Does Anybody Believe an Actor?

Barrymore, Lionel


  • Lionel Barrymore talks about the acting profession and the importance of planning to create a succesful career and role and how any success in one's life is based on the same principle of goal setting and planning. This episode is a rebroadcast of an earlier airing.
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And now, This I Believe. We bring you an earlier broadcast which is being repeated because of the special interest it aroused. Here is Edward R. Murrow as he first introduced the guest.
This I Believe. Lionel Barrymore raises flowers, breeds hogs, paints, writes music and acts. One of our most illustrious figures of stage and screen, he talks now, in a real life role, of his own beliefs.
First off, I think the world has come a mighty long way toward believing that what a man does to make a living can’t rob him of his integrity as a human being, when it will listen to an actor talk about what he believes. I can remember when nobody believed an actor and didn’t care what he believed. Why, the very fact that he was an actor made almost everything he said open to question, because acting was thought to be a vocation embraced exclusively by scatterbrains, show-offs, wastrels, and scamps. I don’t believe that’s true today and I don’t think it ever was true. I don’t think there were ever any more ne’er-do-wells, rogues, poseurs, and villains in the acting profession than in any other line of work. At least I hope that’s the case.
If it isn’t, it’s too late to change my mind and much too late to change my profession.
The fact is, I think, every successful man today has prepared for his success by planning and living his life in much the same way that an actor plans and creates a part.
We don’t make anything up out of whole cloth when we decide the way we want to play a role, anymore than the author, who wrote it, made it up out of thin air. The author has one or two or perhaps a great many more models in mind from which he takes a little here and a little there until he’s built up a new character out of substantial material.
Now the actor who must play this part has to dig back into his life and recall one or two or more people who are, in some way, similar to the person the author put on paper. Now what I’m saying is, everybody connected with the actor’s work had a model and copied this model, more or less exactly, adding to it here and there, until something new emerged.
I think this is the way a person must plan his life. Adopting, borrowing, and adapting a little here and a little there from his predecessors and his contemporaries, then adding a few touches until he’s created himself.
I believe the difference between an eminently successful person and one whose life is just mediocre is the difference between a person who had an aim, a focus, a model upon which he superimposed his own life and one who didn’t. To put it bluntly, you can’t get anywhere unless you know where to start from and where to go.
The thing to be careful of in choosing a model is: don’t aim too high for your capacity. It’s necessary, it’s true, to believe in the Almighty, but don’t make Him your model. Have faith in Him but try for something you’re more apt to make. Shoot a little closer to home.
If you keep aiming at an attainable target, you can always raise your sights on another and more difficult one. But if you start off for the impossible, you’re foredoomed to eternal failure.
I believe if a man remembers that, and sets an attainable goal for himself, and works to attain it, conscious that when he does so he will then set another goal for himself, he will have a full, busy and, for this reason, a happy life.
That was a repeat of an earlier broadcast by Lionel Barrymore, a Philadelphian who moved to Hollywood and became one of its most distinguished citizens.