Barry Fitzgerald, Irish stage, film, and television actor, dies on January 14, 1961.
Fitzgerald is born William Joseph Shields in Walworth Road, Portobello, Dublin, Ireland, on March 10, 1888. He is the older brother of Irish actor Arthur Shields. He goes to Skerry’s College in Dublin before going on to work in the civil service while also working at the Abbey Theatre.
Unknown to many, Fitzgerald is also a patriot. In 1916 he is a member of the Irish Volunteers and is prepared to fight on Easter Sunday when the orders are countermanded. On Easter Monday the revolution is on again, and Shields goes to the Abbey Theatre and retrieves his rifle from under the stage. He goes around the corner to Liberty Hall and joins with James Connolly’s Irish Citizen Army.
He then marches to the General Post Office on Sackville Street where he fights before evacuating on Friday. He is sent to Stafford Prison in England with another famous rebel, Michael Collins, and from there they are both sent to the Frongoch internment camp in Wales. Both return to Dublin by the end of 1916, Collins to terrorise the British and Shields to return to the Abbey Theatre stage.
By 1929, he turns to acting full-time. He is briefly a roommate of famed playwright Sean O’Casey and stars in such plays as O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock and the premiere of The Silver Tassie.
Fitzgerald goes to Hollywood to star in another O’Casey work, The Plough and the Stars (1936), directed by John Ford. He has a successful Hollywood career in such films as The Long Voyage Home (1940), How Green Was My Valley (1941), And Then There Were None (1945), The Naked City (1948), and The Quiet Man (1952). Fitzgerald achieves a feat unmatched in the history of the Academy Awards. He is nominated for both the Best Actor Oscar and the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for the same performance, as Father Fitzgibbon in Going My Way (1944). He wins the Best Supporting Actor Award. This feat will likely never be matched as the Academy Award rules have since been changed to prevent this. During World War II, Oscar statues are made of plaster rather than gold due to wartime metal shortages. Being an avid golfer, Fitzgerald later breaks the head off his Oscar statue while practicing his golf swing.
Fitzgerald has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one for films located at 6220 Hollywood Blvd. and one for television located at 7001 Hollywood Blvd.
Fitzgerald returns to live in Dublin in 1959. He dies of heart failure on January 14, 1961 and is buried at Deansgrange Cemetery in Dublin.