Today is the birthday of Maurice Barrymore (Herbert Arthur Chamberlayne Blythe (1849-1905). Born a British colonial in India, he chose the theatre as a career against his family’s wishes, prompting his adoption of a stage name. He moved to the U.S. in 1874 and began acting in Augustin Daly’s company. For the next quarter century he was to be a major fixture on Broadway. In 1876 he married Georgiana Drew, of the famous American acting dynasty. The couple’s three children, Ethel, Lionel and John were all to follow their parents into the theatre, exceeding them in lasting fame.
In addition to his countless leading roles on Broadway, in 1896 Maurice Barrymore became one of the first “legit” stage stars to headline in vaudeville. He was to be a familiar presence on the vaudeville stage for the next 5 years until that unfortunate day in 1901 when he had a breakdown onstage at a Harlem theatre while his son John watched from the audience. The elder Barrymore was descending into the late stages of syphilis. He was hospitalized and passed away four years later.
To find out more about vaudeville past and present including thespians like Maurice Barrymore, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.