In celebration of the actress’s 41st birthday, we take a brief look at her family’s 400-year acting legacy.
Drew Barrymore became a star at age 7 with the release of Steven Spielberg’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, and while that may seem like it was a really young age at which to be the center of such attention, keep in mind that Drew had already been working for six years.
At just 11 months old, she landed her first job in a dog food commercial. And while babies really can’t act, it could be said that the profession was her destiny, a part of her DNA as a descendant of Hollywood royalty. In fact, Drew’s lineage of entertainers dates back to the 18th century — at least 7 generations — beginning in Europe.
Born to John Drew Barrymore and Ildiko Jaid Mako Barrymore, Drew’s mom was only a sometime actress, who became Drew’s manager, and used her daughter’s fame to have a whirlwind social life that included taking Drew to Studio 54 when Drew was only 9 years old, where she was introduced to smoking, drinking and drugs.
Meanwhile dad John Drew followed in the Barrymore family business, working in film and TV, appearing on episodes of The Wild West, Rawhide and Gunsmoke, among others, and in a few unremarkable film roles. His substance abuse problems kept him from ever achieving the greatness and praise that his father — Drew’s grandfather — John Barrymore, the most acclaimed Hamlet of his generation, realized. Even so, John Drew lived to be 72, dying in 2004.
His father John didn’t live as long. He drank himself to death at age 60 in 1942. But before his career and talent suffered from his lifelong bout with the bottle, John achieved greatness both on stage, and in movies such as Grand Hotel (1932), Twentieth Century (1934) and Midnight (1939).
With such a family history, it wasn’t surprising when, at a very young age, Drew became a party girl and also developed a substance abuse problem, because like acting, it was also something that was in her DNA.
“I didn’t really have parents,” Drew, whose parents divorced when she was 9, told More magazine in the February 2015 issue. “…In a way, maybe that was a detriment to my youth, but it’ll be the biggest asset to my adulthood.”
Lionel won a Best Actor Oscar for A Free Soul in 1931, but is best known for playing Mr. Potter in Frank Capra‘s It’s A Wonderful Life. Ethel’s career encompassed the stage, both silent and sound movies, and even her own short-lived TV series, Ethel Barrymore Theater.
Those are the more modern Barrymore’s, but Drew’s pedigree extends back before silent films, into the 1800s, when Drew’s great-grandfather, Maurice Barrymore, né Herbert Arthur Chamberlayne Blyth, was born in India to British parents. When he scandalously elected to become an actor, he changed his name to protect the family honor. To further put space between him and his family, Maurice emigrated to America, where he found work with an acting troupe.
Maurice was the first known Barrymore to become an actor, so that part of Drew’s lineage ends with him, but not so her Drew heritage, which extends back even further.
Maurice married fellow thespian Georgiana “Georgie” Drew, who came from a family of actors. Georgie’s father — Drew’s great-great-grandfather — John Drew owned the Arch Street Theater in Philadelphia, where he performed and which he managed with the help of wife Louisa. After he died, Louisa took over the running of the theater, and also served as a mentor to her grandchildren: John, Lionel, and Ethel.
The Drew line extends back even further to strolling country players in Great Britain in the 1700s, such as great-great-great-great grandfather Thomas Haycraft Lane and great-great-great-great grandmother Louisa Rouse Lane, but that is as far as recorded history takes us, so it is possible it goes back even beyond that.
Despite this remarkable ancestry, Drew has had a rough go of it as an actress. Because she achieved fame at such a tender age, her stay in rehab at 12 and being institutionalized by her mother at the age of 13 were fodder for the tabloids. And even though she credits the 18 months she spent in lockdown with not only cleaning up her substance abuse issues, but also with instilling her with discipline, when she got out, she was a pariah, not able to land any roles, much less decent roles for at least three years thereafter.
Necessity being the mother of invention, the idea to launch her own film company, Flower Films, which has produced Never Been Kissed, Charlie’s Angels, Donnie Darko, 50 First Dates, and the just-released How to Be Single, among others, came out of not just wanting better roles, but roles where she wasn’t the “bad girl” because that was not how she saw herself.
But even today after her many successes, Drew has problems getting quality roles like her 2009 turn as Little Edie in HBO’s Grey Gardens. As a result, she has cut back on her work as an actress, recently only agreeing to star in Miss You Already, in order to play opposite Toni Collette, who she describes as “one of the greatest actresses.”
Rather, she has opted to focus her energies on other entities in her business empire: Flower Beauty and Flower Eyewear as they provide a more flexible schedule, allowing her to spend time with something she has long desired: her very own family.
After two marriages and two divorces — Welsh bar owner Jeremy Thomas and comedian Tom Green — and several long-term relationships, including Strokes drummer Fabrizio Moretti, in June 2012, Drew finally found the marriage she was longing for with art consultant Will Kopelman. The couple have two daughters — Olive, 3, and Frankie, 22 months.
And like a mama lion protecting her cubs, if Drew has anything to say about it — and she does, for now, the Barrymore acting dynasty stops with her. At least until her daughters are grown up, because she has no intentions of letting them become child stars.
“I would unfortunately have to risk them hating me,” she told The Guardian. “That doesn’t mean I would ever sh*t on the profession of acting. I think it’s wonderful. I think films saved my life. I mean, I come from a family that has done acting for 400 years. But film sets are a bizarre world. For me, it was better than my circumstances. It was a savior. For my children, it will not be better than their circumstances. They are going to be so saved and so loved that they won’t need a film set to make their life better.”