Film’s First Family

Film's First Family

The Untold Story of the Costellos

Screen Classics

by Terry Chester Shulman

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

304 Pages, 6.00 x 9.00 in, 34 b&w photos

  • Hardcover
  • 9780813178097
  • Published: November 2019

$35.00

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  • Paperback
  • 9780813151946
  • Published: September 2021

$24.95

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Scandal, adultery, secret marriages, celebrity, divorce, custody battles, suicide attempts, and alcoholism -- the trials and tribulations of the Costellos were as riveting as any Hollywood feature film. Written with unprecedented access to the family's personal documents and artifacts -- and interviews with several family members, including Dolores Barrymore Bedell (the daughter of John Barrymore and Dolores Costello) and Helene's daughter Deirdre -- this riveting study explores the dramatic history of the Costellos and their extraordinary significance to the stage and screen.

This eccentric, tragic, yet talented clan was one of the twentieth century's most accomplished families of actors -- second only to the Barrymores, with whom they intermarried and begat a film dynasty riddled with jealousy, resentment, and heartbreak. Inevitably, the Costellos' brilliant achievements would be eclipsed by their own immutable penchant for self-destruction. Patriarch Maurice "Dimples" Costello (1877--1950) was considered the first screen idol and the first great movie star until his screen career, marked by accusations of spousal abuse, drunkenness, and physical assault, abruptly ended. His daughter Dolores married John Barrymore, arguably the most famous man in Hollywood during the late 1920s and early '30s, and their son would carry on the Barrymore name to successive generations of famous actors. Costello's other daughter, Helene, was the first actress to star in an all-talking picture, The Lights of New York (1928). However, her career was wracked by scandal in 1932 during her very public divorce from actor-director Lowell Sherman, who testified that his wife was a drunk and an avid reader of pornography.

The original members of this pioneering family may be gone, but the name and legacy of the Costellos will live on through their accomplishments, films, and descendants -- most notably, actress Drew Barrymore.