Monday, May 13, 2013

Barrymore Gals

I had a request to do an entry on Katherine Corri Harris, the first wife of John Barrymore and I figured I could cover a few of the other Barrymore wives that were also actresses.

When I first went to visit the final resting places of the Barrymores (John is now buried in Pennsylvania) I saw that Lionel was buried with second wife, who died at a fairly young age and that intrigued me. Her name was Irene Fenwick Barrymore and I will be covering her, along with Lionel's second wife, Doris Rankin, as well as Katherine Corri Harris. I already covered Dolores Costello, John Barrymore's third wife in a previous entry so that is why she isn't included here.

Katherine and John Barrymore

Katherine Corri Harris was born October 1, 1893 (although I have also read 1890). Her father, Sidney, was a very successful lawyer, so Katherine grew up in high society. Her mother, also named Kathryn, divorced Sidney around 1901 so the child rearing was left up to her. I am not sure whether or not Katherine had any siblings. 

I know pretty much ZIP about her life before she met John Barrymore. I do know that she spent a lot of time in Europe, and was educated in a French convent. 

Katherine and John's engagement announcement ran in the newspapers on April 6, 1910. The Flushing Daily Times wrote: 
"Announcement was made yesterday of the engagement of Mr. John Barrymore...and Miss Katherine Corri Harris, of Flushing, daughter of Mr. Sidney Harris, a wealthy lawyer, and one of the prettiest and most popular members of the younger social set...The present Mr. Harris has not shown any signs of melting and that even now he is speeding across the ocean to prevent the marriage. It is understood that his only objection to the match is his daughter's age. She has just turned eighteen, while Mr. Barrymore is near his twenty-seventh birthday. While Mr. Harris is opposed to the match it is understood that Mrs. Harris is doing everything in her power to smooth the way to the altar for the young couple."

There was a bit of an age difference, but that didn't seem to bother the elder Mrs. Harris. Sidney Harris however was pretty riled up about the whole affair and his feelings were no secret. When John was asked by a reporter what he thought about his fiance's father's objections, he refused to discuss the matter. I should note that I am not sure how close Sidney Harris was to his daughter. According to the divorce papers that were drawn up between him and Kathryn Harris, he was allowed to see his daughter only 6 or 7 times a year. I don't know if these are specific times like holidays or if that was one strict rule put down by the father or the mother. Oy vey!

According to Barrymore, his dashing lover persona on the stage didn't translate into his real life. He said that me and Katherine were just friends who eventually began liking each other in a romantic sense, and he just asked her to marry him one day. Yeah....OOOOOKAY there, John.

"Mother is perfectly in sympathy with the affair. She considers Mr. Barrymore a very fine young man, and has known him for a long time." ~~ Katherine Harris when asked about her engagement (New York Times - August 7, 1910).

John and Katherine were married on September 1, 1910. It didn't take long for their marriage to head into a negative direction. Soon after their wedding, John had to go on tour with a show he was in, so Katherine went to live with his sister Ethel and her husband, Russell Colt. She eventually moved into John's apartment in New York City, which had been his bachelor bad, so...he was in for a nice surprise! 

The couple would fight, and get back together, then fight, and then get back together and this became the norm for their marriage. Katherine was itching to be an actress and kept bugging John to put her in his plays or his movies. I am sure he loved that.

Katherine's screen career consisted of three films, and only one was not with her husband. The Barrymores appeared together in Nearly a King and The Lost Bridegroom (both in 1916). Her one film without John was 1918's House of Mirth. Unfortunately, all three of these films are considered lost. 

The couple's fights began to get the best of both of them, and on December 16, 1916 they were officially divorced. 

Another thing that didn't help the relationship was the fact that both John and Katherine had affairs. Katherine had an affair with a mutual friend, artist James Montgomery Flagg. 

Katherine eventually did marry again, to a stockbroker named Alexander Dallas Bache Pratt in 1921, but they divorced two years later. Her third and final marriage was in 1923, the same year as her divorce from Pratt, to a man named Leon Orlowsky. 

Katherine Corri Harris-Barrymore-Pratt-Orlowsky (whew!) passed away on May 2, 1927 in New York City. The cause of death was pneumonia. John Barrymore was by her side when she passed away. They had remained on friendly terms even through their divorce and other marriages (he was a guest at her second wedding!)

Unfortunately, I have no idea where she is buried. I would venture a guess that it is somewhere in New York. 

She did manage to appear in a few plays before, during, and after her short film career. 

Here is a freaky deaky coincidence for ya. Katherine and John's second wife, Blanche Oelrichs were born on the same day and delivered by the same doctor with an hour of each other. Actress Alice Joyce also shares the same birthday.


Doris and Lionel Barrymore

Doris Rankin was born on August 27, 1887 in New York City. She was the daughter of stage actor, McKee Rankin and a young actress whose name seems to have been lost to history (or maybe he never divulged the name of the woman). He was married at the time of his indiscretion, to another actress named Kitty Blanchard. She had two older sisters (who were the products of the Kitty/McKee Rankin marriage) named Gladys and Phyllis. 

Considering her pedigree, it is no surprise that Doris and her sisters grew up appearing in various plays for her father's theater company. It was during one of these performances that she met and acting alongside Lionel Barrymore.

Doris and Lionel married on June 19, 1904 when he was 26, and she only 16 years old. Seems like those Barrymore boys liked their women young! 

Two years after they were married, the couple decided to stop acting in the theater and moved to Paris where they stayed for four years before moving back to the states. 

Apparently there is some mystery and confusion surrounding the children of Doris and Lionel, and I am not really sure why. They had a daughter named Ethel (named after Lionel's sister) in October of 1908, but when she was just barely two years old, Ethel fell ill and died. She was buried in the Barrymore family plot alongside her grandparents, Georgianna and Maurice, at the Mount Vernon Cemetery in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The couple also had a daughter named Mary while living in France, but she only lived a few months. Mary is buried somewhere in France.

Why such mystery about Ethel and Mary Barrymore? Well, it could be because Lionel Barrymore would tell people that he didn't have children. But, he was absolutely heartbroken about losing his two daughters, that I think perhaps he just didn't want to think or talk about his babies. Ethel Barrymore wrote in her autobiography about meeting her namesake niece once while visiting her family in France. And I even read a newspaper article from 1922 addressing the divorce of the couple that said Doris was given custody of their one child. If anyone has some solid information on this subject, I would be very thankful. 

Doris made her film debut in the 1920 film, The Copperhead, which starred her husband. Like Katherine Corri Harris, Doris' career was tied in with her husband's so most of her films were with him. After she and Lionel divorced though, her career continued on up to the talkies until she made her last film in 1939.

Doris and Lionel Barrymore officially divorced on December 21, 1922. The deaths of their daughters broke both of them done and they just weren't functioning as a happy married couple anymore. I am sure there were other reasons for the divorce, especially since Doris would never talk about him or their marriage. 

She did marry again though, to a British author named Malcolm Mortimer. I don't know when they married or if the marriage lasted or anything really. I do know that the couple had two children, but I don't know anything about that really either.
Doris Rankin Barrymore-Mortimer passed away in 1946 (don't even know what day!) in Washington D.C. I do not know where she is buried. 

The Rankin sisters really knew what families to marry into! Gladys Rankin was married to Lionel Barrymore's uncle, Sidney Drew. So, Gladys was Doris' sister aunt? Oh man...Gladys sadly passed away in 1914 from cancer, and Sidney followed five years later. Phyllis Rankin was married to Harry Davenport who was a well known stage actor (you may know him best as Dr. Meade from Gone with the Wind). They were married from 1896 until Phyllis passed away in 1946. Also, I just found this out while researching this marriage. Harry Davenport was the father of actress Dorothy Davenport, the actress who was married to Wallace Reid. I never knew that! What a groovy little fact!


Irene Fenwick was born Irene Frizzel on September 5, 1887 in Chicago, Illinois. 

I unfortunately do not know much about Irene's early life because I couldn't dig up census information. Grrr!!

Before Irene appeared in film, she was a stage actress beginning in 1910. One of her stage roles was as Simonetta in a 1921 production of "Laugh, Clown, Laugh." 

Her screen debut was in the 1915 film, The Commuters. All together she appeared in 10 films in a span of two years. Not bad. Some of her co-stars included Owen Moore, Olive Thomas, Ethel Barrymore, and Annette Kellerman. Irene preferred stage acting over movies because she felt much more fulfilled, so she returned to the theater.

Interestingly enough, she dated John Barrymore during her early years in the theater. While courting her, Lionel confronted his brother over the true extent of his relationship with Irene, namely had the two been lovers. This caused a rift in the brothers relationship that last for two years!

Lionel and Irene Barrymore

Lionel Barrymore met Irene in 1923 when they both appeared in the play, "The Claw" in Los Angeles. It appears to have been love at first sight because they were married only a short time later on June 14, 1923.

The couple quickly became a favorite of friends and fans. The couple never had children (which I am sure was somehow due to Irene's health issues) but they were still very devoted and loving to one another. 

I do not know how long Irene battled with anorexia, but it is just heartbreaking looking at photos of her and she is just skinny as a rail. This could have been something from her early days in plays and film, or something fairly recent, I am not sure.

Irene Barrymore passed away on December 24, 1936 in Beverly Hills. She had been pretty much bed ridden for the past seven years, and Lionel stayed right by her side. 

Newspapers reported that Irene had died from a lung condition as well as pneumonia. The real cause of death was due to the effects of anorexia. But, no one was going to air out something so personal to the newspapers.

She was interred at Calvary Cemetery in Los Angeles. 

Lionel, Irene, Dolores (Costello), and John Barrymore

Lionel was devastated by the death of his wife. The day after her death, he was supposed to be appear on a radio program as Ebeneezer Scrooge, and he just could not do it. Instead, his brother John stepped in and took his place while Lionel went to a Christmas Mass where he collapsed and had to be taken to the hospital. 

Irene had been married twice before marrying Lionel. Husband #1 was a dancer/bobsled champion named Jay O'Brien, but I do not know when they were married or when they divorced. I do know that Jay had been married to actress Mae Murray from 1916 until 1918 though. Husband #2 was a man named Felix Isman, and all I know about him was that he married Irene around 1909. 

Irene, Lionel, and Ethel Barrymore


  1. I am actually printing this out to read later, I am so excited! Will comment more tomorrow!

  2. Very well researched post with lovely and rare photographs. I am a fan of the Barrymores, but learned some new tidbits after reading this, particularly about John Barrymore's marriage to Katherine Harris. I am pleased to learn they built a legacy of film and theater credits together, I knew about Katherine Barrymore's life in society but not her acting ambitions. I would love to be able to see Katherine play Lily in House of Mirth and get a sense for her acting.

    I'm so excited to hear that you also wrote an entree about Dolores Costello, where can I read it? She happens to be my favorite of Jack's wives. I think she was the most talented of the women he was in love with, her performance in Sea Beast reminded me of Lilian Gish. She also truly is one of the most beautiful faces I have ever seen in my life. She strikes me as an equally beautiful person on the inside, she loved Jack so unselfishly, never using him for fame or money, and tried so hard to nurse him through his addiction and fears.

    1. It is always cool to read a bit more about the "woman behind the man" especially when "the man" in question was such a powerhouse.
      And in regards to a Dolores entry...I could have SWORN I wrote one, but I can't seem to locate it! I hate when that happens! I think I cover so many people and look back and see I never did! Looks like I will be doing an article on Dolores AND Helene Costello very soon!