The Drews and Barrymores: A Theatrical Dynasty at St. Stephen’s!

We, the new generation at St. Stephen’s, were vaguely aware of a connection between the famous theatrical family and this church. In the 1990s, their reported history here provided the star-studded foundation for a new performing arts center in the church and its Community House, the latter currently home to Lantern Theatre. I found the pew markers for both families among the many preserved when the pews were removed after 1989.

Barrymore and Drew pew markers

Barrymore and Drew pew markers

A quick search of the internet and our Parish Registers resulted in a fascinating story of a relationship between the church and family that lasted about forty years and actively participates in the fusing of the two families. For clarity, I’ll keep to the bare bones; fans may know the remaining colorful details. The story is nonetheless remarkable for the interaction of the Drew-Barrymores with eminent figures at St. Stephen’s mentioned repeatedly on this website.

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The Drew-Barrymore Philadelphia story gives the most sustained billing to the Drew side of the family because of its deeper roots here. It begins with a widowed English actress, Eliza Lane, whose daughter Louisa proved to be a brilliant, versatile, and wildly-popular child actress. They moved to Philadelphia to perform at the Walnut Street Theatre in 1827, only blocks from the new St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church. Louisa grew up to become a formidable adult actress specializing in light drama and comedy: her most famous role is as Mme Malaprop, the character in Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s 1775 comedy of manners, The Rivals, whose hilarious misuse of words gave rise to the term “malaproprism.” After two husbands in quick succession—one she divorced; the other died—she married a handsome Dublin-born actor named John Drew (shortened from Drewland) in 1848. By 1854 she bore three children with him.

St. Stephen’s first enters the stage for these precise children with their baptism there, some sponsored by Louisa’s mother Eliza (by then renamed Kinlock following a second marriage). The two oldest children were baptized in January 1854; the third and youngest, Georgiana (Georgie), born later that year, was baptized at age 8 in March 1859—all by St. Stephen’s urbane second rector, Dr. William Ducachet.

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John and Louisa moved to the rival Arch Street Theatre, where John became manager as well as actor. There are different versions of the story from there. Louisa replaced him as manager either when his poor managerial skills and heavy touring schedule compromised the theatre or when he died prematurely (at age 35) in a fall at home during a party for Georgie. John Drew’s funeral, our records confirm, took place at St. Stephen’s on May 24, 1862, conducted again by Dr. Ducachet, with burial at the relatively new Glenwood Cemetery (founded 1849). John Drew was perhaps the first of the family to rest there.

TO BE CONTINUED! Louisa Lane Drew prospers and two of theatre’s most illustrious families are united

Suzanne Glover Lindsay

St. Stephen’s historian and curator