was a big celebrity in Australia, for a while. But Diana's drinking got her in trouble; scraping the bottom of the barrel, Diana even got fired for her drinking in Brisbane, while booked into a vaudeville house with a girlie show called "the Nudie-Cuties." By March 1952, Diana and Robert were working in half empty houses in Tasmania. Back in Hollywood later that year, they were so flat broke they got locked out of their hotel room because the rent was 2 weeks overdue; Diana mooched money from old friends like Tyrone Powers. In November 1952 came the shocking news that her late mother's estate, the once Barrymore millions, came to a mere $8,000-- decades of lavish spending had spent it all. Diana and Robert tried to get help at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting; however, they "fortified" themselves with drinks before the meeting, and made straight for a bar after it was over. Wilcox never worked, he just sat around the hotel room all day getting drunk, and sponging off Diana. She, in turn, started a love affair with Tom Farrell. Before it was all over, Robert had cracked both their skulls, leaving them bloodied; Diana needed stitches from a doctor, and then she announced she was divorcing Robert. Even though Tom Farrell had been "the other man" only a few weeks before, when Tom spotted Diana having a drink with an old friend, he went berserk. In their hotel room, in a jealous rage, he beat Diana to a bloody pulp, breaking her nose while he hit her with fists until she fell, and then kicking her repeatedly when she was on the floor. Again, a doctor had to patch up Diana. For 3 months, Diana stayed holed up in her apartment, drinking heavily and taking pills; her weight dropped from a healthy 130 pounds to a skeletal 97. Being close to death, with cirrhosis, Diana took Robert back. Diana Barrymore, once from the enormously rich family, was so broke she shopped for supermarket sales, getting beef liver for 33 cents a pound. When the electricity was turned off in their apartment (they hadn't paid the electric bill in months), they didn't even have money to buy candles. They finally got summer stock work, and then a 6-month tour; Robert also had another colic attack of pancreatitis, his 4th, which proved almost fatal. In November 1954, Diana was in a French bedroom farce "Pajama Tops," the posters showed a half-naked actress; she felt humiliated, but needed the money, and she had been blacklisted by 3/4 of the theatres in the country. On June 11, 1955, after Diana told him in a phone conversation that she wanted a divorce, Robert Wilcox spent hours drinking at a bar; he died of a heart attack on a train to Rochester. Diana checked herself into rehab at Towns Hospital in New York for 8 weeks, to get treatment for her alcoholism and barbiturate dependence. She returned to work on the stage sober. In 1957, Diana wrote her autobiography (along with Gerold Frank), and the 300+ page book was turned into a whitewashed, vague movie Too Much, Too Soon (1958). Diana died January 25, 1960; she was only 38. In her book, she had lamented: "So much has been dreamed, so little done; there was so much promise and so much waste."