The Barrymore siblings – Ethel, John, and Lionel – were renowned actors in the early days of film. Even today, there are a lot of people who are familiar with their names and movies.

I know very little about their lives. Mostly, I’ve read about John Barrymore, because of his relationship with Evelyn Nesbit in the early 1900s.

John was the youngest of three children born to Maurice and Georgie Drew, who were successful stage actors. The Barrymore family was very successful on the stage but John, Lionel, and Ethel made the leap into early film.

John met Evelyn before his film days; at the time, he was attempting a career as a cartoonist. Back then, everyone called him Jack. He and and Evelyn were nearly the same age but her career as a show girl and a model was at its height while Jack seemed to be floundering in his artistic pursuits.

Stanford White, the man who haunted and shaped Evelyn’s life despite being more than 30 years her senior, was very jealous of Jack. He financially supported her family and he pressured her to turn down his proposal. This marked the beginning of a downward spiral for Evelyn, but Jack’s ascent had not yet started.

Evelyn Nesbit and Jack Barrymore


The only other personal thing I about Jack Barrymore is that his last words are often quoted as, “Die? I should say not, dear fellow. No Barrymore would allow such a conventional thing to happen to him.” The day after his death, however,  John Barrymore’s last words were reported as, “This is wonderful! What a wonderful place!”

Tonight I was looking at photographs of Jack and his family and how glamorous they were… I’m sure they led fascinating lives but without knowing their stories, I appreciate what you can tell about them through their pictures. All of them seemed to exude Presence. I mean that each of them seem to command the energy in a room, probably Jack’s sister Ethel most of all.

I was ready to post this and saw that there was a signed photo of each of them. I’ve studied graphology on my own and their signatures interested me. Scroll down to see a signed photo of each of them, and a quick analysis of their signatures!


Jack’s parents, Maurice and Georgie Drew



Jack Barrymore’s father Maurice. He looks a lot like Tucker Carlson to me. Do you see it?
Jack’s mother, Georgie Drew
Jack, smoking a pipe!
Ethel Barrymore
Jack’s brother, Lionel Barrymore
Jack in 1907
Lionel Barrymore
Jack, with his wife Delores Costello
Ethel Barrymore


You see the Presence?
John, Ethel, and Lionel Barrymore with their family


So, what can we tell from the Barrymores’ signatures? A lot!

I’ve studied graphology on my own. Your handwriting says a lot about you! When we look at the signatures of these famous siblings, you should know that signatures are treated differently than everything else you write. When a person writes his name, they are telling you how they believe (or sometimes want to believe) they are seen by other people. The rest of the script tells you what that person cares about, how they think, how impulsive and intense they are, and a lot more. Most people’s signatures do not match their script.

The signature shows the “image” each of the siblings has of themselves.  Take a look and I will explain after the last picture.

Ethel Barrymore’s signature
Lionel’s signature
Jack’s signature


Based on her signature, Ethel was a big personality, an extrovert. She would have dominated the energy in any room she was in, whether she was speaking or not. And she would have liked it that way. Her signature suggests someone who was very imaginative.  When she took action in her own life, it would have been Big and Bold. She would have preferred looking to the future and big plans over the realities of the present. She would have liked to talk about concepts and theories but quickly lost patience with a lot of detail.

Her brother Lionel was also an extrovert, but a very different personality. His signature is the writing of a happy guy who liked to be in the middle of things – a “people person”. Unlike his sister, he wouldn’t be too preoccupied with the future and bold visions. He was probably someone who found a lot of joy and meaning in the present. He was cheerful and adaptable, but probably appreciated detail and order.

Jack’s signature is very different from those of Lionel and Ethel. He has an introvert’s signature, and it suggests a man who might have shrank back from other people yet cared about his image very much. If Ethel liked broad horizons,  Jack liked microscopic detail. He was precise and might have been known to attach a lot of importance to relatively minor conversations or events. He wouldn’t have been able to let things go. His signature looks like a man who had some temper and tended to brood but also the writing of a man who was almost tragically hard on himself.


Like everyone who will see this, I was born long after the Gilded Age ended. So how is it possible that I feel so nostalgic for these days of beauty and grace? I think I must be a ghost.

Today, I have for you pictures of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City at the turn of the century. There are also a few photos from the 1910s from a Senate inquiry into the sinking of the Titanic that was held at the hotel, and a couple of photos of women with their dogs from the first meeting of the American Pomeranian Club.

All photos courtesy the Library of Congress, except where marked.


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The Exterior

The beautiful Waldorf Astoria, which billed itself as the finest hotel in the world.


The Thirty-third street entrance


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The Rooms

The Waldorf Astoria had apartments. This room, with the carved mahogany canopy bed, fireplace, and lovely decor is called the Francis I bedroom.

This room is not quite so lavish as the others, though still quite beautiful. It’s labeled Room 212.

The Marie Antoinette Room. Can you imagine?


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The Public Areas

The Myrtle Room. I’m not sure what this was used for. I could imagine private parties, or maybe meetings?


The charmingly-named “Peacock Alley” was a three hundred foot long corridor connecting the Waldorf and Astoria Hotels. It gained fame in the early 1900s as the spot where the fashionable women of New York City paraded their fashions and jewelry for their peers. (Getty Images)


This one I find to be puzzling. It’s called the Ladies Hairdressing Room. There are three vanities for the room– not just from the angle the photographer captured, but the whole room. I’m guessing it might be a small room outside of a ballroom where women could freshen up?

Though it seems a little impractical even for then, it makes me think of how very over-crowded our cities are today.



A lavish, private dining room

The Billiard Room. Can’t you just see men with mustaches and top hats smoking cigars in here?


A reception room. I imagine this was used for smaller parties and events.

The Palm dining room: This room is so beautiful. Look. At. The. Chandelier.


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Notable People (1910s)

Senate Hearing on the Sinking of the Titanic. There is an arrow pointing to J. Bruce Ismay, the high-ranking White Star Line official. Passengers who came to testify at this hearing said they heard Ismay pressuring the ship’s captain to travel faster. Ismay, of course, was one of the lucky people to get a seat in a lifeboat.


“Miss M. Kennedy and Buttercup” at the American Pomeranian Club meeting


Mrs. George Peabody and Mauchi at the American Pomeranian Club meeting. That is a real hat Mrs. Peabody has on.


In my recent foray into the federal archives, I began to notice that the reference info on many of the most interesting photos indicated they came from San Francisco. Many of these San Francisco images were tagged “glamour photographs”: an irresistible combination!

I’m excited to share my findings here, but first I need to issue a warning that you may need to adjust your ideas around what glamour is. In some cases, what qualified as glamorous and exciting in 1900, may not be enough to land you in the next issue of Vogue in 2019. Also, Victorian San Francisco was a little less sensitive to language, as evidenced by some of the photograph titles.

Now, let’s take a look at these glamorous San Francisco residents! First, we’ll look at the telephone photographs. Continually changing technology is a feature of our modern existence, and an iPhone 4 is practically an antique. It may be difficult to understand what could motivate someone to pull out their Sunday best and have a formal, professional photograph made as they pose with a telephone.

But if we put it in context, it’s more comprehensible. In 1900, the telephone represented a huge leap in technology. The last major comparable invention was the telegraph, which had come out in the 1840s. The idea that you could press your ear against an odd-looking gadget and listen to the voice of someone who was miles away must have seemed close to magic.

Young woman with telephone, circa 1909


At the telephone, 1907


Good News 1909.


Then, there are the flower girls. These very feminine young ladies were not about to stop with a flower or two. Or even a bouquet or two. These ladies brought the whole garden with them. Think of them as the original Flowerbombs.

Woman, “Flora,” posing in studio, three-quarter length, standing, facing right, holding flowers by E.J. McCullagh, circa 1900


Lillies, 1902. The pearls for her hair are an interesting touch!


Many people were interested in athleticism. You’ll notice most of the photos in this post feature women, but we do have some male representation in this category. The Strongman was postcard-worthy in 1901, but we live in an age of steroids and Monday Night Raw. I’m not sure this fellow would fare against Triple H or John Cena.

Miss Swim, 1904. It seems like it would be hazardous to go into the water wearing this. Just the sheer weight of the clothing would be enough to sink you.


Strongman, 1901.


Next, we turn to the modern woman. The important thing here is to note the variety of what a woman can be: anything! A gun-totin’ moonshiner’s daughter, a football fan… the possibilities were endless!

On the question of all the upkeep women do, my initial thought was that there would be less work. Women weren’t having their eyebrows threaded or wearing Spanx or getting Botox injections back then. But I was wrong on that one. As you’ll see, the lack of modern conveniences only caused women to have to work that much harder.

The moonshiner’s daughter, 1901. I’m guessing this was a costume that was meant to be humorous, and you.wouldn’t have bumped into this gal in San Francisco, even in 1901. I can’t imagine how she would be received in Haight Ashbury, circa 2019, but this might actually fly in the Tenderloin.


Football girl, 1906



Woman draped in sheer fabric, standing, full-length, facing left, holding up her hair over heating vessel, 1908. This picture and the next were in all likelihood meant to American, more straight-laced version of French postcards. I’d like to know more about the heating vessel and if this was a common way for women to dry their hair.


Woman wearing corset, brushing her hair, 1899. I’ve read that corsets caused all kinds of health issues for women. In attempting to achieve an hour-glass figure, they frequently resorted to crushing their internal organs with corsets. Of all the photos, this is the only one that made me cringe. Can you imagine how uncomfortable she must have been?


Finally, there are the vamps.

In the Harem, 1900. This was at the beginning of an era that romanticized eastern cultures, which eventually came to its peak in the 1920s.
Woman in belly-dancing costume smoking and holding package of cigarettes, 1900. Another example of the fascination with all things eastern. In 1900, the cigarettes and clothing would have been considered to be far too much for polite society.


Lastly, I just want to remind everyone in the Bay Area to please join me at Burlingame Library on December 10 at 7 p.m. I’ll be there to talk about my book, The Poisoned Glass, and I hope to see you there, too!