John Blyth Barrymore: Sex, Drugs, and all his Stage, Screen, and Real World Roles!

Photo Courtesy of John Blyth Barrymore. Photo by Annie Appel

John Blyth Barrymore knows his stuff! A near apparent expert on everything from Los Angeles history, to finance, he has played a noted amount of roles, not only on stage and screen but in the four-dimensional world itself!  To register the wide-ranging tenor pertaining to the ebb and flow of his career, one might surmise his very existence was that of an actor on the world’s vast stage, playing not only an actor, but every character said actor might portray—up to and including somewhat of an M.C. Escher-esque personage as the circuitously, all commanding architect of his own life story.

We are supposed to be attending some sort of Sunday champagne mixer on the first of many patios in Downtown LA’s captivating Bonaventure Hotel, but if you’re talking to John Blyth Barrymore and don’t forget the champagne altogether, you’re really just not doing it right!

Barrymore greets me on the ground floor of the dizzying day-to-day domestic rental establishment in casual, somewhat laissez-faire, but punctually professional fashion. 

Despite the muggy heft of the impending thunderstorm that will descend upon us in roughly two hours’ time, he sports a button-down dress shirt along with a sports coat and wields not a single umbrella of which to be spoken.  A tie is worn, but hardly in the place, one might expect.  Encircling his head like a steadfast—albeit clingy—codependent ring of Saturn, a countenance accompanying said choice in costume inspires an air of giddy trippiness on my part, and I can only envisage Peter Sellers at The Party or Inspector Clouseau inhabiting the red Lawrence Welk-inspired, bubble-filled room in a state of scatty undress, beckoning that Bond-style-babe at the conclusion of one of his many crime halting escapades.  As considered coincidence will have it, Clouseau and Sellers alike will come up in copious fashion throughout our conversation. In short and parallel style, I feel as though a part of me has been transported back to the 60s in the most mod, yet maudlin of manners.

From Occupy L.A., to historic Los Angeles geography, to an unwitting career in car thievery, our tête-à-tête takes many a Mullholland-driven turn woven amidst all manner of real-world Hollywood landmarks on the day in question. From the majestic and vibrant Bonaventure Hotel, to the Hollywood Bowl for a rousing performance of Cirque Musica—a group significantly as talented and similar to Cirque du Soleil—to the underbelly of the red line subway, our exchange flits between reversible periods in time preceding that of his birth encompassing the history of the family name, on forward to the 1960’s/1970’s Hollywood drug scene,  The New York Disco era, and today (where some things are markedly better, yet it is sometimes difficult to discern exactly what—yet hindsight is 20/20 so…)

“… And to prove to you I’m related to Drew Barrymore, check this out!,” Barrymore declares, brandishing his cell phone only to reveal an old photo of Drew, in his arms, all of roughly nine years old. Her endearing moppet smile alights her adorable little face atop the pristine white dress we all remember from every black and white photo ever captured at that famous Alien sci-fi premiere/after party gracing the pages of US and People Magazine.  John’s picture just happens to be in color. However, his Van Gogh-reminiscent coif of the most crimson kind belies his years’ experience prior, having recently turned a browner shade of grey. This is the first and last we will hear of Drew, however, as he has got just as plentiful a palette of compelling personal tales yet to be woven.

John Blyth Barrymore. Photo by Jennifer K. Hugus for The Los Angeles Beat

So tell me your life story.

Well, I was obviously in that generation of uh…we all did a lot of drugs… You couldn’t die from having sex. It was a magical period of only like 25 years between antibiotics and HIV/AIDS… I was living in New York in the late 70s and the two places I had no interest at all in going were A.) Studio 54, even though I was always guaranteed swag, VIP and the [whole bit].  On principle, I wouldn’t go anyplace where somebody was out front deciding whether or not you were cool enough to get in. And B.) “Plato’s Retreat” which is basically an orgy in the basement of the Ansonia Hotel…up by Lincoln Center. It’s a big old hotel … a lot of opera singers [work] there teaching opera.  I was working for a literary agency that had offices there and there was a sex club in the basement.  So, I had no interest in Studio 54 or Plato’s Retreat and guess what?—that decision probably saved my fucking life! Because I was living in New York in 1977/’78…y’know…?

So … you were born …?

So I was born in ’54.  In Manhattan.

In the shadow of the Cold War … I’m putting other words in your mouth.

Oh no, no, no, believe me, the Cold War loomed very large in my childhood!  I was born in ‘54, in Manhattan.  My parents moved out here before I was a year old. So I grew up…[in L.A.] … for as long as I can consciously remember.  We lived … near Doheny south of Wilshire. Then when I was five, right before they got divorced, my mother and father bought a house on Sunset Plaza drive. You know how you have an experience as a kid, you don’t think about it, and then when you’re an adult all of a sudden it clicks in what was really going on?

M-hm.

So my mother and my son’s mother were screaming at each other in the street when I lived…on Catalina Avenue in Korea Town.  And my mother called Jackie a slut–now Jackie was a lot of things including a drug dealer, but slut did not happen to be one of them, and all of a sudden, this childhood memory dropped like a dime in a phone booth. I’m dating myself … a dime … [But] Steve Allen told me personally that it’s okay to date yourself if you like yourself and I just dated myself by using a Steve Allen reference.

Oh yeah … Steve Allen’s cool!

Anyway, this memory dropped like a dime and I said, “You’ve got a lot of nerve calling her a slut. I know all about you and [that very famous lounge singer back in the day].” And she broke up right there ‘cause we lived on Sunset Plaza. [The singer and his wife] lived…on Rising Glen right up the street. When you’re a kid … 8 years old, you don’t think about the fact that your mom takes you over to [this guy’s] house and [he] and your mom disappear for three hours. You’re talking to the maid. She’s trying to entertain you in the kitchen…  When you’re a kid you don’t think about [where they went].  And it wasn’t until that moment that I was like 35 … [that I said] Oh, of course she was fucking him!

… So anyway, my parents got divorced when I was five, and my mother kept my father away from me.  For ten years she had all the power. He also went to Italy for a few years ‘cause he had a hit and run over by Trader Vic’s. If he stayed here, he had to see his probation officer every month. But if he went out of the country to work, he only had to write him a letter once a month. So he went to Italy. That’s why he had an Italian career. He moved to Rome for three years … Funny thing is, I have a sister—an Italian half-sister. Her name is “Blyth,” it’s a family name. He lived in Italy for a couple of years and he spoke pretty damn good Italian. But it didn’t occur to him that Italians can’t say “Blyth.” So all her life they called her “Bly-Bly.” Oh, she’ll say it’s Blythuthu. She can barely say it herself … Did you ever see a movie called “Fail Safe”?

No.

So … it’s 1963. I’m nine-years-old. It’s the Cuban Missile Crisis. We’re doing “Duck and Cover” drills at Hawthorne School. They’re telling me I can protect myself from a nuclear fireball by hiding under my wooden desk. Well, I guess if you’re several miles from Ground Zero it probably makes no difference.  Then “Fail Safe” came out.  It’s a World War III Drama … Henry Fonda is the President, and Larry Hagman is his interpreter in the situation room. And there’s a few other scenes that are outside, but most of the movie takes place right there between the two of them and the premiere on the other end of the phone.  I won’t give away the ending …  [But] that movie terrified the living shit out of me!  I was having nightmares of flaming mushroom clouds! Then, in 1964, “Doctor Stangelove” came out!

Saw that—loved that!

I saw it at a matinee at the Beverly Theater, it looked kind of like the Taj Mahal. It’s not there anymore. It was right on Beverly Drive … So I saw  “Doctor Stangelove” and I never fuckin’ thought about it again! And I’ve met everybody. Celebrities never impressed me.  But when I met [Lawrence] Olivier he said, “Nice to meet you, Mr. Blyth,” just to let me know that he knew what was up with my family—that Blyth is my real family name. My great grandfather sold Barrymore …

John Blyth Barrymore in Twelfth Night. Photo Courtesy of John Blyth Barrymore

Your great grandfather sold Barrymore, from where?

My great grandfather, John Blyth, deserted the British Civil Service in India, changed his name to John Blake, lived for 40 years underground in British India, and married the daughter of a Colonel who happened to be a half-caste. So there’s some East Indian [in me too]…

Anyway [he sent] his son, Herbert Blyth, back to England. He gave him his name back, the real name. Things had cooled off by then … But the Blyths were squires. That’s the basement of the pyramid. You can’t get any lower and still not be a commoner—but it’s still a hell of a lot better than being a commoner.

[This was] to spare his family the disgrace, of having an actor in it—because actors were like prostitutes and drug addicts. He just took the name Barrymore from somewhere else, probably from another actor—possibly from Richard Barry the 7th Earl of Barrymore—we don’t know for sure.  But it’s a very rare name even in the U.K. I’m surprised, I only found three in the London phone book in 1993! But they were probably related to the family my great grandfather appropriated the name from! But then he married into the Drew family which was already a fifth-generation acting family. His wife’s mother, my grandfather’s grandmother, founded “The Art Street Theatre” in Philadelphia which is still there, and she entertained Abraham Lincoln at the White House when she was twelve years old …

I did “Hamlet” a couple years ago, and Shakespeare complains in “Hamlet” that there’s a bunch of pubescent boys outside the theatre doing his plays. Well, 250 years later in the mid-nineteenth century, it was pubescent girls! There was a fashion for like 12 to 14-year-old girls to play great male tragic Shakespearean roles like “Hamlet” and “King Lear” and that’s why she was entertaining Abraham Lincoln in the White House. She was playing King Lear or Hamlet or something. So my great grandfather was the first member of his family to go into acting, but then he married into this dynasty of actors. There’s a play called “The Royal Family.” It’s based on it. Frederick March played the John Barrymore character. They have different names, but it’s the same thing.

So, we moved from Sunset Plaza to Beverly Hills. I was going to school … My mother always kept my father away from me—always referred to him as my ‘crazy father’ etc … So, of course she turned him into a God in my eyes! My mother flipped three houses in Beverly Hills—the second one, when I was 15. There was an apartment over the garage. She gave me the apartment over the garage. Not one of the great moments in parenting, I’ve gotta tell you. That’s when I started getting up at sunset and going to bed at sunrise and just …nobody ever checked on me. That’s [also around the same time period that the celebrity neighbor kids—Carol Burnett’s kids and Jose Ferrer’s kids] said, “Let’s go to Barrymore’s, he’s always up!,” ‘cause you could get up to my room from the alley.  So when my father heard I was doing drugs, he showed up at my door and introduced me to [one of the most famous movie stars and rock stars of the time]. And basically, I had the best drugs you could get.  I was getting drugs from the guy that the studio executives wished they could get in to see! Movie stars whose names I won’t mention gave me money to get drugs.

Aside from growing up in the movie business, I’d hang out on my mother’s sets.  She had two different TV shows, and when I’d get bored on her set, I’d go next door to “Gunsmoke” where James Arness always had a few minutes for the right kid from the set next door … When my father came back from Italy, he was doing guest shots on “Gunsmoke” right at the same time!

I also knew all the players in the drug business. When I was in high school, we used to get a lid—which was two fingers of pressed Mexican crappy weed—for ten bucks … but all of a sudden, this weed came in, and it was grown in Mexico by people who really knew how to grow it, and it went from $10 for a crappy lid of weed to $40 for 8 oz of very good weed, and it was named after whatever state it came from.  It was devastatingly good.  And I knew the guy who pulled it off.  They smuggled it up in ice cream trucks and it was called ‘Ice Bag’.  They had a company which was a front for the business.  It was supposedly like a record company. They shot album covers there—Camouflage Productions was the name of [it].  … So then [my friend] and his friends grew some outdoor weed, and it was equally devastating!  They said, “Hey if they can do this in Mexico we can do it here!”

Then [this other guy] came in from Indiana, but he grew the weed in Florida—Hollywood, Florida—and it immediately went up to $1,000 a pound/$100 and ounce … from $40 to $100—one batch of weed!

John Blyth Barrymore in Hamlet. Photo Courtesy of John Blyth Barrymore.

So, wait they just said it? There was no reason for it? They were just like, “This is what this is!?”

No.  He said it … He said, “I want $1,000 bucks a pound!” … I was there and [the clientele] said, “I’ll never pay $1,000.” And then, two minutes later they said, “I’ll take 5 pounds!”  It went up to $100 an ounce! … And then very quickly it escalated to $435 for the best weed and stayed there for 35 years regardless of market forces … I also saw the coke business go [up in price.] In the ’70s, coke was cool—everybody did it.  Messenger services delivered it to executive offices. It was built into the budget of rock tours … A friend of mine was head of publicity for Arista … and there were two guys whose job it was to get to the town, score the drugs and, if necessary, take the bust if it went down that way. And then freebase, later to be called crack, showed up …

So basically I knew all these people and … scored drugs from all of ‘em until I stopped using drugs! When I … dropped out of high school, as far as I [could tell] … I had no other marketable skills. I said, “Maybe I should try this acting thing. It’s what my family’s always done.” My father and mother quit in the ’60s. They had plenty of work. They both quit at the top of their game. David Carradine was the biggest star on Television. He took me up to his house. We smoked some peyote, and I stayed there for two years—living with David.  I went out to Kansas with him to make a movie that summer … They’d hired an actor. They fired him off the set the first day, and they needed somebody right then, and David said, “What about John Barrymore?” I was up in Fremont trying to get into his daughter’s pants, but they got me on a plane and, basically …  y’know right place, right time.  Well, David was a big star. I did what he did, which he could get away with and I couldn’t. But also, it was hard for me, I was a skinny red-headed dude and I’m much more castable now:[Same jobs, less pay].

But you didn’t do what David did … In what way?

…Roll out of your trailer two minutes before the take and say, “What do I say in this scene?”… He could get away with it. So could I because I’m a fast study, but that’s just not professional. So, I wised up to that fairly quickly. But still, I was hard to cast … I couldn’t [even] get in to see Richard Donner for Jimmy Olsen because that was the one thing written for a skinny, red-headed dude [my age.] So I wound up doing a lot of Shakespeare on stage and stuff, and sinking farther and farther into the drug thing … basically, I fought the law and the law won!

From coke to Coke!

Coca-Cola, actually … when it had cocaine in it, was a patent medicine rip off of Vin Mariani. It was this coca liqueur. All the kings and queens of Europe, [along with] Thomas Edison, and Mark Twain … they all drank this coca liqueur. They all swore by it because when you drink it, it’s a very mild drug. It’s like chewing coca leaves … you don’t get strung out.

In other words, it’s beneficial without having all the nasty side effects?

Right, and when all the drug hysteria happened they had to take it out of the Coca-Cola.  They just replaced it with caffeine and nobody even noticed!

Nobody noticed?

Caffeine is more jagged than taking cocaine that way. But with the industrial revolution, people needed caffeine. Also Coca-Cola is special. There’s something highly addictive in there besides the sugar and the caffeine … There’s a fermentation process involved. I’ll bet it’s something that falls under “natural and artificial flavors” like Betel Nut Juice or something. But guess what? It wasn’t in New Coke and that’s why it was the biggest flop in history!

The whole thing about addiction is … look what crack/cocaine did to your brain chemistry … you know those experiments with the rats where they keep hitting the [lever] to give themselves cocaine until they … died of starvation?  If you let them interact with other rats, they don’t do that. They switch from the coke to regular water very quickly …. Rats are like people.  They’re social animals. They want to interact with rats and have a normal life.  [But] … other scientists at UCLA or wherever … did that [same] experiment and debunked that [theory saying,] “It’s not the drug. It’s the cage.” Same thing with the correlation between homelessness and drugs. You get to a place where drugs are the only entertainment or coping mechanism you can afford.

I had a drama teacher who didn’t pass such judgment about homelessness: “Well don’t give a homeless person money, they’re just gonna use it on drugs.”  It’s like, what are they going to do?  They’re just trying to have some pleasure in life.

This guy was in front of a 7-11 … the guy inside wouldn’t let him come in and use a match … And I said, “I’m gonna give you this dollar but only if you promise me you’re going to use it on booze or drugs!” And he said, “A man who understands.”  And I said to him, “Everybody has vices, my friend!” I live in a glass house. I’m not gonna throw any stones.

By the way, it was the people in AA who restored me to sanity. I always had a problem with the program. First of all, I was an atheist—so the whole spiritual aspect of it, and the whole powerlessness aspect [were a turn off]. Because when I got to the point where I said, “I’m done, it’s too much trouble,” it wouldn’t have mattered if I’d gone to AA or not.  I was done. I was done with drugs … Because when people decide to change, they change.  It’s always for their own time and their own reasons. When Graham Nash and Jackson Brown intervened on David Crosby—sent him on a private plane out to Betty Ford—he was making his escape plans on the plane. After he spent five years in prison in Texas he went … “Yeah, I think I’m done.” [As a matter of fact] my cousin, the coke dealer…

Still a coke dealer…?

No … now he’s a licensed interventionist.

A licensed interventionist.  Wait, he was a coke dealer AND a licensed interventionist?

No, he was a coke dealer and now—because he finally got busted—he’s a licensed interventionist … [treated] me to my second of two slow motion near-death experiences in my life … He was going to prove to me that he wasn’t too drunk to drive by totaling our grandmother’s car.

What happens is, for those 2/10ths of a second you think you’re going to die, the 95 percent of the stuff your brain is filtering out as not important—for those 2/10ths of a second—thinks of EVERYTHING. So when you play it back in your head it has to be in slow motion. How else could I remember the angle of the sunlight, the humidity in the air, and shit I never even noticed! That’s why.

Photo Courtesy of John Blyth Barrymore

It’s almost like you’re getting hypersensitized to life before death or something.

It’s an artifact of memory … A soldier talked about beer cans passing his field of vision with 50 Cal written on the bottom. It was like it was the M60—those shell casings coming at him …were in slow motion.  It happens with soldiers all the time.

I’m fascinated by the whole idea of life flashing before your eyes. I’ve never had that, but it just fascinates me when people say that.

Make sure it’s worth watching.

(Big Laughter)

Thing is, I’m the only male member of my family that can drink. My sisters and female cousins can drink. The men, my son, my cousin, his brother, my father, his father, his father, his father, once they take that first drink—it may take an hour, it may take all night—, but they’re going to train wreck before the night’s over. I’ve never been that way, it’s like as soon as I start to feel it, I put the brakes on.

Then, years later, because two of my kids had ADD … I got strung out on methamphetamines.  I was a kid who could really have used some Ritalin, okay? … [By the time] I got strung out on methamphetamines, I had already dropped out of school.  But the first time I took an amphetamine, I went, “Oh now I see how people can do homework.” … When I was a kid it was called hyper-kinetic … They didn’t know what was wrong with me until they gave me this IQ test. I was a mediocre student and in the top 1%.  School:  I slept through school.  I educated myself outside of school.  If I had gotten some Ritalin when I was a kid, I’d probably have a PhD.  Most people think I have an advanced degree, but the [highest level] I graduated from was middle school. So, at the age of 40, because two of my kids [had been diagnosed with ADD], I was introduced to the concept of the therapeutic dose … and now I get Adderall from a shrink.  But that’s why I gravitated to meth.  It like, made everything easier. Well, it made everything easier because I’ve got pretty classic ADD. I get lost at the grocery store… Then [there are] all the people who do become homeless because of the drug addiction, [who’ve] all got undiagnosed psychiatric problems.  That’s why they’ve got that bad drug habit.

I actually didn’t mean to imply that the drugs and the homelessness went exclusively hand in hand.

They do a lot, they do a lot. I was at Occupy L.A. I had a place to live. I was there to see i …to watch history.  It was [actually] a 50% misplaced persons’ camp of middle-class families who, never, in their worst nightmares thought they’d be living in tents on the lawn of City Hall. I’m glad I did it. I saw so much there.

So, … there were the displaced persons—middle-class families, then there were the chronically homeless—the insane, the drug addicted, people like me, writing about it, or there to see it, and then the professional provocateurs. And they were very good at their job: Which was to make everybody look like an idiot and make sure nobody got any sleep. And they always got somebody else to do their dirty work and everybody said, “Oh you’re just being paranoid,” until they cut the fuel line of the generator three nights in a row and I said, “Now do you believe there’s somebody working here and not working with us?”  Because the undercover cops, they were just there to see who might be a problem when it came time to wrap this thing up.  They were not there to undermine. So I’m there one day, and this gorgeous,  barefoot, 20-year-old waif, was dropped off by this really well dressed black guy [and probable provocateur]. Now I knew who they were because they just happened to be having a conversation outside my tent one night, and as soon as I opened the flap, the conversation changed drastically. They were the most unlikely group of people to associate with each other and Felony—that was [the waif’s] name—Felony—hooked right up with them. Then one night…one of them was in my tent. When he left, he didn’t respond at all to the name he gave me.  I said, “Hey Steve.  Steve Steve!” Okay?  You know, you can’t turn that off.  It’s called a cocktail party effect. What rhymes with Felony?

Melanie.

Bingo!  She was smarter than they were. Yeah because she was so hot and pretty and street urchin she could just wind up sitting there and listening, and nobody would pay attention to her while they were having a strategy meeting. There were like four or five of them. I can only assume there were an equal number of Spanish speaking [guys]. I don’t know if they were…politically motivated or if they were paid. But I wanted to go over there and say, “How much do you guys make? ‘Cause I think I’d be good at this. Do you guys only work for one side? ‘Cause I want to work my magic for the Mormon Tabernacle and the chamber of commerce okay?”

One day, a guy’s sitting there for two hours and he’s watching this thing … And he says to me, “Where I live, it’s a conservative area … my sentiments are probably closer to [yours] but at the core of the tea party there are people who know how much the government takes in, and how much it spends, and their arguments, which I may not agree with, are based on facts. You never see those people on TV and he turned to me and he said, “You guys have the same problem. Because, despite all of the negative forces, within and without, 25 or 30 serious people kept that thing going for months!” Despite the provocateurs, despite the media playing it out—despite everything, there were like 30 people who were serious about what they were doing and they kept it going for months. And no, you never saw any of them on TV. (laughing) You know what I mean?  You saw me on TV!

Being interviewed. The Revolution will not be televised.

Yeah … By the way, we had the biggest tent except for the institutional tents. It was just Yvonne De La Vega, myself, and my dog … in a ten man tent, and we each had bedrooms …and you could stand up in the middle of it. Six months later I’m at a party at Sixth and Alameda … there were people from Occupy there—and people were going on and on about what a great tent that was, and I thought, “Oh great, King of the Hobos!”

Anyway, that’s when the {National] Enquirer ran a story about…me being homeless, which technically was true in that I hadn’t had a mortgage or a rent for several months but I had never spent a night on the street … you know I had friends … Then the Chicago Sun Times had me living on Skid Row—which I didn’t know where it was, I had to ask “Where is Skid Row?” That’s sixth and Alameda right?

It was the criminal justice system that wore me down though. It was my tenth or fifteenth time through the system when I went, “You know what, this is just too much fuckin’ trouble. I’m done.”

That was the catalyst for making you just be done with drugs.

Yeah.

You just wanted ‘em off your back.

I stole like 300 cars back then.

300 cars?!?

Yeah. I stole. Yeah … [I had a locksmithing book from the library] …  Everybody who wound up on the street was either a prostitute or a crook of some kind. So, I met this guy Teddy. I said, “What do you do?”  He said, “I’m a car thief.”  I went, “Perfect!” I wanted a career where I had no contact with my victim at all. So … I went out with him a couple of nights, and both nights we found bullets in the car and I said, “Teddy, we can get killed doing this. Why don’t we take the car away then we can take our time.” AND why are we down here in fuckin’ Hollywood … stealing from the poor people?  Why aren’t we up in Laurel Canyon and Benedict Canyon stealing from the rich people?

I sent ten different drug dealers to jail in hot cars. It was the pre-Olympics—’84 Olympics. In ’83 they were trying to clean up L.A. I sent ten drug dealers to jail. Every one of them would pull up in a brand new 280 ZX turbo and the guy would say, “Where’d you get the car?” and I’d say “Oh, I stole it.”

“Sell it to me!”  And I went, “What, are you crazy?  You don’t want this car. You’ll go to jail in it. It’s a hot car!”

Then they’d say, “I’ll give you an 8 Ball for it.” And I’d say, “Okay, but whatever you do, don’t drive it around where I’ve taken it from.”  And invariably, three days later, “Hey did you hear that Crystal Bobby got busted on Hollywood and Cahuenga in a hot Z car!?!” Every one of those fuckers gave my name up. The reason it took them three years to get me is … I never put gas in ‘em. Gas tank empty, ashtray full—time for a new car! So, then they finally got me driving a hot car. I was worn out. There was sort of like a “Thank God” quality to it. I’m sitting there with two auto theft detectives, and everybody had a nickname back then— “Dantana Diana,” “Skateboard Dave”, “Crystal Bobby.”

“Barrymore,” that was mine, and when Teddy used [to come with me] when we’d go out priming, [it was called] “The Barrymore Gang.” And I go, “Why do you call it that?” and he goes, “That way I get five and you get 20!” Great. He gets five years and I get twenty.  So, I’m finally there with the two Hollywood auto theft guys [and they say,] “Oh Mister Barrymore, we’ve been waiting to meet you.” … And they said, “You’ll probably get three years.”  Three years was the maximum for felony unlawful taking of a vehicle/felony joyriding …”Unless you want to cooperate.” And I said, “You know what guys? Whenever people try to tell me things, I say ‘I don’t want to know’.” And the cop turns to me and he goes, “You may be stupid, Mister Barrymore, but I know you’re not ignorant.” And I wasn’t ‘cause I knew plenty of drug manufacturers. But I said, “Nevertheless, I really can’t help you.” They said, “Help us clear these papers.”  And I said, “I’ll give ya 50 cars right now.” Because I had three blocks—one block up from Ivar, up from Argyle above Franklin, one right behind the House of Blues there in West Hollywood, and one in Studio City. I would leave cars there and they would stay there for months, and months, and months covered with dust, and then one car would get towed, and they never realized that the cars on the street were hot cars!

I took 50 cases off their desk. So that’s why I didn’t go to prison. Then I quit stealing. Never stole another car. Then I went work Downtown.

Wearing his tie like the common Man. Photo Courtesy of John Blyth Barrymore.

That’s where you worked, in that building. (One we can see from the patio of The Bonaventure).

And sometimes when I’d get off work, I’d go over to Broadway and score a couple balloons of heroin from Shorty down there … I was the head temp. They had like 100 temps there and I was reconciling letters of intention. I rose right to the top of the temp thing.

And what kind of office was it?

American Distributors. It was mutual funds. They had this thick book of cardboard—the letters of intent book. It had signatures in it. And even though they had 50 temps working there and I had the most responsibility … nobody had time to sit there and go through the feeder of the giant copiers, and I said, “There’s a postal press in the lobby of this building. Why don’t you just take it down there?” And they went, “Oh that’s a good idea.” And it took them like three days to do it because they didn’t know how to deal with cash even though I was taking millions of dollars a day in trades every day on the telephone.

So then when you were working there … you went and got heroin afterwards.

Well, not every day, but once in awhile … you know from Shorty there … the McDonald’s on Broadway across from Grand Central Market.

And this was after the whole car …

I never [stole another] after they got me … For a while I was living in my dead car and that scared me so much that when my son’s mother took pity on us and got us an apartment for one month, I never looked back. I worked. If I used drugs, I paid for them … I wasn’t involved in any crime again, other than scoring drugs. But eventually, that was enough. I kept getting busted over and over again. ’84 was the last car—they caught me in a hot car—I never sold one of those things ever … Even through that, I never took a car that had a child seat in it ‘cause I had kids.”

To this day, it is evident, that John Blyth Barrymore, more than anything, is dedicated to his children, along with being an avid self and public educator regarding the nature of ADD, to speak nothing of finally understanding the lay of his life and sparing his children the same confusion:

ADD is the thing. The drug abuse and alcoholism are just symptoms: Square-peg-in-round-hole syndrome.  My son quit taking the meds when he was 17. He said, “I don’t need them anymore.”  He’s the first male member of my family without a life-threatening drug habit because he got treated for the square-peg-in-round-hole syndrome. He’ll be 34 this year. And my youngest daughter, she has ADD. I didn’t even see it. She was having trouble in school. I sat there in the middle of Borders and read books and figured out she had dyslexia. So I took her in for psychoeducational testing and the guy said, “Yeah she’s got dyslexia, but the ADD’s the thing,” And I went, “What?!?” I already had it. I had a son that had it. I was too close to it. I couldn’t see it. And I said, “Are you kidding? She’s got ADD?”

I knew it immediately! But I wasn’t going to say anything till I got the results of the test! She only took the meds for two weeks. It’s not the meds, it’s knowing there’s a reason why you can’t do homework when people who are not as bright as you don’t have a problem with it … Bill Clinton is a classic, high functioning ADD guy. David Gergen worked for five presidents, … both Republican and Democrat … He said Clinton was the smartest.  He’d be sitting in the National Security Meeting, doing New York Times’ Sunday crossword puzzle in ink—they make it harder every day until Sunday. [And while it seemed as though he was not paying attention]—he’d look up and mention the one thing everybody had missed! That’s your classic ADD!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Jennifer K. Hugus

About Jennifer K. Hugus

Jennifer K. Hugus was born at a very young age. At an even earlier age, she just knew she would one day write for the LA Beat! Having grown up in Massachusetts, France, and Denmark, she is a noted fan of Asian Cuisine. She studied ballet at the Royal Danish Ballet Theatre and acting at U.S.C. in their prestigious BFA drama program. She also makes her own jewelry out of paints and canvas when she isn’t working on writing absurdist plays and comparatively mainstream screenplays. Jennifer would like to be a KID when she grows up!
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