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The Second Mrs. Tanqueray. A big, red apple—surrounded by rouge pots, pencil and puff for eyebrow and cheek—sat on a star's dressing table. Outside the rhythmic recall of an actress before the curtain attested the audience's approval. The clapping rose and fell, mingled with cheers, finally lingered and fell. The dressing-room door swung open and Ethel Barrymore appeared, beautiful, a little tired perhaps, excited and again successful. The big red apple seemed to smile and glisten with importance. It was Uncle John Drew's gift and its presence signaled another Barrymore opening.
"Speak your piece good and you will get a big red apple," was an early rural maxim that caught in John Drew's memory. When his niece Ethel appeared 23 years ago in her first star part (Clyde Fitch's Captain Jinks, he gave her a large red apple. It was the initiation of a custom which he has built into a Barrymore tradition.
These and many other magic facts one finds while burrowing through the pages of My Years on the Stage— by John Drew. One finds that Lionel Barrymore (46) is the oldest, Ethel (45) next and John (42) the Barrymore baby. This was the family of Maurice (Blythe) Barrymore and Georgie Drew. Georgie and John Drew were children of an elder John and his wife Louisa. All were actors. The blood and training of nine generations in the theatre has combined to make three of the greatest in our generation.
Since this is Ethel Barrymore's opening night, we must perforce pass by the brilliant Barrymore brothers. John is pottering about with various plays; and accurate chroniclers have it that he will not appear in the U. S. at all this year. Lionel and his lately acquired wife, Irene Fenwick, are touring in Belasco's Laugh, Clown, Laugh.
Miss Barrymore is one of the most beloved figures on our stage, one of the greatest workers, and a true traditionalist. Few actresses in her position work year in and year out, in Manhattan and away, on the legitimate stage and in vaudeville, almost without a break. Actors are born wanderers; the craft arose in the tradition of the strolling player. Nowadays, an actor fancies to stay in Manhattan, possibly with short runs in Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit and Boston. The dwindling of good road shows is not due to the cinema, but in a large measure to the refusal of good performers to undertake the hardships of provincial travel. Not so Ethel Barrymore. She is a trouper, honoring her followers throughout the smaller cities. Last season she toured. Now she is back again as "The Second Mrs. Tanqueray."
This part had been properly regarded for many years as the property of Mrs. Patrick Campbell who, as Paula Tanqueray, won her first great success in 1893. It was last played in this country at Wallack's Theatre at a benefit many years ago by Mrs. Campbell. When Ethel Barrymore assumed the role, comparisons were inevitable.
The part portrays a woman of rusty reputation who hopes to obtain position and happiness through a favorable marriage. In the opening act, most critics agreed, Miss Barrymore was heavy, rasping and overloud. The Campbell tradition calls for a flexibility, lightness and humor, which Miss Barrymore possesses preeminently but elected to omit in her interpretation. In the later acts, as calamaties gather, she was accorded universal admiration. The final half hour is one of the great things of her