Diana Barrymore was a promising actress who had the famous Barrymore name and a bright future ahead of her. But her life was cut short by an accidental drug overdose at the age of 38. What led to her tragic demise and how did she cope with the pressures of being a Hollywood heiress? This article will explore the life and death of Diana Barrymore, the daughter of legendary actor John Barrymore and poet Blanche Oelrichs.
Early Life and Career
Diana Barrymore was born on March 3, 1921, in New York City. She was the daughter of John Barrymore, one of the most acclaimed actors of his generation, and his second wife, Blanche Oelrichs, a poet who wrote under the pseudonym Michael Strange. Diana’s parents divorced when she was four years old, and she had little contact with her father, who was busy with his film and stage career and his alcoholism. Diana was raised by her mother and her stepfather, Harrison Tweed, a lawyer and socialite. She attended school in Paris and New York, and developed an interest in acting.
At the age of 19, Diana made her Broadway debut in Romantic Mr. Dickens, a play about the life of Charles Dickens. She received positive reviews and attracted media attention for her beauty and talent. She also appeared on the cover of Life magazine in 1939, as a rising star of the theatre. She decided to pursue a career in Hollywood, and signed a contract with Universal Studios in 1942. She starred in six films for the studio, including Eagle Squadron, Ladies Courageous, and Between Us Girls. She was billed as “1942’s Most Sensational New Screen Personality” and earned $1,000 a week.
Personal Problems and Decline
However, Diana’s film career was short-lived, as she struggled with alcohol and drug addiction, depression, and suicidal tendencies. She was also affected by the death of her father in 1942, from cirrhosis of the liver caused by years of drinking. Diana had a tumultuous relationship with her father, who was often absent and neglectful, but also admired and loved by her. She inherited his charisma, talent, and vulnerability, but also his self-destructive habits.
Diana’s personal life was also chaotic, as she married and divorced three times. Her first husband was Bramwell Fletcher, a British actor who was 17 years older than her. They married in 1942 and divorced in 1946, after Fletcher had an affair with Diana’s mother. Her second husband was John Robert Howard II, a Texas oilman who was abusive and violent. They married in 1947 and divorced in 1948, after Howard shot and wounded Diana in a drunken rage. Her third husband was Robert Wilcox, an actor who was addicted to drugs. They married in 1950 and stayed together until Wilcox died of a heart attack in 1955.
Diana’s career and finances also suffered, as she squandered her earnings and inheritance from her father’s estate. She was unable to find steady work in Hollywood or on Broadway, and resorted to performing in nightclubs and low-budget films. She also wrote an autobiography, titled Too Much, Too Soon, in 1957, in which she candidly revealed her struggles and scandals. The book was a bestseller, but also a source of controversy and criticism. It was later adapted into a film in 1958, starring Dorothy Malone as Diana and Errol Flynn as John Barrymore.
Death and Legacy
Diana Barrymore died on January 25, 1960, in her apartment in New York City. She was found by her housekeeper, who called the police. There were no signs of foul play or suicide, and no note was left behind. Diana was buried next to her mother in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.
Diana Barrymore was a tragic figure who never fulfilled her potential as an actress and a person. She was haunted by the shadow of her father and the expectations of her family name. She was also a victim of her own demons and addictions, which she could not overcome. She left behind a legacy of pain and sorrow, but also of courage and honesty. She was one of the first celebrities to openly share her struggles with the public, and to expose the dark side of Hollywood. She was a human being who deserved compassion and respect, not judgment and ridicule. She was Diana Barrymore, the daughter of John Barrymore, and she died too much, too soon.