The Barrymore Trilogy Blogathon: Carole and John, together again   Leave a comment

Posted by vp19 on 2015.08.13 at 12:48

Current mood: contemplativecontemplative

I recently came across a wonderful banner on the Internet, one whose message I agree with — and I’m sure Carole Lombard would’ve too (though I doubt “cool” was used as a term beyond describing temperature in her time):

Integrity was among the many reasons Carole ranked among the most popular people in the film industry; she did many things to aid others. And three years after the inscribed photo above from John Barrymore following their mutual triumph in “Twentieth Century,” one that put Lombard in the cinematic map, so to speak, she later had the chance to return the favor — and did.

Oh, I nearly forgot to mention this is part of the Barrymore Trilogy Blogathon, hosted by my good friend Crystal at “In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood” (

OK, let’s get back to Lombard, Barrymore and integrity.

“Twentieth Century” more or less ignited Carole’s career as a lively, lovable comedic actress…but at the time, few knew it would effectively be a last hurrah for Barrymore. Age and alcoholism were gradually taking their toll, and by 1937 his starring roles were a thing of the past. For better or worse, the man once renowned as “the great profile” was now a character actor…and an erratic one.

Following “Twentieth Century,” not only did Lombard’s stature rise in Hollywood, but so did her power. By the mid-thirties, Carole finally had become reliable box office at her home studio of Paramount, a place that for years had shunted her into useless all-purpose leading lady roles not necessarily aligned with her strengths as an actress.

She used this power not merely to bolster herself, but to help others at the studio. And among her projects was rehabilitating the career of John Barrymore. When Paramount began casting for her latest comedy vehicle “True Confession,” Lombard sensed that one of the roles — that of an eccentric criminologist — could be just right for him; in fact, she insisted he receive third billing for a comparatively small part. And as my friend Lara Gabrielle Fowler notes in her review of “True Confession” (,

“Carole advocated passionately for him, using her significant power with Paramount to demand that her friend be given the role of Charley Jasper in ‘True Confession.’ Though Barrymore was a very risky hire at that point, Carole did not back down and Paramount conceded to Barrymore as Charley. He gave a performance that demonstrated, as it did in ‘Twentieth Century,’ that he had a great talent for comedy and had these films come earlier in his career, he may have developed this talent to his professional advantage.”

Barrymore was clearly having a ball making “True Confession,” but the film as a whole is a sort of an acquired taste. Lombard’s Helen Bartlett, a congenital liar, isn’t the easiest character to root for, and you almost feel sorry for Fred MacMurray as her attorney husband. No wonder that it has both passionate defenders and detractors, a rare divide in Carole’s filmography. (Many maintain her portrayal of Helen helped hone the later comedic persona of Lucille Ball, most notably as Lucy Ricardo in the landmark sitcom “I Love Lucy.”)

Alas for John Barrymore, it was too late, as John Barleycorn was winning his internal battle. Barrymore continued to get work, mostly in comedies such as “The Invisible Woman,” but the roles — and films — continued diminishing. Barely four months after Lombard’s shockingly early death, Barrymore breathed his last in May 1942.

Posted August 13, 2015 by vp19 in Uncategorized

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