Arthur Shields, Irish actor on television, stage, and film, is born on February 15, 1896, into an Irish Protestant family in Portobello, Dublin. Shields starts acting in the Abbey Theatre when he is 17 years old. He is the younger brother of Oscar-winning actor Barry Fitzgerald. They are the sons of Adolphus Shields, who is well-known in Dublin as a labor organizer although the 1901 census lists his occupation as “press reader,” and Fanny Sophia Sheilds.
An Irish nationalist, Shields fights in the Easter Rising of 1916. He is captured and held for six months in the Frongoch internment camp in Frongoch, Wales. His obituary in the San Mateo County Times of San Mateo, California, reports, “upon his release he was decorated by the Republic of Eire.”
Shields returns to the Abbey Theatre and has a varied career there from 1914-1939 as actor, assistant director, director, and stage manager. He appears in more than 300 roles in 350 plays while he is at the Abbey. Three of the productions he appears in are by Irish playwright Teresa Deevy – The Reapers, Temporal Powers, and Katie Roche. Three times he brings the Abbey Company to the United States.
In 1936, John Ford brings him to the United States to act in a film version of The Plough and the Stars in the role of Patrick Pearse. Some of his memorable roles are in Ford films. Shields portrays the Reverend Playfair in Ford’s The Quiet Man, opposite John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara, and his brother, Barry Fitzgerald. He plays Dr. Laughlin in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon with Wayne and Joanne Dru, and appears yet again with Wayne and Barry Fitzgerald in Ford’s The Long Voyage Home. His other films include Little Nellie Kelly, The Keys of the Kingdom, The Fabulous Dorseys, Gallant Journey, The Shocking Miss Pilgrim, Drums Along the Mohawk, Lady Godiva, National Velvet, and The River. He also makes television appearances including a 1958 role on Perry Mason as Dr. George Barnes in “The Case of the Screaming Woman.”
Shields dies of complications related to emphysema on April 27, 1970, in Santa Barbara, California. He is survived by his wife, actress Laurie Bailey, a daughter, a son, and four great-grandchildren. His body is cremated, with the ashes taken to Dublin, where a burial with full military honors takes place.