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Lionel Barrymore (Hardback)

Character and Endurance in Hollywood's Golden Age

P&S History > Humanities > Biography & Memoirs

Imprint: University Press of Kentucky
Series: Screen Classics
Pages: 288
Illustrations: 20 b&w illustrations
ISBN: 9781985900509
Published: 13th August 2024
Casemate UK Academic



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Once called "the most gifted character actor of our time" by Broadway theater producer Arthur Hopkins, Lionel Barrymore (1878–1954) was part of the illustrious Barrymore acting dynasty. Although he garnered success on stage and screen and was a talented actor, writer, director, visual artist, and composer, he never quite escaped the shadow of his family members—including his brother, John, famous for his leading roles. Barrymore won the Academy Award for Best Actor in A Free Soul (1931) and was nominated for Best Director for Madame X (1930). However, he is best known for his role as Mr. Potter in It's a Wonderful Life (1946) and as the voice of Ebenezer Scrooge in radio broadcasts of A Christmas Carol from 1934 to 1953. He spent the last two decades of his career playing versions of his signature character—the curmudgeonly but lovable gentleman—in a variety of films from You Can't Take It With You (1938) to Key Largo (1948). Barrymore worked alongside some of Hollywood's most recognizable names, including Humphrey Bogart, James Stewart, Frank Capra, Lauren Bacall, Clark Gable, and Ava Gardner, and his legacy is enshrined at the Hollywood Walk of Fame, where he has two stars—one for radio and one for film.  

In Lionel Barrymore: Character and Endurance in Hollywood's Golden Age, Kathleen Spaltro examines Barrymore as an individual rather than just a supporting cast member of the famous dynasty. This comprehensive study divides Barrymore's life into three compelling acts. Act One follows Barrymore's early days—his failed endeavor as a visual artist, his performances in the family vaudeville acts, his first silent motion pictures, and his greatest successes and failures on the stage. Act Two details Barrymore's establishment as a fixture at MGM, his foray into directing, his success as the first actor to thrive in the talkies, and his estimable Oscar-winning performance. Finally, Act Three expounds on Barrymore's curation of his trademark character—the endearing grouch—his exploits in radio, and his fateful final years. Spaltro also unearths Barrymore's personal challenges, recounts his difficulties with—and sometimes estrangement from—members of his family, and delves into the devastating losses Barrymore suffered: his divorce, the deaths of his two daughters, and later, the death of his second wife and the accidents that eventually consigned him to a wheelchair. Lionel Barrymore is a detailed, multifaceted portrait of a brilliant character actor.

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