Sidney Drew, In Memorium: Week of April 19th, 1919

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Sidney Drew

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley devoted her Sunday column to a remembrance of actor Sidney Drew, who died on April 9th:

“That,” said the thin man, as he wiped the tears of laughter from his eyes, “that is the best laugh I’ve had in many a day. And I needed it—I sure needed it!”

He was long and thin, and he had a sad face, and his shoulders were humpy and bowed as if with many burdens. I don’t know what his need was, but on thinking things over all the things I’ve heard about Sidney Drew—for it was of Sidney Drew in a playlet at the Orpheum the thin man was talking. He shook his head, and then at remembrance of some particularly funny bit in that hilarious playlet, he went away of down the street, chuckling, and with his shoulders still heaving with inward laughter.

It seems to me that that was, after all, one of the biggest tributes that could be paid to a man.

Sidney Drew was part of a theatrical family (his mother, Louisa Drew, was an actor and theater manager, and he was Ethel, John and Lionel Barrymore’s uncle). He was studying to be a lawyer in Philadelphia when he was offered a part in the play Our Boarding House. He promptly abandoned the law and he became a successful actor, first in theater and vaudeville then in 1911 he moved to film.

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The first “Mrs. Sidney Drew,” fellow actor Gladys Rankin, had died in 1914 and he married Lucile McVey, a scriptwriter at Vitagraph. He added her to his filmmaking team, and Kingsley described what happened next:

At first the Drew comedies didn’t go well. The Drews cudgeled their brains. Then one day the cook left, company was coming and things were in a hub-bub. That was the moment of inspiration to Mrs. Drew. In the midst of household chaos she threw up her hands in joy. “Let’s write a comedy around that!” And though the guests were due to arrive, they sat down right then and there and wrote their first domestic story.

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She summed up what those domestic stories were like:

Have you worried over the furnace, or have you wanted to keep chickens, has your wife objected to your joining the Masons, have you had trouble with your new automobile? Have you trouble with the new maid? You found all your little troubles humorously reflected in their little screen comedies… And in this work too much credit cannot be given to Mrs. Drew, who thought out the ideas, wrote the scenarios, and did nearly all of the directing.

I Love Lucy and all domestic sitcoms owe a lot to the Drews.

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Their happy marriage on screen was a reflection of reality: “his devotion to the second Mrs. Drew, whom he married about six years ago, became a proverb among his fellow players.” Actress May Allison told Kingsley that “they had a wonderful home life of their own, and after exhausting labors during, say, fourteen or sixteen hours at a stretch, when the day’s work was done they’d skip about their garden or play the piano and sing and behave like two kids.”

Kingsley concluded: “thousands and thousands of fans will miss them and mourn the passing of Mr. Drew, which breaks up forever the happy combination.” Drew died of uremic poisoning following a sudden illness. Lucile Drew, still credited as Mrs. Sidney Drew, wrote and directed a few more films on her own, including The Stimulating Mrs. Barton (1920) and Cousin Kate (1921). She died of cancer in 1925.

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There are modern reviews of their films Wanted, a Nurse (1915) and Fox Trot Finesse (1915) at Century Film Project. Movies, Silently reviewed Diplomatic Henry (1915)  as well as a second one of Fox Trot Finesse. Another of their comedies, A Safe Investment (1915), is available on the Internet Archive:

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Kingsley’s favorite film this week was a sequel, The Romance of Tarzan. According to her, this one was more of a romantic comedy than Tarzan of the Apes:

Elmo Lincoln, as the hero, parks his caveman club, quits “jungling” and follows lovely Enid Markey into civilization. Here he puts on a “biled” [boiled] shirt and a stiff collar, all for the love of the fair one, who reciprocates. Also he is discovered to be Lord Greystoke. But a number of other ladies fall in love with him, and his quiet protest that “in the jungle we have only one mate” has no effect on a certain vampire, played with unction by Cleo Madison who holds the theory that civilization knows better, and who exercise her wiles on him. Naturally, big Tarzan is no match for this lady, who sends him word that somebody is trying to steal her, and he goes down to the house and breaks furniture with the villain. His simple jungle lore is no match for all the wicked ones, he finally concludes, he finally concludes, and he goes back to his old home, whither, of course, he is followed by his “mate.” The story abounds in fresh and attractive romance, in superbeautiful photography and in excellent acting by the all-star cast.

It’s a lost film, so we can’t see Tarzan being vamped. Wid’s Daily was much less enthusiastic about it than Kingsley; he wanted an adventure film and this “offering was very inconsistent in spots and frequently the wild action and convenient happenings will get laughs” (October 16, 1918). He only mentioned Cleo Madison in the cast list. It’s as if they saw two different movies.

 

 

 

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