John Barrymore, grandfather of Drew Barrymore, was a Hollywood A-Lister who would often be found partying at artist John Decker’s cabin studio. But when Barrymore died at the age of 60, his friends weren’t ready to part with him just yet. Three of his friends smuggled his body from the morgue and sat him at the poker table for one last night together. When asked about the incident on the Youtube show Hot Ones, Drew Barrymore dished the dirt:
Drew explained that the film S.O.B. was inspired by the event, and although she can’t confirm that Weekend at Bernie’s was written after her grandfather, the concept of the movie is eerily similar to the real life tale.
“How did they even pull this stunt off?” you might ask. Well, according to the memoir of Errol Flynn, who was present at the of Barrymore’s revival, three of their friends went to the morgue, pleading to have the body to let Barrymore’s housebound old aunt see her nephew for the last time. They offered the caretaker $200, and they called it a deal. They brought Barrymore’s body back to the Flynn’s house and waited for Flynn to come home. Flynn shrieked at the sight of his “puffed, white, bloodless” body before running out the door. His friends caught him before he could get far. According to his memoir, it was “no way to remember the death of John Barrymore.”
Conversely, the main prankster Raoul Walsh wrote about his much more humorous side of the story in his own memoir. When setting the body up in Flynn’s house, Walsh asked Flynn’s drunk butler to help him. While setting him up in the chair, the butler said, “I’ve never seen Mr. Barrymore so drunk. Looks like he might be dead!” When Walsh returned the body to the undertaker and told him about his visit to Flynn’s house, the undertaker said, “Why, if I’d known you were going to take him up there, I would have put a better suit on him.”
However, despite the multiple accounts of this posthumous party, some maintain that it never happened. A biography written about John Barrymore in 1977 asserted that Barrymore spent all night in the morgue. Author John Kobler insisted that he only had one visitor: a prostitute who “knelt and prayed and continued on her way in silence.” Gregory William Mank, author of Hollywood’s Hellfire Club: The Misadventures of John Barrymore, W.C. Fields, Errol Flynn and the Bundy Drive Boys, believes that Kobler is much more reliable than Flynn and Walsh, and that Flynn made up the story himself. He told Mental Floss, “Flynn worshiped Barrymore, and he created this wacky corpse-swiping saga to give his idol a resurrection of shorts, temporary though it was.”
Whether or not the story is true, it gives Barrymore a legacy beyond his death and his friends a tale to remember him by. What’s the harm in that?