22-year-old Ethel Barrymore on stage at the Garrick Theatre on West 35th Street in New York City in Clyde Fitch’s Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines in 1901. Dramatist Clyde Fitch (1865-1909) wrote over 60 plays in his career that ranged from comedies and farces to melodramas. Fitch was the most popular writer for the Broadway stage in his time and specialized in writing important dramatic parts for women. Fitch’s new play was a romantic comedy set in the States years after the Civil War. Ethel Barrymore played Madame Trentoni, the female lead and the play’s love interest. The 1901 Broadway production made Barrymore a star. The public domain photograph is in the archive of the Museum of the City of New York.
By John P. Walsh
Stage and screen actress Ethel Barrymore (1879-1959) was the sister to older brother Lionel (1878-1954) and younger brother John (1882-1942) Barrymore. Though Ethel Barrymore was absolutely devoted to the stage from her youth, she began to appear in major silent films starting in 1914. Much later, in the 1940’s, the veteran stage actress was nominated twice for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. She won the golden statuette in 1944 for her role as Ma Mott in the film None but the Lonely Heart starring Cary Grant who used a Cockney accent for his part.
By the time Barrymore appeared in her first feature motion picture, The Nightingale, in 1914, she was a celebrated stage actress on both sides of the Atlantic. Coming from the famous American acting family of Drews and Barrymores, the just 16-year-old Ethel Barrymore made her Broadway stage debut in 1895 alongside her uncle, John Drew, Jr. (1853-1927).
Ethel Barrymore at 17 years old in 1896. In 1895, a 16-year-old Barrymore made her Broadway stage debut alongside her uncle, Jack Drew, Jr., a famous and well-liked actor.
John Drew, Jr. in 1896. A versatile actor, Drew was so highly esteemed by his fellow actors that they elected him the lifetime president of New York City’s Players’ Club. The private social club for actors founded in the 1840’s at 16 Gramercy Park remains active today.
Before she was 20 years old, Ethel appeared several times on the London stage. Her first role was that of Miss Kittridge in William Gillette’s new play, Secret Service (1895). After that show closed, she was offered and played other roles on the London circuit. By the turn of the 20th century, a vibrant and talented Ethel Barrymore gained the especial attentions of several male admirers that included dukes, actors, writers and politicians.
Winston Churchill in 1900. A public domain photograph in the Imperial War Museum.
One such admirer of Ethel Barrymore was eligible bachelor, enthusiastic theater hound, and nascent politician Winston Churchill (1874-1965). Though Ethel had many propositions and proposals in this period—she was even briefly engaged to a man until Ethel broke it off—any marriage proposal made to her by Churchill was refused. Churchill and Barrymore, however, became lifelong friends.
Poster for William Hooker Gillette’s 1895 play, Secret Service, on the London stage which featured young American actress Ethel Barrymore in its cast. The poster promotion depicts the play as a royal entertainment which attracts princes and princesses, dukes and duchesses. William Gillette (1853-1937) wrote melodramas and spy plays that were very popular with audiences. In 1899, Gillette first created the role of Sherlock Holmes for the stage, a role which he himself played for over 30 years.
Ethel Barrymore at 19 years old in 1898.
Young Ethel Barrymore. From a famous American acting family, she was was devoted to the stage at an early age.
At 20 years old Ethel Barrymore gained the attention of many male admirers, including dukes, actors, writers and politicians. Though briefly engaged around the turn of the century, Ethel broke it off. Ethel finally married in 1909. She met her husband, Russell Griswold Colt (1882–1960), at Sherry’s restaurant at 44th Street and Fifth Avenue in New York City while having lunch with her uncle, John Drew, Jr. The marriage produced three children, though it ended in divorce in 1923.
When Ethel returned to the United States, she began to appear in various stage productions. It was in 1901 when the 22-year-old actress was cast in the role of Mrs. Trentoni in Clyde Fitch’s Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines on Broadway that Ethel Barrymore became a star.
Ethel Barrymore dressed in one of the Edwardian costumes as Madame Trentoni in the 1901 Broadway play, Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines.
Clyde Fitch’s Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines introduces Robert Carrolton Jinks and his friends who form a club to boost the presidential campaign for General U.S. Grant in 1868. Calling themselves “Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines,” they think to try out their marching abilities by greeting the arrival of a steamer carrying Madame Trentoni, a famous opera singer. Though sight unseen, Jinks bets money that he can make Madame Trentoni fall in love with him. The boat is late and everyone leaves the dock except for a gaggle of reporters who wait to greet the opera singer. When Jinks returns, after he lays eyes on Madame Trentoni (played by Ethel Barrymore) he falls in love with her. After Captain Jinks sees she is having trouble at customs, he pulls out money which the customs official mistakes for a bribe and Jinks is promptly arrested.
When Jinks is released on bail he calls on Madame Trentoni who has stopped to visit her foster father. She is as much in love with him as he is with her and their courtship progresses rapidly. When Jinks tries to call off the bet he made with his friends, they refuse until he finally agrees to pay off the bet with an I.O.U.
Jinks’ friends are also smitten with Madame Trentoni but she is totally uninterested in them. This gets them angry and they decide to ruin it for Jinks. They tell Madame Trentoni’s foster father that jinks intends to marry Madame Trentoni solely for her money — and as proof pull out the signed I.O.U. that says “I.O.U. $1,000 for the bet regarding Madame Trentoni.” The foster father flies into a rage, tells Madame Trentoni about the I.O.U, and she decides to never see Jinks again.
Jinks has no idea why Madame Trentoni is so angry at him. When he finally discovers what his friends have falsely told her, he tries to gain admittance to her apartment to tell her the truth. When she learns the real facts of the matter, Madame Trentoni throws her arms around her Captain Jinks.
In that intimate position, a detective suddenly bursts into the room to arrest Jinks. In all the tumult surrounding the loss of his love interest, Jinks forgot to appear in court for his bribery case. It appeared Jinks had skipped bail. Madame Trentoni tells the detective that she and her sweetheart have had a misunderstanding and only now are having the chance to make up. Her plea and the promise that Captain Jinks will appear in court tomorrow for his case is approved by the detective, who departs. Captain Jinks and Madame Trentoni embrace, and the curtain goes down on the couple living happily ever after.
The public domain photographs above are in the archive of the Museum of the City of New York.
Color promotional poster for Captain Jinks and the Horse Marines starring Elizabeth Kennedy. After the Broadway show starring Ethel Barrymore closed in July 1901 after 168 performances, a new production and cast appeared in 1902. The theatrical poster highlights New York’s Garrick Theatre run. (Library of Congress collection)
Ethel Barrymore as Madame Trentoni in 1901.
Ethel Barrymore on the cover of The Theatre in August 1901 following the close of the successful Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines which ran on Broadway for 168 performances from February to July 1901 and made 22 year old Ethel Barrymore a star.
Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines was produced in 1901 at the Garrick Theatre. The 910-seat theatre was built in 1890 by Francis Hatch Kimball (1845-1919) and located at 67 W. 35th Street in New York City.
The Garrick opened as Harrigan’s Theatre and became the Garrick in 1895. It was sold to the Schubert brothers in 1916 and leased to Otto Kahn who renamed it the Théâtre du Vieux-Colombier in 1917.
Management reverted to the Schuberts in 1925 when the theatre featured popular burlesque until the onset of the Great Depression. The building was demolished in 1932.
Screenshot, October 2019, site of GARRICK THEATRE (1890-1932), 67 W. 35th Street, New York City. The Garrick Theatre was where Ethel Barrymore starred as Madame Trentoni in Clyde Fitch’s Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines. A smash hit, the Broadway production made Ethel Barrymore one of the 20th century’s major theatrical and film stars. In 2006 the site had a multi-level parking garage which was later replaced by a hotel devlopment. The brownstone building in the middle distance appears to have survived from the late 19th-century period.
Both photographs above, Ethel Barrymore in 1901. As a new theatrical celebrity Barrymore’s image, style, and fashion were in demand by the public.
Ethel Barrymore in 1901.
Barrymore with a fur muf and feather hat in a hairstyle à la mode. The demand by the public for images of theatrical celebrities was insatiable.
In the 20th century’s first decade, Ethel Barrymore became a theatrical celebrity. Her image was in demand in photographs and picture post cards of the time. Throughout the first third of the twentieth century, Barrymore continually appeared in popular stage productions. Following the success of Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines, Barrymore appeared in the next years in many top-rated popular Broadway productions.
A few highlights included in 1903 Barrymore appearing for 60 performances in the title role in Cousin Kate at the brand-new Hudson Theatre at 139–141 West 44th Street. In 1905 Barrymore played Norma Helmer in Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll House for 23 performances at The Lyceum Theatre at 149 West 45th Street. Also in 1905 Barrymore appeared in Alice Sit-by-the-Fire at the Empire Theatre. In 1908 Barrymore played the title role in Lady Frederick for 96 performances, again at the Hudson Theatre. There were a dozen more productions Barrymore was involved in before 1910.
Another side of Ethel Barrymore, at the piano in 1903. Before she took to a career on the stage, Ethel Barrymore aspired to be a concert pianist as a youth.
Ethel Barrymore, 1904, by photographer Arnold Genthe. The actress was starring in several plays that year including in the title role of Kate Curtis in My Cousin Kate at the Empire Theatre. Barrymore would reprise the role briefly in 1907.
Ethel Barrymore in a photograph by William Morrison of Chicago in 1907. In the 1900’s Ethel Barrymore was a theatrical celebrity whose image displayed the latest fashion, make-up, and hairstyles that helped express the style of the times.
Ethel Barrymore in 1908. She was starring in the title role of Lady Frederick at the Hudson Theatre that year. The Broadway play ran for 96 performances.
With her film debut in 1914 in The Nightingale, a film written especially for her by playwright Augustus Thomas (1857-1934), Ethel Barrymore began in the new silent flickering medium of cinema in the footsteps of her brothers Lionel and John, who made their film debuts a couple of years earlier.
While Ethel made at least 14 films between 1914 and 1919 (some films are lost) she continued with her stage work and appeared in a dozen more Broadway productions throughout the 1910’s. When she decided to interrupt her film work in 1920 –and did not return to the movies until 1932 in the M-G-M film Rasputin and the Empress starring with her brothers (Ethel played Czarina Alexandra) – she appeared in a dozen more plays in the 1920’s, all in prominent Broadway theatres.
In 1922 she starred as Juliet in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet for 23 performances at the Longacre Theatre at 220 West 48th Street as well as her celebrated role as Constance Middleton in Somerset Maugham’s new comedy play, The Constant Wife, in 1927. It ran for 296 performances at Maxime Elliot’s Theatre at 109 West 39th Street (it was demolished in 1960). The play had previewed in Cleveland, Ohio, at the Ohio Theatre in early November 1926 with Ethel Barrymore in the title role. It opened on Broadway at the end of November 1926 and ran until August 1927. After the Broadway show closed, Ethel Barrymore toured the production. Maugham dedicated his play to Ethel Barrymore and later said her performance was by far the best of any he had seen given for any of his plays.
Barrymore’s extensive stage work in this period also included, in 1928, appearing in the role of Sister Gracia in The Kingdom of God. The play was selected by Ethel Barrymore herself as the premier production in the Schubert Theatre chain’s newly-built 1,058-seat venue at 243 W. 47th Street in New York City. The new Broadway venue was named the Ethel Barrymore Theatre. Since its opening on December 20, 1928, the Ethel Barrymore Theatre has, without exception, presented legitimate Broadway productions continuously from that time to the present day.