Date of Birth : Apr 28th 1878
The elder son of Maurice Barrymore and Georgiana Drew Barrymore, he made his debut in his native Philadelphia in 1893, playing Thomas to the Mrs. Malaprop of his grandmother, Mrs. John Drew. A year later he appeared with her again when making his New York debut in The Road to Ruin. Other early appearances were in The Bachelor’s Baby (1895), Mary Pennington, Spinster (1896), Squire Kate (1896), Cumberland ’61 (1897), Uncle Dick (1898), and Honorable John Grigsby (1898). His colleagues’ growing respect for his abilities prompted James A. Herne to write a small role for him in Sag Harbor, but he made his first real hit as Giuseppe, the organ grinder, in The Mummy and the Humming Bird (1902). Barrymore scored as prizefighter Kid in The Other Girl (1903), the title role in Pantaloon (1905), the malicious Col. Ibbetson opposite his brother John in Peter Ibbetson (1917), and, in what many considered his finest performance, Milt Shanks, a Northerner suspected of Southern sympathies during the Civil War, in The Copperhead (1918). In 1919 he was reunited with John, playing the villain Neri in The Jest, then played the cruel judge Mouzon in The Letter of the Law (1920), before he floundered as Macbeth (1921). His last successes were Achille Cortelon, the radical politician destroyed by his wife, in The Claw (1921), and Tito Beppi, a modern?day Pagliacci, in Laugh, Clown, Laugh! (1923). When a series of failures followed in 1925, he left Broadway permanently for the West Coast and the movies. John Corbin wrote of his Neri, “Barrymore illumines it with a touch of genius. Malicious bully though the huge mercenary is, he is yet comprehensibly, deliciously human.” While Lionel Barrymore may not have had quite the range or depth of his brother, he was a great actor who scarcely realized his potential. If dissipation kept John Barrymore from the stage, disinclination kept Lionel from it. He preferred the easy money of Hollywood, which allowed him to devote more time to his real loves, painting and music. A crippling illness, which later confined him to a wheelchair, precluded any return to the stage, even had he been so inclined. Autobiography: We Barrymores, 1951.