Thursday, June 23, 2016

The unbearable timewasting of internet research

So it's been a hectic time in my life, personal and work, and of course bad news rains down like fire and brimstone in the world. I'm not totally liking Tecfidera yet and got way overheated twice already this summer, leaving me with spaghetti-legs. I try to dodge a lot of it by reading a British paper online (The Guardian), but things seep in to my FB feed, of course. So I've been working on research on two articles mentioned prior, on Lionel Barrymore and the influence his necessary wheelchair-use in films may have had on the reception of disabled people.

Y'all may not have figured this out by now, but I'm a pretty good and often obsessive researcher. So for this guy, whose acting career spanned on screen alone 1911- 1953 (!), there's a lot to research even if I limit myself to 1938-1947, the Kildare-Gillespie years where he appeared in a wheelchair.  I wanted to share a few interesting pics I found..cuz I can.  I need to think about starting a blog JUST for Lionel Barrymore.  But I digress!

Lionel Barrymore and Bobs Watson, 1938, Young Dr Kildare

I like this pic because it shows LB's character, Dr. Leonard B. Gillespie, in his chair interacting with a young, quite happy boy who has a leg crippled by some unsaid problem. When Gillespie asks the boy what he's dressed up for, the boy responds cheerily, "I'm a cripple!" There's a great comfort level between them, both reacting to the other as near-equals.

LB and Watson again, in Calling Dr Kildare, 1939.
Here, the same two characters meet, and the doctor is going to give the boy a pair of roller skates if he can walk a prescribed distance. The brace the boy had in on the bed behind him, but Gillespie remains in his chair. This running story across two or three films is really very sweet. For an old grumpy character, Gillespie (and Barrymore, apparently) seem very at home with children. Of course, the debate is....are children really honest about observing and reacting to disability or do we ignore their reaction, or what?  In the films, several kids ask him about his chair.

Dr Kildare's Wedding Day,1941. I am not sure if this confused people, but it's the only time in the series Barrymore stood on his own. He then sits back in his chair.
This was a fantastic find, because it complicates the character and people's reaction to wheelchairs. Not everyone in a wheelchair is unable to stand, and like me, some only use a wheelchair now and then because of leg weakness or whatnot. What's interesting as well is it makes it very clear Barrymore was a tall (5'10or more) man as well as a big man. No one in the scene is shocked he's standing--they're shocked by the suit he's wearing, which he tells them he bought in... 1899. :)

Enemies of Women, 1923, Barrymore on the right
And then there's this pic, which I adore and stumbled upon accidentally. On the right is a forty-four year old Lionel Barrymore, velvet britches, leather boots, and all. Ridiculously handsome cuss!

From obsessive viewing of his films, I know that visible indications of the arthritis, etc which was to lead later to his painful need for a wheelchair probably appeared about 1923-24. There are many stories, well-attested, to his need for painkillers and addiction to then-uncontrolled morphine by 1925-26.  He managed in spite of serious pain to act in many, many great films, over 30 after he was in his wheelchair full time. In one, Down to the Sea in Ships, he spent most of his time standing or moving about on crutches.

It is funny how in researching his whole life I see evidence of the same kind of back and forth adaptation to change, the frustration, anger, resentment over not being able to do what one wants all the time. Could I have done what he did with the relatively primitive medications and regimes they had in the 20s-40s? I have no idea. But it seemed a fantastic hell.

Then again, what are we all supposed to do? Roll over and die? Oh no... I'm taking a lot of people with me!