Too Much, Too Soon (1958): Art Napoleon’s Biopic about Diana Barrymore, Starring Dorothy Malone and Errol Flynn as John Barrymore

Art Napoleon directed Too Much, Too Soon a biopic about Diana Barrymore, daughter of famous and infamous star John Barrymore.

Produced by Henry Blanke, the tale’s screenplay is by Art Napoleon and Jo Napoleon, based on the autobiography by Diana Barrymore and Gerold Frank.

Diana died in 1960, two years after the release of this film.


Too Much, Too Soon - Poster.jpg

 Theatrical Poster

The film stars Dorothy Malone and Errol Flynn (playing his real-life friend and mentor John Barrymore), supported by Efrem Zimbalist Jr., Ray Danton, Neva Patterson, Murray Hamilton, and Martin Milner.

Diana Barrymore, age 14, is being raised by her domineering mother, a poet. Her father, the famed actor John Barrymore, has not laid eyes on Diana for 10 years, but they share an evening on his boat before John abandons her again.

At 18, Diana has become an actress and has a steady boyfriend, Lincoln Forrester. When a Hollywood contract comes her way, Diana’s mother warns her not to live with John, a washed-up alcoholic.

She finds her father living in a nearly empty mansion, having sold or pawned his belongings to pay his bills. He keeps a bald eagle in a cage indoors and has a servant, Gerhardt, who must knock out John to put him to bed.

Diana’s famous name gains her some publicity, but her acting is panned. Her new husband, actor Vince Bryant, is away a lot, so Diana turns to drink and leaves Vince for tennis player John Howard.

When her father dies alone, the penniless and drunk Diana and her husband move in with her mother, who later on forces them to leave.

After marrying again, to recovering alcoholic Bob Wilcox, she discovers that she has been left no inheritance. Diana takes demeaning jobs, including a striptease, and becomes violent.

Her only hope at salvation is an offer to write her memoirs, and old friend Linc returns to her life, offering kindness.

The movie is decently acted, but the low-level writing is full of cliches, turning the material into a cheap, exploitative melodrama.

Dorothy Malone as Diana
Errol Flynn as John Barrymore
Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. as Vincent Bryant (in real life it was Bramwell Fletcher)
Martin Milner as Lincoln Forrester
Neva Patterson as Diana’s mother Blanche Oelrichs
Ray Danton as John Howard
Ed Kemmer as Robert Wilcox
Robert Ellenstein as Gerold Frank
Shirley Mitchell as Mrs. Magda Snow


Directed by Art Napoleon
Written by Diana Barrymore and Gerold Frank (book), Art Napoleon and Jo Napoleon
Produced by Henry Blanke
Cinematography Nick Musuraca, Carl E. Guthrie
Edited by Owen Marks
Music by Ernest Gold
Distributed by Warner Bros.

Release date: April 17, 1958

Running time: 121 min.