The Scandalous Mrs. Barrymore (1915-2003)

Cut down, from trom today’s Times . . . She never really “accomplished” anything, but what a character!

Elaine Barrie, the fourth wife of actor John Barrymore, with whom she shared a tumultuous on-again, off-again engagement and marriage that enthralled the nation in the darkest days of the Depression, died on Saturday in Manhattan. She was 87. Her story unwinds like an old-fashioned movie. As a Hunter College student of 19, she wrote an adoring letter to Barrymore, then 53 and hospitalized in Manhattan. He phoned her, they had a pleasant talk and he invited her to visit him. There was a most meaningful kiss in his hospital room . . . But there were darker elements to the tale. Barrymore, one of the leading interpreters of Shakespeare in the 20th century, was in decline because of the ravages of alcoholism, reduced to reading his lines. Many speculated that the young woman was using him to help her own nascent acting career. The saga at times seemed to sink to slapstick. When Barrymore got his bride a role in a 1940 play, My Dear Children, the most photographed, talked-about scene occurred when he held her in his lap and spanked her. And the best-remembered of her few films was undoubtedly the saucy short How to Undress in Front of Your Husband, released in 1937 and still available for sale.

Elaine Jacobs, the daughter of a traveling salesman, was born on July 16, 1915. She first saw Barrymore in the 1931 film Svengali and vowed to marry him, a friend, Linda Herman, recounted. At 16 she won a walk-on part with a stock company that turned into a talking role. She wrote and directed plays at Hunter College. Even before she married, Miss Jacobs changed her name to Barrie because it sounded like Barrymore. She used Barrymore during her marriage.

The Barrymore family — which traces its acting tradition to 1752 and is today most famously represented by Drew, the granddaughter of John Barrymore and Dolores Costello — treated Miss Barrie as a pariah. She was the first of John’s four wives to use the Barrymore name professionally, and the first Barrymore to undress onstage. She later ran a business importing straw baskets and handbags from Haiti. Last year she sold at auction a silver pillbox once owned by her friend Marilyn Monroe. To help Christopher Plummer prepare for a one-man show on John Barrymore on Broadway in 1997 she showed him Barrymore’s love letters. Miss Barrie was the only former wife to attend Barrymore’s funeral in 1942. She never remarried and has no immediate survivors. In 1957 she told The New York Herald Tribune that marrying anybody else would have been “anticlimactic.”

Wow. I just read a “where are they now” book with an article about her this weekend that said she was alive and doing well. Of course that book was published in 1967, but still.

I thought Jaide(sp) Barrymore had died.