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carole lombard 02

From "Twentieth Century" to train wreck

Posted by vp19 on 2009.03.10 at 00:51
Current mood: drunkdrunk

"We’re not people, we’re lithographs.”
-- Lily Garland, formerly Mildred Plotka (Carole Lombard), "Twentieth Century," 1934

"Twentieth Century" is the film that put Carole Lombard on the map as a comedic performer. Here and there, she had shown signs of comic mastery (and we're not referring to her slapstick work with Mack Sennett), but this was the movie where she made her skill evident. However, a lot of movie buffs consider this John Barrymore's greatest screen performance as well, as the broadly conniving dramatic impresario Oscar Jaffe.

Sadly, as Lombard's star ascended, his declined. Slightly more than three years later, the tables were turned; Carole was now the big star, whereas Barrymore was now deemed an erratic, unreliable drunk. As her way of saying thank you for helping propel her career, she insisted that he get a supporting role in "True Confession," even making sure he be third-billed behind Lombard and Fred MacMurray. And he indeed delivers a nice comic turn.

But drink continued to diminish his once-commanding acting presence, and I've come across proof. It's from a site called "Another Old Movie Blog," and discusses Barrymore's tour in a 1939 play called "My Dear Children"; according to the blog, "he began to seem to forget lines, ad libbed obscenities, and appeared to be drunk on stage." In sort of a "Springtime For Hitler" so-bad-it's-good reaction, many came to see what self-destructive thing Barrymore might do next.

With him on the tour were two people who would play major roles in 1940s and '50s movies -- a director named Otto Preminger and an actress from Omaha named Dorothy McGuire. In April 1939, Barrymore was interviewed by an Omaha radio station and had nothing but praise for the hometown girl -- and her mother (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WvRtmeR5PWE).

Not long after the Omaha engagement, McGuire left the show, telling Preminger, “I had great admiration for John Barrymore when we started, but I cannot watch this man making a fool of himself.” She went to Broadway for a few years before heading to Hollywood.

Some nights Barrymore would deliver an effective performance, but other nights his boredom would show. Jacqueline T. Lynch, the author of "Another Old Movie Blog," describes Barrymore as "Oscar Jaffe on the skids, playing with the whole notion of the theater as art and as an occupation, like a bored kid with a paddle ball." By the time McGuire and Preminger began their film careers, Barrymore and Lombard were gone, dead within a few months of each other in 1942.

For more on this, go to http://anotheroldmovieblog.blogspot.com/search/label/John%20Barrymore. You'll also find a short clip from "Twentieth Century," an amusing story of a trip Barrymore once took on the actual famed Twentieth Century train, and fascinating background on the 1932 film "Rasputin And The Empress" -- the only film siblings John, Ethel and Lionel Barrymore made together.


ext_173745 at 2009-03-10 11:51 (UTC) (Link)

John Barrymore and "Twentieth Century"

Thanks very much for your mention of "Another Old Movie Blog". Both Lombard and Barrymore were terrific in "Twentieth Century", and though Lombard had a rough start before she found her bearings in this farce, she was wonderful in it. Looking forward to exploring your past posts on this delightful actress.

Jacqueline T Lynch
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