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Monday, February 18, 2019

Jack Is Back and Starring

Boisterous Barrymore Does The Great Profile (1940)

John Barrymore a-huffin' and puffin' through tired reprise of 20th Century and more recent All My Children, which was stage celebration of his fall from performing heights. Jack being degraded was full-time fun of columnists and column readers who came like moths to flame of his romance with Elaine Barrie and efforts at rehab. The Great Profile was Hollywood's reward for honest hit Jack made of All My Children, a comedy he enhanced by nightly abandon of the script and no two ad-libs alike. Orson Welles saw All My Children as fullest expression of Barrymore genius and attended over/again through the play's run. Profile's "Evans Garrick" is undisguised JB as himself, the private life assumed to be as chaotic as foolery indulged in public. Those who'd lament the downfall were figured to lack humor --- after all, wasn't Jack getting as much if not more fun from ridiculing himself? He was nearing sixty, was dissipated sure, but could rouse himself to greatness right unto finish of two years after The Great Profile. Look, if you can find them, at The Great Man Votes or World Premiere, then listen to some of his radio work, which was extensive and varied.

Problem with The Great Profile was its trying too hard to rib-tickle. 20th Century was clearly the model, but this was 20th Century on steroids, with no Howard Hawks to rein it in. Director Walter Lang would recall Barrymore from 70's distance (for interviewer Jon Tuska) as a "great intellect" and "hard worker" who'd post four men about the set, all with cue cards, as he "couldn't remember lines at all." The director had seen Barrymore as Hamlet, so for the Great Man to beclown himself now "hurt me a little bit." The Great Profile begins at shouting pitch and never calms down. It is less amusing than exhausting. Barrymore makes his entrance crashing through a door, and ramps up from there. I've read that Barrymore got a pile from Zanuck for making this film ($200K, according to JB historian John Kobler), and DFZ was engaged enough to give himself a producer credit. How disappointing then, was the quarter-million loss Fox sustained on The Great Profile?

A Saucy Backstage Visitor During My Dear Children's Chicago Engagement
Latter-day 20th flips a bird at buyers with an "On-Demand" DVD transferred from 16mm that will do if you're desperate enough to see the show. Only Barrymore-curious will want to, the media circus that prompted The Great Profile having long since marched by. Was a 1940 public by now weary with his antics? I saw Burt Reynolds do a twilight-of-life chat show where he reminded me of that sad backstage "interview" Barrymore did during My Dear Children. Not that Reynolds was potted, but a light had gone out, and those who recall glory days can but ponder their own expiration date where confronted by this longest yard. Barrymore at least had the tumble-down stage to himself,  most of sidelined peers by such point staying home. Jack had to work due to a mountain of debt he was determined, and honorable, enough to see satisfied. There's little evidence of Barrymore relishing his work beyond a certain point. Maybe he never did. Acting had been a family business, after all. Had they all been slide-rule accountants, he might have been steered into that. JB did admit that he'd rather have been a commercial artist.

Jack with Elaine Barrie. Barrymore Friend Hume Cronyn Later Acknowledged She Was Powerful Hot
and Challenge For Any Man To Resist, So Was Sympathetic to JB's Plight

Co-players in The Great Profile had at least that experience to recount over endless meals for balance of lives. I read that Mary Beth Hughes eventually became a hairdresser. Suppose she ever spoke of Barrymore to customers sat under a salon dryer? Hughes did tell a JB biographer of a first encounter wherein the profile of profiles "ripped the skirt off my dress," an incident she handled with "perfect aplomb," this being Jack's idea of an initiation, which she passed (imagine outcome it would have today). "He was loaded all the time ... and when we were ready to shoot, he was flying." Anne Baxter said JB was so wasted each morning that "his man would have to carry him in and set him down in an easy chair." As to reliance on "idiot cards," as Baxter put it, Barrymore told her that Profile lines "weren't worth learning." You wonder how embellished these stories got over length of time. People after all expected anecdotes about John Barrymore to be outrageous. Baxter noted his overcoming a "flaccid" mind to play scenes flawlessly once cameras rolled, "a lesson in concentration," she called it. Worth noting is fact that both Mary Beth Hughes and Anne Baxter were teenagers when The Great Profile was made. Talk about a baptism of fire ...

Jack Later Referred To This Grind Into Grauman Cement As His "Face On The Barroom Floor" Moment

As obnoxious as Barrymore could be, re come-ons and pinching,  Gregory Ratoff, who was everybody but a public's idea of funny and a canker on The Great Profile, near-topped him at taken liberties plus frying of "ham." The expression referred to actors spreading of theatrics too thick for consumption by a knowing viewership who left lush emoting behind with silent movies. To be a ham was not to be taken seriously again, and there in a nutshell was perception of John Barrymore, drunk or not. That was gross underestimation of course, as Garson Kanin would prove when he used JB in The Great Man Votes, out a same year as The Great Profile. Publicity for Profile employed the cream of caricature artists to depict Jack-japery: Otto Soglow, Rea Irvin, Gardner Rea, Hi Phillips (him for "sparkling lines" to enhance copy) ... they'd each decorate publicity. Movie goers were assured of Barrymore's ad-libbing lines in The Great Profile just as he had nightly for My Dear Children. To complete forfeit of dignity was Fox tie-up with Sid Grauman of the fabled Chinese Theatre, where Jack's profile would be pushed into cement and thereby immortalized forever. Imagine the ride home from that ...


Blogger Rodney said...

Mary Beth Hughes is unquestionably my favorite B-level starlet. That alone makes this worth a watch to me.

1:09 PM  
Blogger Ed Watz said...

Fox's $200K salary to Jack Barrymore could be likened to a "cease & desist" payout -- Adolphe Menjou was originally announced for the role, and press releases noted that the film would be a thinly veiled parody of JB's life. Barrymore initially didn't mind until the word was out that the film would very much target his stormy reconciliation with Elaine Barrie.

Zanuck putting his own name (and prestige) on what is essentially a lazy "A' picture, plus the hefty fee to JB for THE GREAT PROFILE sounds more like a settlement between parties before the trial -- remembering also that Barrymore's salary just a few years earlier for films like COUNSELOR AT LAW and TWENTIETH CENTURY was a "mere" $75,000.

The Hollywood Museum (the old Lasky-DeMille "Squaw Man" barn) for years displayed a GREAT PROFILE prop, a life-sized photo blowup of JB from BEAU BRUMMEL, hand-colored and varnished to resemble an elegant painting. I don't recall if this faux "work of art" survived the Museum's subsequent fire but hopefully "Beau" escaped this fate and survives in the reconstructed barn.

1:12 PM  
Blogger DBenson said...

One wonders if Barrymore pal / admirer / onscreen impersonator Errol Flynn was even momentarily scared straight by Barrymore's slow train wreck, or if he reflected on history repeating itself in his own self-parody years.

Noting that many other leading men managed to keep their acts and lives together well beyond Barrymore. Henry Fonda and John Wayne both managed great closing acts; William Powell made a graceful exit to a quiet retirement; and we currently have Clint Eastwood, still top-billed as an actor and taken seriously as a director.

Was alcohol the only or even the main factor in the burnouts? Poor health / lifestyle (Flynn was a medical disaster even before Hollywood), bad financial choices, or a rep (earned or not) as "difficult" could grease the skids.

Also, where do you go from stardom? Some transitioned to character parts, or in recent decades, television (some with huge success). But others couldn't or wouldn't. Barrymore was clearly game for comedy, but no matter how good he might be he was always The Great Romantic Idol Reduced To This. Burt Reynolds didn't carry Barrymore's iconic weight, but despite a moderately successful sitcom and some good reviews as a character actor, he never quite nailed his third act.

2:23 PM  
Blogger b piper said...

A propos of I don't know what, Albert Einstein once said "Several mathematicians understand my theories but of all persons it is an actor, John Barrymore, who discusses them most intelligently." That's got to say SOMETHING about the man.

7:33 PM  
Blogger CanadianKen said...

I'm with Rodney in considering Mary Beth Hughes a special favorite. The lady enjoyed some good early breaks but none of them ever led to the full-on star status she genuinely rated. MGM signed the beautiful teenager to a contract in the late 30's. Initially high on her as a potential bombshell, the studio switched its energies to promoting fellow starlet Lana Turner instead. 20th Century saw strong possibilities in Hughes, though, and quickly offered a contract, envisioning the 19 year old as their next blonde box-office queen. Unfortunately when Fox contractee Betty Grable unexpectedly exploded into superstardom, the studio seems to have lost interest in grooming Hughes for big things. She'd been set to star in "A Yank in the R.A.F", eventually one of 1941's biggest hits - but Grable replaced her. Hughes was then shunted into secondary roles. Now, obviously Metro and Fox scored huge long-term dividends when they bet on Turner and Grable. But it's a shame Hughes never got the same level of promotion and guidance. Where beauty and high-voltage sex appeal were concerned, Hughes was a major-leaguer. But she was also a fine actress (in my eyes, better than either Lana or Betty) adept in both comedy and drama. Fox usually cast her as hard-boiled types and she was exceptionally good at it; eventually that became her default screen image. But when occasionally called on to be sweet and nice she pulled it off with easy aplomb. Her best Fox film was undoubtedly "The Ox-Bow Incident". It's a shame her role in it was so truncated, just one scene really. A real all-rounder, Hughes was also an excellent singer. Unfortunately most of that singing was done in low budget and Poverty row fare; that's mainly where she plied her trade after Fox released her in '43. She inevitably elevated even the shakiest vehicles. And - when given good (albeit underfunded) material (check her out in "Inner Sanctum" and "Highway Dragnet"), Hughes is genuinely superb. So much of her filmography consists of under the radar rarities that I still haven't been able to track down all of them. But whenever I do, I inevitably emerge with my admiration happily reinforced.

9:17 PM  
Blogger stinky fitzwizzle said...

Also from the A Propos of I Don't Know What Dept., this from IMDb:

When Pat Buttram particularly enjoyed something, he was known to remark, "That was more fun that being on location with Mary Beth Hughes!"

12:14 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer expands on the Einstein/Barrymore connection:

Anon the quip quoted by b piper, here are Barrymore and Einstein together:

The occasion was the tryout of “My Dear Children” at Princeton University’s McCarter Theater in March, 1939, prior to its national run. Einstein was a star in his own right at the school’s Institute for Advanced Studies, having fled Germany for the United States several years before. The play, of course, was the hoary horse Barrymore saddled to take him to the marketplace and which, if the newspaper clippings are to be believed, he spurred to a gay gallop.

The two seem much engaged with each other's company. Perhaps Jack had just delivered a bon mot regarding the space-time continuum.

So, was Einstein as impressed as he suggested that he was?

I have no reason to doubt it. Within Barrymore's contradictions was a vastness that contained multitudes.

10:16 AM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

As good a dramatic actor as he is, I love Barrymore in comedies. "Playmates" has a terrible reputation, but his performance by and large is hilarious. I'd probably enjoy "The Great Profile" as well.

The thing we have to remember is that nobody forced Barrymore to be a silly spendthrift alcoholic. Like his acolyte Errol Flynn, he could have had a longer, more distinguished career had he possessed some self-discipline.

9:46 PM  

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