It stars Dorothy Malone and Errol Flynn (playing his real-life friend John Barrymore), with Efrem Zimbalist Jr., Ray Danton, Neva Patterson, Murray Hamilton and Martin Milner.
Fourteen-year-old Diana Barrymore 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, now 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 physically knock out John to put him to bed.
Diana's famous name gains her some publicity, but her performances are 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, a penniless and often drunk Diana and her husband move in with her mother, who can only stand so much before making them leave.
After marrying again, this time to recovering alcoholic Bob Wilcox, she discovers after her mother's death that she has been left no inheritance. Diana takes demeaning jobs, including a striptease. She becomes violent and is hospitalized. Her only hope at salvation is an offer to write her memoirs, and old friend Linc returns to her life, offering some badly needed kindness.Dorothy Malone as Diana
Errol Flynn as John Barrymore
Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. as Vincent Bryant – in real life this 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
The movie was based on the best selling 1957 autobiography, by Barrymore and Gerold Frank. Frank had previously worked on I'll Cry Tomorrow, a popular book about another alcoholic celebrity, Lillian Roth.
"There's no message, I didn't set out to point a moral", said Barrymore. "But writing it has been a cleansing process. It's like psychiatry in a way."
When the book was published the New York Times called it "an extremely skilful piece of work, a craftsman's product aimed at a mood and a market that spell big business. It is a book for the mass audience... as an artisan, Mr Frank is no slouch." The Washington Post thought the book "fails to touch the heart even though it spins a recognisably sad story." Louella Parsons said the book "told too much too loudly."
The book became a best seller.
By the time the book came out Diana Barrymore tried to reactivate her acting career and was seeing a psychiatrist but she had not given up drinking.
There was film interest in the book early on – I'll Cry Tomorrow had been a box office hit and Diana Barrymore had been fictionalised in a popular movie, The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) (the character played by Lana Turner). In December 1956, even before the book had been published, Warner Bros took an option on the film rights for a reported minimum of $100,000. (Another source said it was $150,000.)
In January it was announced that Gerold Frank would work on the script in collaboration with Irving Wallace, and that Irving Rapper would direct and Henry Blanke would produce. By June however it was reported that the film was having "script problems" with the script two months overdue. In August, Warners said that Art and Jo Napoleon would write and direct the movie.
Originally, Carroll Baker, who had just made a big impression with Baby Doll (1956) and was under contract to Warners, was to star as Diana. Fredric March was mentioned as a possible John Barrymore. However, Baker refused to play the role, and Warner Bros put her on suspension and refused to let her make The Brothers Karamazov (1958) at MGM.
Natalie Wood, also under contract to Warners, was mentioned as a possibility for the lead, as was Anne Baxter. Finally in August 1957 it was announced Dorothy Malone, who had recently won an Oscar for Written on the Wind would play Diana Barrymore. Malone never met Diana Barrymore. (She was invited to the set but declined.)
Gene Wesson was mentioned as auditioning for the part of John Barrymore. Jo Van Fleet was discussed for the part of Michael Strange.
By September 1957 Errol Flynn had signed to play John Barrymore. Errol Flynn was a friend of John Barrymore's and the film was the first he had made for Warner Bros in a number of years.
Flynn flew back into Hollywood to make the movie and was arrested only a few days later for public drunkenness, stealing an off duty policeman's badge and trying to kiss a girl. Flynn denied he was drunk and was released from jail on bail after an hour.
Warner Bros recreated John Barrymore's yacht and house for the film. A Hollywood mansion that used to be owned by Madge Kennedy and Pola Negri was rented for the latter.
A number of characters in the movie were fictionalised due to legal reasons – for instance first husband Bramwell Fletcher was turned into "Vincent Bryant". Real names were used for her last two husbands, despite their unsympathetic portrayals – John Howard had been arrested on white slavery charges and Robert Wilcox was dead. Howard later became a car salesman and threatened to sue Warner Bros.
Ray Danton, who played Howard, a tennis professional, received tennis coaching from Tony Trabert.
The New York Times said the film was "not bad, just ineffectual... undaring and even unsurprising. Gone is most of the endless soiled linen that aggressively flapped through Miss Barrymore's best-selling autobiography – and, with it, it's left wallops, perhaps the book's only real substance... Mr Flynn steals the picture lock, stock and keg. It is only in the scenes of his savage disintegration, as the horrified girl looks on, that the picture approaches real tragedy."
The Los Angeles Times called the film a "depressing affair, one that never should have been considered... it doesn't stick to the facts... it is not good storytelling, either in structural form or characterisation... For all his capturing of John's surface mannerisms, some of the physical appearance and, most effortlessly, his way with a bottle, Flynn is not the great profile and great actor of our time. I resented him in the part."
The Washington Post called it "a sorry film" in which Errol Flynn's performance "may seem to have at least dazzling vitality, but it's about as dishonest a portrait of the volatile actor as you're likely to find."
The Chicago Daily Tribune called it "a sordid, unattractive tale, poorly written and badly acted."