Tea with Mrs. Barthelmess
An Intimate Chat with the Mother of Dick
By Mabel Livingstone
It was at a pre-view of "Just Suppose" that I first met Mrs. Barthelmess. We had a delightful talk - mostly about Dick, of course.
"I'd like very much to see some of Dick's early photographs and scrap books," I said hopefully - and with the desired result - Mrs. Barthelmess immediately invited me to tea. It was in the charming sun-parlor of her cozy New York apartment, surrounded by singing canaries, flowers, photographs and pictures, that I heard many stories of Dick's boyhood and school days - stories which Dick has probably forgotten himself but which are still dear to his mother's heart. Mrs. Barthelmess or "Dick's Mother," as she is familiarly called, is a handsome, stately woman with a fine aristocratic bearing and beautiful dark eyes - eyes that are so unusually large and expressive that once seen, they are not easily forgotten.
Dick's father died when he was a baby and Mrs. Barthelmess was left alone to support the young future star.
"Dick had every opportunity to explore theatrical atmosphere, " Mrs. Barthelmess explained. "I remember when he was just a tiny tot he begged so hard to play the part of a little girl in Francis Hodgson Burnett's "Little Princess" in which I was then playing in Boston, that he finally won his way. His short skirts and curls delighted the audiences for a week, then the boy playing the part of 'Donald' was called to New York and Dick was given the part for the remainder of the run."
When Dick was about nine years old Mrs. Barthelmess sent him to the Hudson River Military Academy at Nyack. It was ideally situated, overlooking the river, and it offered a splendid education, plus plenty of good outdoor exercise. Lambert Hillian and George Walsh were also students at this school.
Dick won a silver medal on Commencement Day at the Academy for reciting "Little Brown-eyed Rebel." His mother arrived too late for the exercises but was greeted by Dick who proudly displayed his prize. He finished his education at Trinity in Hartford, Conn. During one of his vacations he acted as a stage director for a stock company in Toronto, Canada. At another time he appeared in two-reel slap-stick comedies.
"Dick didn't like these very much," Mrs. Barthelmess said, but he was determined to help me in any way that he could. His real opportunity came when Herbert Brennon chose him to play the part of Arno, the younger son in 'War Brides'. They tried out several boys but Dick finally won the part. Poor boy, he was terribly nervous as he realized how very much this opportunity really meant to him.
The first scene was his farewell to the mother and the women of his family, when leaving for the war. At the end of this scene, Nazimova threw her arms around Dick's neck. 'Oh, Dickie that was beautiful,' she said. You can imagine what a complement like that meant to Dick at such a time."
We stopped chatting at this point to look through Dick's press books which are everywhere. On the tables, in the bureau drawers, in the bookshelves, and on the writing-desk. There are eighteen or nineteen books lettered in gold and pasted with loving care.
"I have just started a scrap book for baby Mary," Mrs. Barthelmess said. If I go on gathering Dick's stills and clippings I shall probably have to move as the place won't be big enough to hold many more."
I had to agree with her though I am sure Mrs. Barthelmess would never deny herself the great pleasure she gets from keeping Dick's scrapbooks.
Recently Dick's mother had a tempting offer to return to the screen. "Son, what do you think of it," she asked. "I should like you to do the thing that seems best for your happiness", said Dick.
Perhaps nothing could better illustrate the complete harmony and understand which exist between Dick and his mother, than this characteristic reply.
"I decided that Dick needed me more than my public," Mrs. Barthelmess said with a laugh. "There is a great deal to do for him. Of course I try to relieve him from work and worry as much as possible.
Last Modified July 26, 2007