American actor John Barrymore (1882-1942) was perhaps the most famous member of his very famous family, often referred to as America's "Royal Family" of actors. As a boy, however, Barrymore wanted to become an artist, and in 1898, at the age of 16, he traveled with his father to London where he enrolled in the Slade School of Art.
In 1900, he returned to New York City and took a job as a cartoonist for the New York Evening Journal, but there was increasing pressure for him to enter the “family trade,” and in 1901, he was talked into taking a role in the play Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines by his sister, actress Ethel Barrymore. It was the beginning of a long and remarkable career, spanning four decades in which Barrymore appeared in over 40 plays, 60 films, and 100 radio shows. Famous for playing Hamlet, Barrymore’s other roles included Don Juan, Dr. Jekyll (and Mr. Hyde), Captain Ahab, Svengali, and Sherlock Holmes.
At the time of the 1906 earthquake, the handsome and debonair Barrymore, 24 years old at the time, was traveling with a company of actors on tour in the Broadway hit The Dictator, in which Barrymore was cast as a drunken telegrapher. The acting troupe was in San Francisco en route to Australia when the earthquake struck. The first shock roused Barrymore from his bed, and the second threw him into the hotel bathtub.
According to author Richard Walker in his book Aftershocks, Barrymore, who was notorious for his drinking, weathered the ordeal with the aid of inebriation:
A badly frightened John Barrymore, arrayed in grimy evening clothes, stayed drunk during the entire period of the earthquake and fire, and used the cataclysm to evade an Australian tour of The Dictator by hiding in the Van Ness home of friends. He swiftly composed a colorful report of his experiences in the quake [which apparently included being recruited by military troops to help clear the roads], and twenty years later confessed it had been a fraud.