Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, January 16, 2014


Diana Barrymore
TOO MUCH, TOO SOON. Diana Barrymore and Gerold Frank. Henry Holt; 1957.

This very frank memoir written by the daughter of John Barrymore was published in 1957 but reads like one of the "warts and all" embarrassingly frank Hollywood autobiogs of today. Barrymore seems to leave nothing out -- her three marriages, her promiscuity, her nearly hopeless alcoholism -- but one still gets the sense that this self-destructive individual didn't want to take full responsibility for her actions. True, her famous father [who was on a serious down-slide when Diana began her career] and mother, who wrote under the pen name "Michael Strange," were rather self-absorbed people and not the best of parents, but it's not as if Diana, on a trust fund, was raised in the ghetto -- although in later years when the money ran out she certainly got a stark taste of poverty and harsh reality. Thanks to co-author Frank, "Too Much, Too Soon" is compelling and often powerful in its delineation of the depths to which Ms. Barrymore would sink. She managed to throw away many opportunities others would have killed for, such as when she showed up for the first live telecast of "The Diana Barrymore Show" dead drunk and immediately lost the show and the lucrative contract. The anguish of her third marriage to washed-up actor and fellow drunk Robert Wilcox is sharply etched [her first husband was older actor Bramwell Fletcher of The Undying Monster, whom she was wretched to]. She can be capable of some raw assessments of herself, such as when she chastises herself for being outraged by her father's wanting her to phone a call girl service for him [which was a little tacky] when she later realizes she should have shown compassion for his being "sick and broken and lonely and old and unhappy." Whatever you think of Diana -- pathetic, out-of-control alcoholic, or simply a major fuck-up --  the book is a fascinating expose of the dark side of Hollywood that pulls you along from the first page. Diana managed to make about half a dozen films, but she died of an overdose only three years after this book was published. The film version of the book starred Dorothy Malone as Diana and Errol Flynn as her father. John Barrymore and future son-in-law Fletcher appeared together in Svengali.

Verdict: Pride goeth before a fall. ***1/2.

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