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Science: The New Pictures

6 minute read

Between Us Girls (Universal) is chiefly notable because it provides the rattletrap tumbril on which John Barrymore’s 21-year-old daughter Diana is supposed to ride to stardom. That she survives a solid hour and a half of such a journey is a tribute to her staying powers.

Starlet Barrymore plays the daughter of Star Kay Francis. The plot requires Diana to don a middy blouse and pretend she is twelve in order to keep from her mother’s suitor (John Boles) the fact that Mother Francis is fortyish. In the complicated course of this deception, Diana also fools a charming young man (Robert Cummings), who buys her roller skates and ice-cream sodas, tries to teach her to skate before his normal eyesight asserts itself and he realizes she is old enough to be his wife.

One evening when Diana Barrymore was 19, and the youngest, most submerged guest at a sedate dinner, she was suddenly observed to be eating her soup from a standing position. It wasn’t a stunt; it was a natural and innocent way of bringing the gathering into proper focus. Father John Barrymore and Mother Michael Strange were divorced when Diana was seven. From seven to twelve she was entombed in a Parisian convent school. She subsequently attended the Garrison-Forest School near Baltimore, which nearly went out of business once when Father John paid her a call. She also had a go at Manhattan’s Brearley and a string of other seminaries.

A year at the Dalton School was the most successful; the Dalton feeling is that one should express oneself. Diana did.

Year after that her mother, born a Newport Oelrichs, saw Diana smolderingly through a slam-bang debut at Manhattan’s River Club. It was Brenda Frazier’s season. The late Cholly Knickerbocker ticketed Diana as Personality Deb of the Year, swore she could have outstripped blazing Brenda as Glamor Girl if she had half tried. Diana palled around with Brenda a little, was reported engaged to Anthony Duke, Francis Kellogg, Harry Ellerbee (whom she called Poopsie), Sir William Wrixon-Becher, and a convoy of others, including Actor Bramwell Fletcher. Last summer, yes—she married him.

Diana wanted to act. She studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. She got a part in the road production of Outward Bound. Diana first hit Broadway in The Romantic Mr. Dickens, moving the Times’s Brooks Atkinson to declare that she was the one bit of meat which made that turkey worth sitting down to.

On tour in Outward Bound, she first really made her father’s acquaintance. The story that he made a pass at her before he knew she was his own daughter is apocryphal. They met at the train, and it was not until he had known her several minutes that he proudly declared that he was in love with her. Said John Barrymore to the press: “Isn’t she lovely! I worked like hell on Hamlet and Richard III but she was the best thing I ever produced!”

When Father John brought My Dear Children to Manhattan, Diana was on hand for the opening—and on guard. She was on guard against Father’s estranged fourth wife, jello-eyed Elaine Barrie Jacobs, who, enmeshed for the occasion in a gold net dress, was already clamoring for “24 hours of bliss.” Later, in a crowded and craning nightclub, the young women engaged in five hours of psychological warfare over the old man. Said Diana: ‘Either she leaves or I do.” Fifteen hours later, polishing off his whiskers like a pleased tomcat, John Barrymore emerged from the Hotel Navarro, told reporters: “I’m back with my sweetsie now.”

John repeatedly warned Diana not to try Hollywood yet awhile. When she did (last January) he cried: “At last my daughter can support me.” Diana took care not to run up a Barrymore private reputation in private life before her Barrymore professional reputation was secure. On the set (where even strong men quailed at the thought of a female John with a life expectancy of 40 years of bounce) she took her lickings (there were plenty) with a good grace. She worked hard.

In Between Us Girls the beatings Diana took were physical as well as spiritual. She slammed her coccyx around with such conviction in the skating scene that they had to hire a masseuse. And from a moment in which Robert Cummings is supposed to slap her face, she learned Art’s most cherished trade secret: One Must Suffer. She also taught it to Cinemactor Cummings. Cummings, a gentle young man, could not bring himself, after 22 tries, to sock Diana hard enough. At the 23rd take she kicked him in the shin with her high heel and he smacked her knock-kneed. Said Diana, without rancor: “If I hadn’t done something, it could have gone on like that all day.”

But the scene that has done most to enhance Diana’s Barrymore reputation was the balcony scene from Romeo & Juliet which she played with her father last winter on Rudy Vallee’s radio program. During rehearsals she uttered girlish spontaneities like “I’m so warm I’d like to rip this dress right down to the navel.” But on the air she was a luminously sensitive Juliet. Ogling his daughter fondly in his dressing room afterwards, Old John cried: “You can bet the whole damn family was listening in and proud of the job she did. It was a damn good job, too; and if you don’t believe that you can — — — — — !”

A Yank at Eton (M.G.M.). Timothy Dennis (Mickey Rooney) is as American as Peck’s Bad Boy, and a good deal noisier. He did not want to go to Eton, but when his mother (Marta Linden) marries an Englishman (Ian Hunter) Timothy can’t escape it. Right off he makes friends with a cute little Lord (Raymond Severn), whom he calls Inky, and an enemy of Ronnie Kenvil (Peter Lawford). Tim’s stepbrother Peter (Freddie Bartholomew) tries to arbitrate, but Tim doesn’t like Peter either. By the end of term he has democratically banged his head against every Eton tradition. Between-terms he causes the death of his stepfather’s finest jumper. In the end he does the U.S., himself and Eton proud.

Through this misguided effort to effect Union Now by means of a boys’ book, Mickey Rooney romps, yawps, mugs and clowns at such characteristic par that those fleecing moments when he is in repose have the surprise value of a Second Coming. Ian Hunter and Freddie Bartholomew, the Englishmen most painfully implicated, are more polite about it than there is any reason to expect of them. Tim’s sister, Juanita Quigley, a fat little colleen with remarkable eyes, will bear watching.

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