Drew Barrymore is Hollywood royalty. She’s the reigning heir to a long line of famous, even iconic, Hollywood actors. But, just how far back does Drew’s dynasty go? How many generations deep is the Drew Barrymore Hollywood legacy? As it turns out, Drew’s acting ancestors are older than Hollywood itself. The roots of her family tree include actors as far back as it can be traced, and not just on one side of the genealogy. Several of Drew’s ancestors immigrated to America in order to pursue acting careers, and they came from families of actors in the “old country.” If anyone has acting in her blood, it is Drew Barrymore.
Drew was born February 22, 1975 to John and Jaid (Mako) Barrymore. Her dad, John Drew Barrymore was born June 4, 1942 into Hollywood royalty. He had several roles in film and TV Westerns including Rawhide, Gunsmoke, and Wagon Train, but substance abuse and unpredictable behavior undermined any hopes he might have had for a serious acting career.
Mama Jaid had a bit of a career in modeling (including a spread in Playboy
after Drew posed for the same mag), but you can’t really call her a serious actress. If she hadn’t been associated with the Barrymore family, and Drew in particular, she probably would not have been considered a public figure, but she did have an interesting life. Jaid was born May 8, 1946 in a displaced person camp in Germany because her parents were refugees fleeing Hungary during WWII. Her father was an artist, and her mother was a concert violinist. So, while you can’t really look to Drew’s Mom’s side for a lineage of actors, there’s no shortage of artistic creativity and talent flowing in that half of her veins.
The great actors closest to Drew in the Family tree were her grandfather, John, and his siblings, Ethel and Lionel. Grandaddy John “The Great Profile” Barrymore was born John Sidney Blyth on February 15, 1882. He was famous for his performances both on the stage and the screen. On the theater stage he was one of the most admired Shakespearean actors of his generation. On film he was a matinée idol who wasn’t afraid to obscure his good looks in order to explore less charming, more interesting characters. But, sadly, John Barrymore was also famous for the precipitous fall that followed his meteoric rise to fame. He drank himself to death, but not before he immortalized his decline in some embarrassingly diminished performances (e.g. 1941’s Playmates).
This is Drew’s family tree, so we’ll stay on the main trunk, but we can at least wave to Granddaddy John’s extremely famous siblings: Lionel and Ethel. Lionel began acting as a child, won Best Actor at the 4th Academy Awards in 1931 for A Free Soul, and is best known as the evil Mr. Potter in Frank Capra’s Its A Wonderful Life.
Ethel, whose dreamy eyes Drew inherited, had a truly remarkable career that began on the stage, moved to silent films, continued through the golden age of Hollywood cinema. She also had several appearances on television including her own 14-show series, Ethel Barrymore Theater and an episode of What’s My Line!
It is no accident that Drew’s Grandfather, John, and his siblings found their way to acting. Both of their parents, Drew’s Great-grandparents, were actors. Great-grandaddy, Maurice Barrymore (1849-1905) was born Herbert Arthur Chamberlayne Blyth in Fort Agra India to British parents, and was educated in the UK. He changed his name to spare his family the embarrassment of having an actor in the family (which is why his son John’s legal name was also Blyth). Shortly after becoming an actor, he emigrated to America where he immediately found a place in a professional acting troupe.
Great-grandmother Georgiana “Georgie” Drew Barrymore (July 11, 1856 – July 2, 1893) didn’t have to worry about her acting driving a wedge between herself and her family, since all of them were actors themselves. In fact, although the Barrymore name is now synonymous with old Hollywood, “Drew” is actually the name with the oldest, deepest roots in acting.
Maurice Barrymore’s parents were not actors, but Georgie’s were, so although we have run out of Barrymores, we haven’t come to the end of Drew Barrymore’s acting pedigree. Great-great-grandfather John Drew (1827-1862) was born into a poor family in Dublin, Ireland. When he made his way to American, he began his career as an actor, and made a living at it; but he was never a star, and he died quite young. He and Louisa owned the Arch Street Theater, which Louisa managed after John Drew’s untimely death.
Great-great-grandmother Louisa Lane Drew (January 10, 1820 – August 31, 1897) was born in England, and began acting after emigrating to America when she was 6 years old. She made an immediate splash as a child actor who carried herself with grace and presence beyond her years. (Perhaps that might that remind you of a little girl who stole every scene she had in ET!) Louisa’s marriage to John was his first, but her third marriage. She did not remarry after his death. Instead, she became a real force in the Drew (soon to be Barrymore) family, and a mentor to her fabulously famous grandchildren: John, Lionel, and Ethel.
But, we’re still not done looking back at our Drew’s genealogy of actors. Again, we follow the matrilineal side, and look back to Louisa Lane Drew’s parents, Thomas Frederick Lane and Eliza Trentner, who both had careers in show business. Great-great-great grandfather Thomas Frederick Lane (1796-1825) was an actor, although not a great or successful one. He died when Louisa was very young, leaving her to be raised by her mother alone. Great-great-great grandmother Eliza Trentner Lane (1796-1887) was a comic stage actor and singer who decided to emigrate to America when she found herself widowed and left alone to raise Louisa.
Even though we’re now back into the 18th century, we’re still not quite done digging Drew’s roots. Amazingly, Thomas Frederick Lane’s parents were also performers–“strolling country players.” Think of those bands of actors that sometimes roll up in a wagon during a Shakespearean play and put on a show for whoever is willing to watch. That was Great-great-great-great grandfather Thomas Haycraft Lane and Great-great-great-great grandmother Louisa Rouse Lane’s gig.
So . . . how many generations of actors are in Drew Barrymore’s family? Including Drew, at least seven. Seven! SEVEN!! No wonder that chic can act.