John Drew, a member of the illustrious Philadelphia acting family, became the country's foremost leading man in the late 1800's. While working for the eminent theater manager, Augustin Daly, Drew befriended a cast mate, newly immigrated from England, Maurice Barrymore. On a day off, he took Barrymore home to meet his family, including his kid sister, Georgiana Drew, also an actor. Maurice and Georgiana fell in love and were married on December 31, 1876. They had three children: Lionel, Ethel and John. All were to become actors like their father; a profession that almost cost him his life.
In 1879, the Wade Barrymore troupe was touring the south in a play entitled, "Diplomacy." In addition to Maurice Barrymore, the cast included two members who were engaged: Miss Ellen Cummins and Mr. Ben Porter. On march 19th, their last performance completed at the Mahone's Opera House in Marshall, Texas, the company readied to take a train to the tour's next stop - Texarkana. With time to spare, Barrymore, Porter and Cummins decided to get something to eat. They either went to the White House Saloon or Nat Harvey's Lunch Room (There are conflicting accounts). No matter the establishment, Nat Harvey was there behind the bar.
While the three were eating, a drunk, sometimes railroad detective, named Big Jim Currie entered and made for the bar. The barkeep, Nat Harvey, refused to serve him, telling him he had already drunk too much. Infuriated, Currie turned his attention to the three actors at a table not far from him. He most likely knew who they were and their occupation. The acting profession, never held in the highest esteem, had suffered a disgracing blow fourteen years earlier when John Wilkes Booth shot Lincoln. In many of the less urbane parts of the country, acting was still regarded as a less than honorable way to make a living, especially for women. Pointing at Cummins, Currie proclaimed her, "A first class whore." Maurice rose to her defense, removed his jacket and challenged Currie to fight. Barrymore had won the middleweight boxing championship of England in 1872. "Big" or not, Barrymore was confident his physical skills could handle Currie. Currie's advantage was in his pocket - a pistol, which he promptly revealed shooting Barrymore in the chest and Porter in the stomach, when he rushed to Barrymore's aid. Currie also tried unsuccessfully to shoot Cummins.
Porter staggered to the street where he died. Barrymore was hurried to a nearby doctor's office where he was operated on to save his life. He was moved later to the Capitol Hotel, deemed Marshall's finest, to convalesce. His wife Georgiana, seven months pregnant with Ethel, endured the lengthy railroad trip to be at Maurice's side. It was declared that only his excellent physical condition enabled him to survive.
The City of Marshall was humiliated that such distinguished visitors suffered such mistreatment within its limits. Town fathers were quick to point out that Currie was not a native but an interloper from Louisiana. With their supporting actor dead and star bedridden, the Wade-Barrymore Troupe could not continue - they were stranded. The mortified citizens of Marshall went out of their way to make the actors comfortable. They organized a benefit at the opera house where the cast , including Miss Cummins, performed. It raised $415.25 for the troupe. The Railroad arranged for transportation of Porter's body back to New York and its employees gave $139.00 for his burial costs.
Barrymore recovered and was well enough to return to Marshall for Currie's trial, scheduled for July 3, 1879. The trial had to be postponed due to a lack of witnesses. Currie's brother, the Mayor of Shreveport, spent mightily for lawyers and bribes to help his sibling. Nat Harvey, the prosecution's key witness, had sold his restaurant to an unknown buyer for a great sum and disappeared. It would by nearly a year before Barrymore would return to Texas on June 10, 1880 for Currie's trial. Twenty-three witnesses, including Harvey who had been found and brought back to Marshall, all condemned Currie with their testimony. His attorney's, seeing the direction the trial had taken, switched plans and argued Currie was not accountable for his actions because he was not in his "right mind" at the time of the shooting. It took ten minutes for the jury to return a verdict of, "not guilty by reason of insanity." It was noted that jurors were subsequently seen around town with large amounts of cash. One member went so far as to brag that he hadn't served, "for nothing."
As for Maurice, he would have a distinguished career for the next two decades, but after the turn of the century, his behavior became more and more erratic. Appearing at the Leon Palace Theater in New York on March 28, 1901, he went off script to deliver a tirade against Jews that was so emotional he wept. Eventually, his son John obtained an order to have his father committed to Bellevue. He was later moved to an asylum in Amityville where he was diagnosed with the lingering effects of syphilis. He would die there on March 25, 1905.