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Diana Barrymore

Diana Barrymore, daughter of actor John Barrymore, talks to Wallace about her own acting career, her alcoholism, her failed marriages, and her recent autobiography, Too Much, Too Soon.

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Guest: Eddie Arcaro

WALLACE: And now to our story. Diana Barrymore was the child of an extraordinary couple, actor John Barrymore and Michael Strange, a society woman turned actress and writer. But after a promising start on Broadway and on Hollywood, Miss Barrymore swapped her birthright for alcoholism, three tempestuous marriages, and professional failure. Now, though, she is attempting a stage comeback following the publication of her controversial autobiography Too Much Too Soon. Diana first of all, I'd like to know why you wrote a book that reveals intimate and sometimes shocking things about yourself, your family and your friends. Time Magazine, back on April 15th, suggests one possible reason for your writing the book. They said, quote: "If a former glamour girl is down about, shaken by the DTs, and degraded by three nightmare marriages plus numerous vulgar affairs, How can she rehabilitate herself? She simply writes a book about it all." What about that, Diana?

BARRYMORE: Well, Mike, while we were talking a little bit before, you said the first one might be a tough one. Oddly enough, Time Magazine in one respect was quite correct, because in writing the book I got rid of all sorts of inside frustrations that you usually only get rid of on a psychiatrist's couch over a period of many years. I was lucky enough to have Joe Franck as my collaborator who became very much of a father to me during that time. He needed the patience of Job, believe me. And it did something for me that nothing else could have done...

WALLACE: In other words...

BARRYMORE: ...to write it out, and admit it all...

WALLACE: ...to get it down, where you could see it, it was kind of a catharsis and gave you a fresh start.

BARRYMORE: Exactly. Mentally.

WALLACE: Well, granted writing the book did help you work things out in your own mind, why having written it, did you publish it for the world to see? When you had revealed so much, and so graphically, the past of your family and friends, you named names, you told some pretty nasty things, about a good number of people. People the whole world knows and...

BARRYMORE: Maybe they were nasty, but they were true.

WALLACE: ...and, with you and Mr. Franck, the two of you putting this thing together, did you never come to the spot where you said, "No Gerald, I... maybe we'd better not tell that, it can't do any good." For instance, you said certain things about your father, some pretty awful things about your father. Now, for what reason did you have to be so graphic in telling about certain of your father's activities?

BARRYMORE: Well, I think that it made people understand him a great deal better, people who... really Mike... who knew him in the later years... understood this tortured man, and what made him behave the way he did, was certain things that Mr. Fowler did not use. I thought I was writing it from the point of view of his daughter, who was, to put it mildly, a little... disappointed at times. After all, you've read the book, and you know that I never saw very much of him. And I guess I expected too much; if I knew him now, it would all be very different. But I wasn't mature, and I was only writing about my reactions at that age.

WALLACE: Well, actually, the one incident that I have reference to happened when you were quite a mature person and he was a pretty sick man, and an older man. It happened at his house out in Hollywood.

BARRYMORE: I might have been twenty, Mike, but I wasn't mature.

WALLACE: Tell me this Diana, you, yourself, said in the book, you said, "Nobody has had more advantages than I" Your father was a great actor, your stepfather Harrison Tweed a distinguished person, your mother Michael Strange, a writer, actress, member of society. With that kind of background, how do you account for your... for your fall, for the drinking, the unhappiness, the immorality?

BARRYMORE: Well, I'd say the title of the book explains it very much. When you have everything, unless you're a very stable human being or have some stability in your life, in your surrounding life, like your parents for instance, you are very liable to go off half-cocked, which is indeed what I did. I didn't have anybody to tell me what to do. You know, governesses, and maids and butlers and heaven knows what, they can't tell you anything, no one ever did.

WALLACE: So, in a sense, “Too Much Too Soon” was a story, of really, Diana Barrymore, in a sense... in a sense anyway, blaming almost everybody else but Diana Barrymore.

BARRYMORE: No Michael, that is not true. I blame myself. I don't know. I've had very different types of letters, very pro and con. There's practically nothing in the middle, about any of these letters. Half of them have said, "Oh really, who are you blaming, just what you..." Some of the others said they could understand it.

WALLACE: Well, certainly, you did say that your environment, mother, father, people, society, Hollywood, theater, alcohol, whatever, all had a bad influence on you. Now, part of your environment was ...

BARRYMORE: That could've, should've been good.

WALLACE: That could've, and should've been good. All right. Part of your environment was so-called, society. You were a debutante here in New York and in Newport. Yet, last week you told our reporter that you would like to be received back into society. Why?

BARRYMORE: Well, because my mother told me something about eight years ago. She said you'll find that ladies and gentleman wear well. And I thought at that time that that was a snobbish remark, but I see what she meant.

WALLACE: What's that?

BARRYMORE: Well, I'm, certainly, not going to tear down my profession or any profession, but when you have been, so-called, reared as a society girl, something happens to you later on in life when you almost certainly... when you knew the riff-raff that I knew that were not necessarily in the arts in any respect, or... well, in any profession, but I mixed myself up with such monsters that when I've seen some people lately who're... that I knew as a debutante, I found them quite refreshing. It was nice to be back in that class of people for, a while I assure you, but I would never, not only not go back to it, I don't think they would take me back, except for a weekend.

WALLACE: Well, (LAUGHS) how does that square with what you, yourself, wrote about society in “Too Much Too Soon.” You wrote, quote, -this is Diana Barrymore- You wrote, "Let's face it, society is pretty vapid, it’s a round of emptiness and snobbishness and eternal boredom" And then you graphically described immorality in so-called high society. Is that what you want to get back to Diana?

BARRYMORE: That book was finished two years ago, Mike. I've changed.

WALLACE: Has society changed?

BARRYMORE: So far. The people that I have seen have changed. I was writing about certain young ladies and certain house parties that shocked me, and what made me even say that was the fact that everyone is so willing and eager to put any... you used the word immorality three times...

WALLACE: Uh-hum.

BARRYMORE: Uh... Actors, people in the public eye. Not necessarily actors, people like yourself, people who the public knows...

WALLACE: Uh-hum.

BARRYMORE: If you make one wrong move, you've had it. You know the things you read in the newspaper about Mr. and Mrs...

WALLACE: Whomever.

BARRYMORE: Smith or whoever, rather shocking things of husband and wife swapping and various things. Well, I wanted to point out that really it wasn't just people in the theater that were the only... people with a rather stigma attached. It still exists. Far less...

WALLACE: And, you believe... you believe that it exists in society and yet you express the desire to be accepted by these same people, about whom you write with such bitterness almost.

BARRYMORE: Well, it was a bitter thing two years ago. I'm a very different person.

WALLACE: But I still maintain or I still ask, are they...? But let's get ahead to something else...

BARRYMORE: No, no, all right...

WALLACE: Well, whatever you want. We can stay here or continue. I think that you'll see where I'm going after a while.

BARRYMORE: This is like the challenge, when you can't answer, come back.


BARRYMORE: All right.

WALLACE: Yeah. In addition to your desire to get back into society, I'm told that you'd also like to get back into Hollywood films. Now, in your book you describe Hollywood as a somewhat less than admirable place - excessive drinking, late parties, easy morals again - here we are back again. You say I've mentioned immorality, three times up to now, but in a sense that is the thread that runs through your book. This is Diana Barrymore's complaint about so many of the people, and so many of the situations to which she has been exposed. So, let me ask you two questions about Hollywood.


WALLACE: First, the Hollywood that you wrote about. Is it really Hollywood, or was that just the part of Hollywood that you associated with?

BARRYMORE: It was the part that I associated with, I guess. However, in Hollywood, I didn't... I think I mentioned it once... a woman like Elsie Mandle where it couldn't have been chicquer and was the top-drawer of Hollywood, but I wanted to see everything and try everything. That's been my trouble.

WALLACE: Uh-hum. So you think that you probably saw what was not representative of Hollywood?

BARRYMORE: I am quite sure I did. By that, Mike, when I said that I wanted to go back, I meant, er... to make a picture of course, I would. When you leave, not under a cloudbut when you don't make the grade, your first reaction always is to knock it. Nobody who was really a success out there knocks it, if they got three successful pictures in the can or something. As a rule.

WALLACE: Let's take a look at a... at your... in other words the reason you want to go back to Hollywood is pure and simple to be a successful motion picture actress and you think that you can handle yourself and stay away from some of the less admirable aspects of Hollywood that you were not able to stay away from?

BARRYMORE: I hope so.

WALLACE: Let's take a look at your attitude about another problem of your past. Despite your trouble with drink, you wrote this Diana, at the end of your book. You said, "I finally reached the conclusion about myself and alcohol; I would never be able to give up drinking completely." Now, doctors warned that all alcoholics any alcoholic, courts disaster if they ever get off the wagon. And I would like to know why you think you are an exception?

BARRYMORE: That is a misconstrued sentence, that... I mean, it's not. The sentence isn't, but you didn't understand what Gerald and I were trying to get at. At that point I hadn't, I did... before it was finished, this did not come you know, at the actual end of the writing. We discussed the end, as we didn't know what in the name of heaven we were going to do. I wasn't a success, I hadn't opened in a big Broadway show, it was all not hearts and flowers in my life by any means. Er... at the moment, I don't drink, I hope to be able one day, in perhaps in the near future, the very distant future, to be able to drink like a normal human being. And that may never be possible. I don't know.

WALLACE: With your permission we spoke with Coronel Edward Towns who is the director of the Towns...


WALLACE: ...clinic in New York where you were treated two years ago. And Coronel Towns told us this, he said, "Before Miss Barrymore left us, I told her that she was either an alcoholic or on the borderline. And that if she didn't want to wind up back here, she should steer clear of all alcohol, even beer!"

BARRYMORE: Yes, he did.

WALLACE: And you're trying?

BARRYMORE: I am. To the best of my ability.

WALLACE: Uh-hum... all right then. But from what you say, Diana, let's take drink aside. From what you say, and perhaps... perhaps I am laboring from a misconception here, it seems that in a sense you are prepared to go back now to the very things, some of them anyway, that you blame in your book for dragging you to the end of your rope, to the point of an attempted suicide - society, Hollywood, and possibly even drink - what I would like to know is this, what makes you think now? That you have the strength, the understanding, the courage to handle these things

BARRYMORE: Well, I am glad you asked me that, Mike. There is a very simple answer. I was always alone apart from friends, or husbands or anything else, totally alone, through my own fault, stupidity, I have no idea. And I just met a woman a year ago, called Viola Rubber, who took a chance on hiring me for a new play, to try out. And she has been practically with me, constantly, ever since, because I know I am not strong enough yet alone. I admire people who are. Maybe it'll happen one day, but without this woman, it couldn't have happened. I had somebody. I have someone to cling to, and someone when I get upset and think"Oh boy, if I could only get to the nearest bar I'd call her up"

WALLACE: So, in other...

BARRYMORE: ...So sort of, she is like...

WALLACE: She is your rock for the time being...


WALLACE: and she is trying to give you enough strength to go on by yourself eventually.

BARRYMORE: Yes. And career-wise too, since she is a producer and has produced in London, and we hope to be going over to do a play. If you have someone who believes in you as an artist as well as a human being, you are very lucky.

WALLACE: Diana, we mentioned a moment ago, that when you hit bottom two years ago, you tried to commit suicide. I'm going to ask you a question now that I'd would like you to think about for a while. I'd like to know, whether you think suicide is ever justified? And we'll get the answer to that question in less than thirty seconds.


WALLACE: Go. Newspapers carried headlines that you had attempted suicide. You wrote about it in your book too. But in the book, you didn't ever talk very much about your attitude towards suicide. Do you think that it is ever justified?

BARRYMORE: No, I don't. If I'd thought about it, I don't think I would have tried it. I was about to be... it's all in the book, so I can say it... I was about to be, maybe kicked out of Equity for behaving badly on the stage, and my personal life was in rather bad shape, and I just thought, "Oh, what difference does it make, why wake up!" That's as far as it went. There was no... you know, I didn't think of the day before, the week before, so this is the only way out.

WALLACE: Uh-hum.

BARRYMORE: I never even thought of the people I would be hurting...

WALLACE: But, you tried...

BARRYMORE: Who probably were very few, and I certainly do not believe it is justified. No.

WALLACE: You're a Roman Catholic, Diana?


WALLACE: As we know, the Church, your church, considers suicide a sin. Has your religion helped you in any way to find comfort, self-discipline, truly?

BARRYMORE: I wasn't... er... ready for it, then. They were ready for me. They wanted me back in the fold. They tried very hard after each divorce. They said, "But you've never been married, and so, you can come back" I think anything that is forced upon you, as my religion was forced on me as a child. - You know, Church every Sunday, prayers at night, which is admirable - but it was done, it seems, in a rather odd way. I mean, Mother didn't take me to Church, the governess did.

WALLACE: But I think that's probably true of a good many of us: church, prayers, Sunday school, that's all forced upon us.

BARRYMORE: Yes, but it depends upon the way. I mean, they used to be rather grand about it. I know that my brother and mother, both looked upon the church as... at one point, even made a remark that it was a marvelous show, and the costumes were good. Now, you hear something like that and you think, "Well, is this their attitude toward religion, then why do they make me go? Why do they want me to go?" The convent was so long ago, I don't remember. I go to Church now, but I don't go to mass very often. But I... when I do feel in trouble, I am like anyone, of any religion. They don't even have to go into their own church... just go in, and sit down and be calm, for a while.

WALLACE: I understand, Diana, that you have said that a home and a family would be the best thing for you, after you complete your professional comeback. You've been married three times. Why do you want to postpone another attempt at marriage? Why are you willing now to go back...?

BARRYMORE: Well... it couldn't be simpler. I just haven't met anybody I want to marry yet.

WALLACE: (LAUGHING) But there isn't anything in your mind. - It's a perfectly sensible reason - There is nothing in your mind, that... that makes you say, "No, I've got to do something first, and then I will be ready for the other."

BARRYMORE: I think it only fair, because the next man I'll marry, I don't want him to think of me the way my other husbands did when they even said Miss Barrymore...I want to be Mrs. Somebody. And I want to forget about being an actress and try being a wife, because I find it very hard to be both, at the same time.

WALLACE: Tell me this, and I say it to you quite sensibly. Do you think, Diana, that you could make a good parent?

BARRYMORE: Yes, I do. Don't ask me why, we'll need another program.

WALLACE: Why? Why...?

BARRYMORE: Why do I think I'd be a good parent?

WALLACE: Yes, yes, why?

BARRYMORE: Well, it isn't the love of children. There's plenty of people who love children who are impossible parents. But I think I could... through my own mistakes, the mistakes of my parents, the mistakes of other couples that I know with kids, and the way they live and the way they treat their children. Everything in life you learn every day, and I think I would be a good mother.

WALLACE: As we...

BARRYMORE: Skirting the issue in a way, but that's a fantastic question, Mike.

WALLACE: Yes, yes. For, two or three minutes that we have left. Uh, as we have time now, I would like, quick capsule opinions of some of the following anyway: Fame,

BARRYMORE: Unhappiness.

WALLACE: Your father, John Barrymore.

BARRYMORE: There is only one word. I can't in one capsule thing, it was too late. Too late for him, too late for me.

WALLACE: Alcoholics Anonymous.

BARRYMORE: It didn't work for me.

WALLACE: You, I dare say, have friends for whom it has worked?

BARRYMORE: Indeed I have.

WALLACE: You tried...

BARRYMORE: Whom it has, and whom it hasn't.

WALLACE: Psychoanalysis.

BARRYMORE: Stupidity.


BARRYMORE: It didn't help me.

WALLACE: You really tried?

BARRYMORE: I really tried. It just, uh (CLEARS THROAT) maybe if I had stayed for a long, long, long time, it didn't get me thinking about anything I didn't want to think of. I just thought I wasn't getting anywhere. The psychiatrist didn't, but er... I did.

WALLACE: The Social Register.

BARRYMORE: Too small a book.

WALLACE: One last question Diana. One of the so-called American Dreams is to be born into a famous family with money, go to the best schools, to become a Hollywood actress, and you have had every bit of that. But for those who have been less fortunate, perhaps than yourself...

BARRYMORE: You say less, I say more.

WALLACE: Well, has there been anything really enviable about your life?

BARRYMORE: No. Not so far.

WALLACE: Nothing at all?

BARRYMORE: I wouldn't say so. Would you?

WALLACE: What makes you happy, Diana? What do you like to do? What...

BARRYMORE: Cook. And you'll never believe it. The only way you will is, please come to dinner.

WALLACE: May I bring my wife?

BARRYMORE: You certainly may.

WALLACE: Tell me this... uh...


WALLACE: (CHUCKLES) Now, now truly, you say cook.


WALLACE: There is nothing else that...

BARRYMORE: ...The hausfrau, you see. No, because, more of me, is a woman with a kitchen, than someone with a curtain going up and down.

WALLACE: And yet you are going back into the theater; you can find your happiness in domesticity evidently.


WALLACE: And yet, you are willing to go back into the break-neck competitive business of theater. You're going to... you're going to make yourself available to all of the potential trouble that you made yourself available to before.

BARRYMORE: Yes, because I think I have learnt Mike. I hope I have.