Good Night, Sweet Prince: The Life and Times of John Barrymore Critical Context - Essay

Gene Fowler

Critical Context

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

Good Night, Sweet Prince is not the usual sort of biography written for young adults. It is not an uplifting story, as it cannot be said that Barrymore provided a good role model: He can be described as an irresponsible and childish alcoholic. Even though Fowler does not approve of Barrymore’s excesses, he obviously asks the reader to admire the joy that the actor took in living life in the fast lane. Moreover, when it appeared, the book’s frankness about liquor and sex was moderately shocking. Yet Good Night, Sweet Prince is worthwhile because it does give a complex picture of an extraordinary individual. The book is not a run-of-the-mill show busi-ness biography: It is not a story rendered “as told to” a Hollywood hack journalist, and it is neither a sensationalized tale nor a sanitized version for adoring fans.

This work continues to be popular with teenage readers long after it has ceased to shock. The theater and motion pictures continue to fascinate young adult readers, and this book tells a story of how one person achieved success on both stage and screen, as Barrymore was probably the most famous American actor of his day. Some readers will be interested in Barrymore’s radio career, in the years when radio played the role in American lives that television was to play later. Most readers will respond to what is a tragic story: Barrymore was an actor of great gifts who achieved eminence, only to fall pathetically and even heroically from causes for which he was partially responsible. Most of all, its wonderful stories make Good Night, Sweet Prince a classic biography. The anecdotes may be exaggerated, but their authenticity and humor have entertained many readers since the book’s publication.