The Great Profile? Another Barrymore goes nose to nose with fame
With a name older than American movies, Drew Barrymore didn’t have to be so good. But the 7-year-old granddaughter of the Great Profile, who plays Gertie in the huge summer hit E.T, has the right stuff to live up to her legacy. Drew’s plate-rattling shriek when she first spots E.T. gets one of the big laughs of the film, and for the next two hours she threatens to do the impossible—nearly stealing scene after scene from a lovable synthetic munchkin. The L.A. Times called her performance “miraculous.” Says her director, Steven Spielberg: “She’s wonderfully funny and spontaneous. She just melted me.”
Chalk up another one for heredity. Drew’s illustrious grandfather, John Barrymore Sr., and his siblings, Lionel and Ethel, themselves third-generation thespians, were the most famous acting family in the world through the ’40s. Indeed, their renown was so great it predictably crushed the next generation of Barrymores. John’s daughter, Diana, an alcoholic, died at 38. John Jr., known as John Drew Barrymore, Drew’s father, made the papers with several drug arrests and public brawling with two wives. He never got above the B-movie level and hasn’t worked in show business since 1974. Drew is his daughter by third wife Ildiko Jaid, a Hungarian-born actress. Now a poet, Barrymore lives alone in West Hollywood, not far from the five-room bungalow shared by Ildiko and Drew.
So it remained for another generation to polish the family’s tarnished image, with the help of Spielberg. Unaware of her ancestry, E.T. ‘s director chose her from among 100 children who auditioned for his other current picture, Poltergeist, to try out for the part of Gertie in E.T.
At her audition, Drew wowed the casting team with stories of an imaginary punk rock band. “She made up the best stories of anyone,” remembers Spielberg. She demonstrated “awe” by thinking about the spaceship in Close Encounters and the good witch in The Wizard of Oz, and she broke up the crew with her terrifying sample scream.
Filming began last September. After three hours of private tutoring each day on the set, Drew went to work impressing Spielberg with her precocious talents. As long as she knew her lines, “Steven let me do what I wanted,” says Drew. “She’s 7 going on 29,” observes the director, who invited her to his Malibu house on weekends for shell hunting and building sand castles.
Drew got her first acting job in a Gaines Burgers commercial at 11 months and can still be seen as a flower girl breakfasting on Rice Krispies before a wedding. She’s been in two television movies and played one of William Hurt’s children in Altered States. Her talent, says Ildiko, who is the daughter of a painter and violinist, “can’t be just coincidental.” Now on summer recess from an L.A. public elementary school, where she’ll enter second grade this fall, Drew spends her time dancing, listening to records, roller skating, practicing cartwheels and reading (a new skill) to her teddy bear.
Ildiko has given up acting to concentrate on Drew’s career (although she appears as a prostitute in a movie called Night Shift to be released this month). “I want to make sure Drew is centered, balanced and has a valid sense of self-worth,” she vows. But still Drew can’t deny her Barrymore blood. “I want to be a star,” she announces. Why? “Because it makes you feel good.”