Good Night, Sweet Prince: The Life and Times of John Barrymore Critical Essays

Gene Fowler


(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

Fowler begins Good Night, Sweet Prince with a short “Overture” to establish that the book was written by an intimate friend of Barrymore, someone who knew him well. The reader is reminded of Fowler’s relationship to his subject when the author supplements his narrative with references to recent conversations, especially with John’s brother Lionel. Although its emphasis is not on hard facts and documentary evidence, the book persuades its readers that they are receiving an intimate and well-rounded picture of Barrymore. Because so much of Good Night, Sweet Prince is taken up by anecdotes and whole scenes from Barrymore’s life, the book gives readers the impression that they are listening to a man of the world who knew Barrymore intimately. This impression seems to be correct: The biography’s moving final chapters describe many scenes in which Fowler himself plays a role, and the biographer was one of those who kept watch as Barrymore died. The reader is brought even closer to the actor by his biographer’s prose; Fowler’s somewhat old-fashioned and whimsical way with words is also Barrymore’s way, as one notices from the many quotations from the actor’s letters.

Fowler does not whitewash Barrymore’s faults. It is clear that the actor was extravagantly promiscuous, uncontrollably alcoholic, moody, unpredictable, self-centered, and childishly self-indulgent. Nevertheless, the portrait that Fowler provides to the reader is ultimately sympathetic. Barrymore was usually honest and loyal, wanted to be liked, was a marvelous but exasperating drinking companion, and...

(The entire section is 657 words.)