This epic family biography begins in the 1860s with Louisa Drew, the greatest comedienne of her time, mother of the brilliant Georgiana Drew Barrymore and mother-in-law of the vaudeville star and matinee idol Maurice Barrymore. But it is the children of Georgie and Maurice who are the heart of the book: Ethel, Lionel, and John, the most extraordinary members of an extraordinary family. We see Ethel's sensational social and stage debuts in London and on Broadway; her struggle with alcohol, debt, and damaged reputation; and her spectacular comeback in The Corn is Green. We see John's vault to fame in Shakespearean stage roles and his triumphant move to the screen before succumbing to the ''Barrymore curse'' of addiction to alcohol. And we see the steadier Lionel pursuing his talents in painting and composing before finally capitulating to the family tradition. We see both the price and the privileges of their extraordinary fame; and finally, with the death of Ethel, the decline of America's first family of acting.