Did Star Trek Once Get John Drew Barrymore Suspended From the Screen Actors Guild?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about TV and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the TV urban legends featured so far.

TV URBAN LEGEND: Star Trek once got John Drew Barrymore suspended from the Screen Actors Guild!

The story of John Drew Barrymore is a pretty sad one.

His father, John Sidney Blyth Barrymore, was one of the greatest actors of his generation. Here is the elder John Barrymore in Hamlet from 1922.

John Drew was born in 1932, but his parents divorced in 1935 and he grew up never knowing his father (who died in 1942 when John Drew was 9 years old).

However, while he might have never known his father, he certainly did not have trouble following in his father’s footsteps in more than just pursuing a career in acting. The first John Barrymore had a serious problem with alcoholism, and the same affliction cursed his son.

Most likely due to alcohol and drug abuse, the younger Barrymore never managed to secure a place for himself in the American film industry, as he bungled away several film roles.

In the late 1950s, Barrymore managed to sober up long enough to have a fairly notable career in Italian cinema, starring in a number of films. By the early 1960s, he was back to his old tricks, and even ended up in jail a few times. Despite all of this, in 1966, he was hired to do a guest spot on the television series Star Trek. Then things got odd.

In the episode “The Alternative Factor,” Barrymore was to play Lazarus, a reality-hopping magician, who the crew of the Enterprise would encounter in both his “good” version and his alternate reality “bad” version (much like the later classic Star Trek episode, “Mirror, Mirror”).

However, when it came time to film the episode, Barrymore was nowhere to be found. Although an official explanation was never given (to my knowledge), it’s likely that he was just too drunk/too high to show up.

The show had to quickly re-cast the role, ending up with actor Robert Brown playing Lazarus.

Here is Brown as the “good” Lazarus and the “bad” Lazarus, respectively…

While this was a sad state of affairs, it was taken a step further when the producers of Star Trek actually filed a grievance against Barrymore with the Screen Actors Guild (SAG)!!

SAG agreed with Star Trek, and suspended Barrymore from acting for six months!

Not surprisingly, the end of Barrymore’s life was spent basically derelict, although his estranged daughter Drew Barrymore took care of his medical expenses at the end of his life, as he died of cancer in 2004.

The legend is…


Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com.


4 Responses to “Did Star Trek Once Get John Drew Barrymore Suspended From the Screen Actors Guild?”

  1. Hi there!

    Marc Cushman’s recently released These Are the Voyages… books give more insight into this story.

    The original teleplay featured a romance between Lazarus and an Enterprise crewmember named Charlene Masters. But when the part of Lt. Masters was cast for African American actress Janet MacLachlan, the network forced the producers to eliminate the romance aspect from the script. Another explanation given is that the romance between Lazarus and Masters was very similar to the romance between Khan and Lt. Marla McGivers in the upcoming episode “Space Seed”.

    Whichever of the two versions is true, the script needed to be rewritten literally a day or less before shooting commenced, with Barrymore already signed in. During the first day of filming (when Barrymore was not needed) the production received word from his agent that he won’t show up the next day. The explanation given by Barrymore was that “he had problems with the script”.

    So, Robert Brown was re-cast in the role, literally being dragged into the set, given a costume and a script to memorize. The Star Trek producers filed the grievance against Barrymore and won the case. Among the SAG jury board members were Charlton Heston, Karl Malden, Jeannette Nolan and “Khan” himself, Ricardo Montalban.

  2. Thanks a lot for the information, neonknights!

  3. I knew John Drew Barrymore and partied with him in the late 80’s and early 90’s. That entailed talking seriously and deeply about any variety of vaguely identifiable topics, usually about some sort of ESP or other unseen power we all possessed in abundance. And a non-stop flow of booze and dope. It was a glorious time in my life. But even back then, in that alcoholic and drug addled haze, I couldn’t help but feel how sad and one dimensional he was, a man of obvious profound, unused talent also lost in a haze of chemically induced smoke and mirrors.

  4. Zee, that’s actually very interesting – his father also had an obsession with the occult and otherworldly powers. The two of them were sadly cut from the same cloth in too many ways, it seems.

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