Thursday, December 16, 2010

Dolores Costello (1903-1979)

The petite beauty with her delicate features was born in Philadelphia to matinée-idol Maurice Costello. She developed an early passion for acting at the age of 6 along with her sister Helene.  By the age of five and six the two were appearing in Vitograph films that starred their father. Their earliest film appearance was in the short "A Midsummer Nights Dream" 1909 where they played fairies.  Dolores made her way to New York at the age of 17 where she got work as a model before making her way to the New York stage.  Of course her sister soon followed as the two were inseparable.

Dolores with her sister Helene who followed her into acting

She and her sister formed a successful dance duet on the New York stage in the George White Scandals of 1924.  It didn't take long for Hollywood to come calling and both of the talented Costello's were quickly signed to a contract at Warner Bro's.  Dolores had bit parts in several films during the early 1920's until she was cast in "The Sea Beast" 1926 opposite John Barrymore.  The film really was her lucky break as she received co-star billing, and she fell in love with her leading man John Barrymore which led to their marriage in 1928.  

Dolores and John Barrymore on their wedding day

Dolores and John Barrymore with their daughter DeDe in 1931

In "Glad Rag Doll"

After "The Sea Beast" she was given the lead in three more films that same year. With her star on the rise she appeared in five the following year, one of which was the period piece "When A Man Loves" co-starring John Barrymore for the second time.  Of course by this time they were already in love so I'm sure the love scenes and on screen chemistry came easy for the talented duo.  Dolores also starred in "Old San Fransisco" and "The College Widow" among other films before her marriage to John the following year.

with John Barrymore in "When A Man Loves" 1927 (I think actress Drew Barrymore has a striking resemblance to her grandmother Dolores in this photo).

Newly married Dolores kept working, starring in films throughout the end of the 1920's.  Some of her more noteworthy roles were in  "Noah's Ark" 1928 with George O'Brien then in "The Redeeming Sin" 1929 opposite Conrad Nagel.   She appeared with John along with a star studded cast in the musical hit "The Show of Shows" in 1929.  Dolores only took one part during 1930 before she slowed down while pregnant with her daughter Diana *DeDe who was born in 1931 followed by her son John Barrymore Jr in 1932.

click on autograph and images for a larger view
with Conrad Nagel in "Glorious Betsy" 1928

Dolores didn't return to acting until 1936 when she started taking more mature roles.  Her first picture in 1936 was "Little Lord Fauntleroy" with Freddie Bartholomew and C. Aubry Smith.  She was also now a single parent to two small children after divorcing John Barrymore in 1935.  (John passed away just a few years later in 1942).  Her second film that year was "Yours For The Taking" opposite George Raft and Ida Lupino. She plays a naive casino hostess who's used by a charming casino owner and con man played by George Raft.

with George Raft in "Yours For The Taking" 1936

in "Little Lord Fauntleroy" 1936

Dolores continued to get parts in films through the remainder of the 1930's then in 1940 she appeared in "The Magnificent Ambersons with Joseph Cotten and Ann Baxter in 1942, the film she would become most known for.  It was directed by Orson Welles and nominated for Best Picture.  Dolores appeared in only one more film "This is the Army" in 1943 before retiring from acting for good.  She had married Dr. John Vruwink in 1936, her obstetrician.  They would divorce in 1950.  She spent the rest of her life in semi-seclusion, managing an avocado farm.  She died from emphysema in 1979 and was at interred Calvary Cemetery East Los Angeles, CA. (A Roman Catholic cemetery next to her parents Mae and Maurice Costello)  Her grave site can be viewed HERE.

with George O'Brien in "Noah's Ark" 1928

Dolores Costello Facts:

She had a terrible lisp which made it very difficult for her to transition to talkies.  She spent two years with a voice coach before finally feeling comfortable in front of a microphone.  (Her granddaughter Drew Barrymore also has a lisp)

Her husband John Barrymore had nicknames for everyone close to him and she was no exception with several nicknames, "Small Cat", Catkiwee", "Winkie" and "Egg".  *He called his daughter Diana DeDe and "Treepeewee".

Dolores and John Barrymore's marriage dissolved over his increasing alcoholism.  

As mentioned she is the grandmother to the talented actress Drew Barrymore.  Her son and Drew's father John Barrymore Jr. was also an actor during the 1950's and 1960's.  He suffered from alcoholism like his father and struggled with mental illness later in life before dying of Cancer in 2004.

In an interview before her death that aired posthumously Dolores stated that her career was largely ruined by the destructive effects of film makeup which ravaged her complexion too severely to camouflage it.  (That really is sad to think about when someone is so talented but the movie industry can be so cruel, especially when looks certainly are first and foremost)

She was a WAMPAS baby star in 1926 and acquired the name "The Goddess of the Silver Screen".

Her mother Mae was against her relationship with John Barrymore and tried to dissuade her from marrying him.

She claimed that John Barrymore came to her shortly before his death and said he was sorry.  ( I can only imagine what he was sorry for or perhaps he didn't say.  From experience I know men aren't very specific or wordy when it comes to apologies).

Dolores and John Barrymore

I hope you enjoyed todays post.  See you next time,


  1. wow very empress love it. iam a silent film buff let me tell you i rather see a silent than the films they show now a days. my favorite starts are norma shearer and robert montogmery n the movie private lives you will love it . thanks for letting me into your world of hollywood. maricela

    1. Maricela,
      Thanks so much for the very sweet words. I'm glad you're enjoying this blog, my tribute to our wonderful stars.

      I hope you'll check out other posts in the archives, stay tuned for new posts and return often and join in on our discussions.
      Glad to have you here.

  2. Loved the article and yes you can see Drew very much in her grandmother

  3. Thank you for sharing information about Delores & Helen Costello. She was certainly a beauty & talent of her day!

  4. where can we watch her last interview

  5. my grand father is buried at calvary cemetary. the motion pictures of the era of dolores are long gone.but still nostalgia when you remember the actors of that era is still there

  6. Delores was something else! Isn't there something slightly creepy about John Barrymore and Delores? Twice her age!

    1. When you are in love It does not matter. His star crossed life caused more of his problems, than marriage ever did. He described his 4 marriages as "Bus accidents". Alcohol could and did replace about everything he did. Her settlement was quite hefty--there was a lot to forgive--By his end she did