Mr. [John] Barrymore’s smile was the smile of an actor who hates actors, and who knows that he is going to kill two or three before the play is over. I am not an actor-killer, but I like my Hamlets to dislike actors, if you know what I mean, and I think you don’t.
Robert Benchley, The New Yorker (October 17, 1936)
The death of John Barrymore made us think again for a minute of F. Scott Fitzgerald. They were very different men: a lot alike. Undoubtedly, they both worked hard, but there was the same sense of a difficult technique easily mastered (too easily perhaps); there was the same legend of great physical magnetism, working incessantly for its own destruction; there was the same need for public confession, either desperate or sardonic; and there was always a good deal of time wasted, usually accompanied by the sweet smell of grapes. We have seen Scott Fitzgerald when everything he said was a childish parody of his own talent, and the last time we saw John Barrymore he was busy with a sick and humiliating parody of his. The similarity probably ends there. Up to the day he died, we believe, Fitzgerald still kept his original and eager devotion to his profession, along, we like to think, with the strict confidence that he might still achieve the strict perfection that was so often almost his. Barrymore, on the other hand, had given up long ago.
Wolcott H. Gibbs, Season in the Sun (1951)
I know that back in the twenties everyone who saw it judged John Barrymore's Hamlet to be unforgettable. Great though it was, I found his Richard III even more impressive. Barrymore's sinister, half-mad hunchback became incandescent as he gleefully anticipated his conquest of the Lady Anne. The genius of the actor contrived a slight but inspired alteration of Shakespeare's: 'Was ever woman in this humour wooed? Was ever woman in this humour won?' The change to 'Never was woman in this manner wooed; never was woman in this manner won' heightened the deviltry in Richard's gloating.
Marc ConnellyVoices offstage: a book of memoirs, (1968) p. 237; Cited in: Michael A. Morrison (1999) John Barrymore, Shakespearean Actor. p. 345