Film's First Family: The Untold Story of the Costellos

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ISBN: 9780813178097; Hardcover
304 pages, 6.00 x 9.00 in, 34 b&w photos
Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

Film's First Family
The Untold Story of the Costellos
by Terry Chester Shulman

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.

Terry Chester Shulman is a historian who has written features for popular history publications, including Civil War Times Illustrated, Blue & Gray, Civil War, and Wild West. He has also reviewed a number of film biographies as a history book reviewer for the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Book Reviews:

"Shulman's Film's First Family: The Untold Story of the Costellos is a good read on a prolific acting dynasty -- underrated to this day -- and is as good on their lives as it is on their careers."

-- Allan R. Ellenberger, author of Miriam Hopkins: Life and Films of a Hollywood Rebel

 "Incorporating careful research and fascinating unpublished diaries, correspondence, and interviews, Terry Chester Shulman recreates a forgotten time, place, and family who contributed a unique style of acting that molded early film history. The narrative traces the lives of Maurice, Dolores, and Helene Costello -- as well as that other famous family, the Barrymores -- to provide an important reminder of how the greatest celebrities of their time were mere humans and, sometimes, their own worst enemies. Shulman's book will evoke a reader's need to revisit the film work of both gifted families with new insights and great compassion."

-- Gabriella Oldham, coauthor of Harry Langdon: King of Silent Comedy

"At long last, there is a well-researched account of one of cinema's most overlooked dynasties. Author Terry Shulman meticulously traces the thespian lineage from family patriarch Maurice Costello and wife Mae to their daughters Helene and Dolores Costello, Warner Bros. "Belle of the Screen" whose tempestuous marriage to John Barrymore blended America's two greatest acting families of the last century with grandson John Drew Barrymore and great granddaughter Drew Barrymore continuing the family tradition. A requisite addition to any cinema library."

-- Alan K. Rode, author of Michael Curtiz: A Life in Film

"Finally we can learn the truth about this storied family! Relying on primary source material, and with tight, succinct prose, Terry Chester Shulman has provided a wealth of narrative about the troubled, talented, beautiful, and doomed Costellos."

-- Tracey Goessel, author The First King of Hollywood: The Life of Douglas Fairbanks

"A fascinating, endlessly insightful, and beautifully written portrait of a tempestuous family that played a pivotal role in the development of American film. Shulman's prose brims with intelligence and wit as he follows the Costellos through trials and triumphs and, heartbreakingly, back again. Film's First Family is a captivating, first-class contribution to film literature."

-- Vanda Krefft, author of The Man Who Made the Movies: The Meteoric Rise and Tragic Fall of William Fox

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