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Theory of Relative-ity is a newsletter about the similarities and traits that run in famous and not-so-famous families, and what we can learn from recognizing these patterns. It will also sometimes discuss epigenetics, doppelgängers, our personal and historical origin stories, and the similarities that connect all of us.  - Rachael Rifkin

Click to watch "Smarch" from The Simpsons!
*This Simpsons clip just felt relevant somehow.

We tend to forget how connected we all are. We often see ourselves as separate, isolated, unique—and in some ways we are—but mainly we are an amalgamation of our collective pasts. There are at least three million differences between our genomes, and at the same time, our DNA is 99.9 percent alike. We share the same planet, the same air, the same resources.

We’re in a situation that’s largely unique to our lives, but not to our ancestors, our history. It’s a good opportunity to reflect on our past and think about how our decisions and lives affect the people around us, the present, the future. Amidst the isolation, it’s also a good time—it’s always a good time—to connect with the people in our lives (just digitally or over the phone). I mean really connect with someone, like when you purposely make time to have a conversation that's interesting or fun or thought provoking, or all three. And you both have the chance to listen and share stories. 

Making connecting with others a priority is pretty much what life's all about, after all. If you can, try starting with the people closest to you and then branch out. Then we can fill these upcoming days with the people who make our lives feel most full. 

Speaking of connecting with others, here’s something I wrote about an unexpected connection (that is totally unrelated to current events!).
This study refuting the paper genocide of the Taíno, the indigenous people of Puerto Rico. “According to Estevez, people were made to disappear on paper: ‘The 1787 census in Puerto Rico lists 2,300 pure Indians in the population, but on the next census, in 1802, not a single Indian is listed,’ Estevez writes. ‘Elsewhere in the Caribbean, Spaniards who were reluctant to free their Indian slaves simply reclassified them as African on the census, Estevez writes.’”

This shoe company started by identical twin brothers, now run by their identical twin grandsons. "It's in our blood. Shoes are part of our history.”

This Brooklyn antique store preserving black memory and meaning. "Gentrification has definitely taken its toll,” said Kiyanna Stewart, who co-owns and co-curates the shop with her business and life partner Jannah Handy. “We needed black kids to see that there could be a space devoted to antiquity that looked exactly like them.”

This portrait series of the photographer's parents waving goodbye.  “In ‘Leaving and Waving,’ a portrait series that doubles as a family album, Dikeman compresses nearly three decades of these adieux into a deft and affecting chronology.”
I’m starting to ask people for old photos of family members they can’t identity or know very little about (please email me if you have a photo you want to share!). The aim of featuring these photos is to call attention to all these "lost" relatives and how we need to be sharing our own family stories and labeling our photos so we don't end up with so many of these pictures (and we, in turn, don't end up becoming the unidentifiable people in family photos). 
Photo submitted by Miriam Rimmer
“I have looked and studied these photos and the only information I know is that when I asked my grandmother (when she was alive) she didn’t know who they were, only that they are from Germany.  I wish I knew their names and where they lived. I wish I could ask them what they do for fun.

As I look at the photos I wonder if the photos were taken in a studio or their house. I believe they were taken in a studio. A lot of my ancestors used to dress up. I even have one of an aunt and my grandmother dressed up as Lord and Lady Buffalo Bill.

Regarding my own photos, I save them in folders of children, grandchildren etc., but I could be more diligent in writing about who they are and describing the event.”
 - Miriam Rimmer

For other historic and family history photos, check out my Instagram account!
Relative-ity on Instagram >
Relative-ity on Instagram >

The Barrymore Family

Photo of Barrymore Christening, 1932
Drew Barrymore comes from a family of actors that not only includes her famous relatives—her great-aunt Ethel Barrymore, her great-uncle Lionel Barrymore and her grandfather John Barrymore—but stretches back at least 400 years to her great-great-great-great grandfather Thomas Haycraft Lane and great-great-great-great grandmother Louisa Rouse Lane, who were travelling actors. The name itself is a composite of her two acting families, the Drews and the Barrymores. With so many generations of actors, acting was the family business and an inevitability for many of them.

The Lineage That Led to the Barrymores

Like Drew Barrymore, Thomas Haycraft Lane and Louisa Rouse Lane’s grandchild Louisa Lane Drew started acting at a young age. She was considered a child prodigy, playing The Duke of York in Shakespeare’s Richard III opposite actor Junius Brutus Booth (aka the father of John Wilkes and Edwin Booth) in one of her first roles. She went on to act with many of the great actors of the period. 

According to her autobiography, she enjoyed acting, though she probably didn’t have much of a choice in the matter. At various times throughout Louisa’s childhood, and later after her third husband, Irish American actor John Drew, died, she had to support her family on her own. (Multiple marriages was another thing Louisa and some of her descendants had in common—Lionel Barrymore married twice, John Barrymore four times, Drew Barrymore’s father John Drew Barrymore four times and Drew Barrymore three times.) By the time John died, they had three children, including the renowned Shakespearean actor John Drew Jr. and actress-comedian Georgiana Drew Barrymore, and Louisa had been working as the stage manager of the Arch Street Theatre in Philadelphia for a year. A seasoned actress who was also well versed in the behind-the-scenes business details, Arch Street Theatre had many successful seasons under her leadership.
Photo of Georgie Drew Barrymore with Ethel, Lionel, and Jack Barrymore

Maurice was a colorful character — he owned a farm with exotic animals, occasionally wrote plays, often indulged in affairs, and nearly died after a successful hand of poker led the losing party to shoot Maurice in the chest. All the while he continued to perform on stage, until one day he went off script and, as the New York Times put it, “suddenly dropped his lines and began to rave.” It was discovered that he had an advanced stage of syphilis, a disease that if left untreated can cause damage to your brain, heart and nervous system. When he became violent, John took him to Bellevue. Ethel later transferred him to Amityville, where he died four years later.

From Blythe to Barrymore to the Famous Siblings

Her daughter Georgiana and Georgiana’s husband, Maurice Barrymore, were the parents of acting legends, Lionel, Ethel, and John Barrymore. Maurice Barrymore was a stage name; his real name was Herbert Blythe. Herbert’s father, who was a surveyor for the British East India Company, originally thought his son was going to become a barrister, and like many people of the period, did not think highly of the acting profession. Herbert Blythe took on the stage name Maurice Barrymore to save his father the embarrassment of the family name being associated with acting. A couple of years later, the India-born Brit emigrated to the U.S. He became a well-known stage actor and was one of the first Broadway stars to try vaudeville.

With Georgiana and Maurice often touring, Louisa helped raise Lionel, Ethel and John. When Georgiana passed away at the age of 37 from tuberculous, Lionel and Ethel went in search of acting jobs. None of them had been particularly interested in the profession when they were younger—Lionel and John wanted to be artists and Ethel a pianist. Lionel and John made brief attempts at being artists, neither achieving enough success to make much of a living. Meanwhile, Ethel is frequently quoted as saying, “I always wanted to be a pianist, but I had to eat, and acting seemed like the natural thing to do since the family was already in it.” She quickly became a successful actress, occasionally supporting her father and brother John. 

Photo of Maurice Barrymore
Maurice’s last years deeply affected John, who feared he’d end up like his father. The effects of his chaotic childhood — his parents were always away, his mother died when he was 11 and his closest relative, his grandmother Louisa, died when he was 15 (similarly, Maurice had been raised by an aunt after his mother died a couple days after his birth) — weighed heavily on him. He began drinking at 14 and never stopped, often making it difficult for him to hold down jobs. He started out as an illustrator at The New York Evening Journal and a poster designer before finally deciding “it looks as though I’ll have to succumb to the family curse — acting.”

Like his sister and brother, he was a lauded actor of both the stage and screen. He loved doing Shakespeare and his striking profile earned him the moniker “the profile.” John was a leading man known for roles like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Lionel a character actor perhaps best known today as Henry Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life, and Ethel could play anything, though in her later years she often starred as bedbound sick characters. Lionel, Ethel and John had each performed with various family members on the stage throughout the years, and all three starred in one movie together, Rasputin and the Empress. About 20 years later, Lionel and Ethel came together again for the movie Main Street to Broadway (John had already passed away by then).

Lionel and Ethel went on to win Academy Awards and John received a Rudolph Valentino Medal in 1925, a notable achievement as it was the first awards ceremony to recognize artistic accomplishment in film (and Valentino’s premature death the following year made it the only Valentino Medal ever given out). All three siblings, John’s son John Drew Barrymore, and granddaughter Drew Barrymore have stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. John Barrymore also had his handprints, footprints and profile-print immortalized at the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.

Lionel and Ethel Barrymore had other talents as well. Lionel directed, composed music, wrote books and was a graphic artist and horticulturist. Ethel Barrymore wrote short stories and plays. John mainly dedicated himself to performing (andalcohol). His drinking made him erratic and led to memory problems. By the end of his career, he could barely remember his lines. John was only 60 when he died from cirrhosis of the liver and kidney failure in 1942.

The Current Barrymores
Many of John’s descendants struggled with addiction as well. His children Diana and John Drew Barrymore both had some success as actors before alcohol and drugs overpowered their careers. Diana died of an overdose at the age of 38 and John Drew of cancer at the age of 72. John Barrymore’s third child, Dolores Ethel Mae Barrymore, did not go into acting and as of 2020 is still alive.
Photo of John Barrymore and family, 1934
Addiction also affected several of John Drew Barrymore’s children, including Jessica Barrymore, who died of an overdose in 2014, John Blyth Barrymore and Drew Barrymore. A child star like her great-great-grandmother Louisa Lane Drew, Drew Barrymore became famous at the age of 7 for her role in E.T. and began drinking at 9. By the time she was 15, she had already been through rehab and become emancipated from her parents. Or as her brother John Blyth Barrymore said, “Everyone in my family had a bad patch. My sister Drew was the only smart one—she got hers over before she was even 18.”

She went on to reinvent her career, once again gaining popularity with movies like ScreamThe Wedding Singer, Never Been Kissed and Charlie’s Angels. She’s since added screenwriter, director and producer to her list of credits, won a Golden Globe for her role in Grey Gardens, and most recently played a real estate agent-turned-zombie in the Netflix TV show Santa Clarita Diet. She’s also written two memoirs and owns a clothing and cosmetic line.

Acting was a necessity for her, just like it was for many of her relatives. In her case, it provided her with a stability that she couldn’t find in the rest of her life.
Drew Barrymore
“I think films saved my life. I mean, I come from a family that has done acting for 400 years. But film sets are a bizarre world. For me, it was better than my circumstances. It was a savior,” she said in an interview with The Guardian.

She does not plan on letting her children go into acting, at least as kids. Should they choose to become actors later in life, however, she’d be supportive. 

It remains to be seen whether Drew Barrymore’s children will go into acting or not, but with generations of actors marrying actors, a profession that isn’t related to the entertainment industry may be the more radical choice for the family. Even if they do end up becoming actors, there will be at least one difference though—it will be because they choose to be, not because it feels like their only option.

Smarch Prompts:

Here are some more questions to mull over, write up, and/or share with the people in your life. As always, if you’re so inclined, please share what you come up with. I might feature your answers in an upcoming newsletter.
  • When's the last time you really connected with someone? What did you talk about?
  • What’s your favorite kind of conversation?
  • What stories would you like to share with the people in your life?
  • What can you do to have more meaningful conversations and make more meaningful connections in your life?
Email Your Answers >

P.S. There will be special freebies given out at the end of the year to people who answer every newsletter writing prompt!

If you have a related story to share, please email me. I’d love to talk to you about the similarities that run in your family!

Email Rachael About Your Family Similarities >

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P.S.  Did you know that you can now create your own side-by-side comparison photos of yourselves and your ancestor(s)/relative(s), based off the photo project I created? For more info on the photo packages Cielo Roth Photography and I offer, go here and scroll past the first section.
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Photo Attributions

Photo of Barrymore Christening

Photo of Georigie Drew Barrymore with Ethel, Lionel, and Jack Barrymore,_Lionel,_and_Jack_Barrymore.jpg

Photo of Maurice Barrymore:

John Barrymore & Family photo:

Drew Barrymore picture:
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