Lionel Barrymore

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Lionel Barrymore (April 28, 1878 – November 15, 1954) was an American actor of stage, screen and radio.[1] He won an Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in A Free Soul (1931). He is well known for the role of the villainous Henry Potter in Frank Capra's 1946 film It's a Wonderful Life.


Early life

Barrymore was born Lionel Herbert Blythe in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of actors Georgiana Drew and Maurice Barrymore ( Blythe). He was the elder brother of Ethel and John Barrymore, the uncle of John Drew Barrymore and Diana Barrymore, and the granduncle (or great-uncle) of Drew Barrymore. Barrymore was raised Roman Catholic.[2] He attended the Episcopal Academy in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.[3]

In her autobiography Eleanor Farjeon recalled that she and Barrymore were friends as toddlers; she would take off her shoes and he would kiss her feet.[4]

During World War I Lionel staved off the deadly Spanish Influenza by taking cold alcohol baths as an antiseptic.

He was married twice, to actresses Doris Rankin and Irene Fenwick, a one-time lover of his brother John. Doris's sister Gladys was married to Lionel's uncle Sidney Drew, which made Gladys both his aunt and sister-in-law.

Doris Rankin bore Lionel two daughters, Ethel Barrymore II (b. 1908) and Mary Barrymore. Unfortunately, neither baby girl survived infancy, though Mary lived a few months. Lionel never truly recovered from the deaths of his girls, and their loss undoubtedly strained his marriage to Doris Rankin, which ended in 1923. Years later, Barrymore developed a fatherly affection for Jean Harlow, who was born around the same time as his two daughters and would have been around their age. When Jean died in 1937, Lionel and Clark Gable mourned her as though she had been family.

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