seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Death of Actress Maureen O’Sullivan

maureen-osullivanMaureen Paula O’Sullivan, Irish-American actress best known for playing Jane in the Tarzan series of films starring Johnny Weissmuller, dies in Scottsdale, Arizona, of complications from heart surgery on June 23, 1998.

O’Sullivan is born in Boyle, County Roscommon on May 17, 1911, the daughter of Evangeline “Mary Eva” Lovatt and Charles Joseph O’Sullivan, an officer in the Connaught Rangers who serves in World War I. She attends a convent school in Dublin, then the Convent of the Sacred Heart at Roehampton, England. One of her classmates there is Vivian Mary Hartley, future Academy Award-winning actress Vivien Leigh. After attending finishing school in France, O’Sullivan returns to Dublin to work with the poor.

O’Sullivan’s film career begins when she meets motion picture director Frank Borzage, who is doing location filming on Song o’ My Heart for 20th Century Fox. He suggests she take a screen test, which she does, and wins a part in the movie, which stars Irish tenor John McCormack. She travels to the United States to complete the movie in Hollywood. O’Sullivan appears in six movies at Fox, then makes three more at other movie studios.

In 1932, she signs a contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. After several roles there and at other movie studios, she is chosen by Irving Thalberg to appear as Jane Parker in Tarzan the Ape Man, opposite co-star Johnny Weissmuller. She is one of the more popular ingenues at MGM throughout the 1930s and appears in a number of other productions with various stars. In all, O’Sullivan plays Jane in six features between 1932 and 1942.

She stars with William Powell and Myrna Loy in The Thin Man (1934) and plays Kitty in Anna Karenina (1935) with Greta Garbo and Basil Rathbone. After co-starring with the Marx Bros. in A Day At The Races (1937), she appears as Molly Beaumont in A Yank at Oxford (1938), which is written partly by F. Scott Fitzgerald. At her request, he rewrites her part to give it substance and novelty.

She plays another Jane in Pride and Prejudice (1940) with Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson, and supports Ann Sothern in Maisie Was a Lady (1941). After appearing in Tarzan’s New York Adventure (1942), O’Sullivan asks MGM to release her from her contract so she can care for her husband who has just left the Navy with typhoid. She retreats from show business, devoting her time to her family. In 1948, she re-appears on the screen in The Big Clock, directed by her husband for Paramount Pictures. She continues to appear occasionally in her husband’s movies and on television. However, by 1960 she believes she has permanently retired. In 1958, Farrow’s and O’Sullivan’s eldest son, Michael, dies in a plane crash in California.

Actor Pat O’Brien encourages her to take a part in summer stock, and the play A Roomful of Roses opens in 1961. That leads to another play, Never Too Late, in which she co-stars with Paul Ford in what is her Broadway debut. Shortly after it opens on Broadway, John Farrow dies of a heart attack. O’Sullivan sticks with acting after Farrow’s death. She is also an executive director of a bridal consulting service, Wediquette International. In June and July 1972, O’Sullivan is in DenverColorado, to star in the Elitch Theatre production of Butterflies are Free with Karen Grassle and Brandon deWilde. The show ends on July 1, 1972. Five days later, while still in Denver, deWilde is killed in a motor vehicle accident.

When her daughter, actress Mia Farrow, becomes involved with Woody Allen both professionally and romantically, she appears in Hannah and Her Sisters, playing Farrow’s mother. She has roles in Peggy Sue Got Married (1986) and the science fiction oddity Stranded (1987). Mia Farrow names one of her own sons Ronan O’Sullivan Farrow for her mother. In 1994, she appears with Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers in Hart to Hart: Home Is Where the Hart Is, a feature-length made-for-TV movie with the wealthy husband-and-wife team from the popular weekly detective series Hart to Hart.

Maureen O’Sullivan dies in Scottsdale, Arizona, of complications from heart surgery on June 23, 1998, at the age of 87. O’Sullivan is buried at Most Holy Redeemer Cemetery, Niskayuna, New York. She is survived by six of her children, 32 grandchildren, and 13 great-grandchildren. Michael, her oldest son, is killed at age 19 in a plane crash in 1958.

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Birth of Audie Murphy, Decorated Soldier & Actor

audie-leon-murphyAudie Leon Murphy, one of the most decorated American combat soldiers of World War II, is born to sharecropping parents of Irish descent in Kingston, Texas on June 20, 1925.

As a child, Murphy is a loner with mood swings and an explosive temper. He grows up in Texas, around Farmersville, Greenville, and Celeste, where he attends elementary school. His father drifts in and out of the family’s life and eventually deserts them. He drops out of school in fifth grade and gets a job picking cotton for a dollar a day to help support his family. After his mother dies of endocarditis and pneumonia in 1941, he works at a radio repair shop and at a combination general store, garage and gas station in Greenville.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Murphy’s older sister helps him to falsify documentation about his birthdate in order to meet the minimum-age requirement for enlisting in the military. Turned down by the Navy and the Marine Corps, he enlists in the Army. He first sees action in the 1943 Allied invasion of Sicily. Then, in 1944, he participates in the Battle of Anzio, the liberation of Rome, and Operation Dragoon, the invasion of Southern France. He fights at Montélimar and leads his men on a successful assault at the L’Omet quarry near Cleurie in northeastern France in October.

Murphy receives every military combat award for valor available from the U.S. Army, as well as French and Belgian awards for heroism. He receives the Medal of Honor for valor that he demonstrates at the age of 19 for single-handedly holding off an entire company of German soldiers for an hour at the Colmar Pocket in France in January 1945, then leading a successful counterattack while wounded and out of ammunition.

After the war, Murphy embarks on a 21-year acting career. He plays himself in the 1955 autobiographical film To Hell and Back, based on his 1949 memoirs of the same name, but most of his roles are in westerns. He makes guest appearances on celebrity television shows and stars in the series Whispering Smith. He is a fairly accomplished songwriter. He breeds American Quarter Horses in California and Arizona and becomes a regular participant in horse racing.

Suffering from what would today be described as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Murphy sleeps with a loaded handgun under his pillow. He looks for solace in addictive sleeping pills. In his last few years, he is plagued by money problems but refuses offers to appear in alcohol and cigarette commercials because he does not want to set a bad example.

Audie Murphy is killed on May 28, 1971 when the private plane in which he is a passenger crashes into Brush Mountain, near Catawba, Virginia, twenty miles west of Roanoke in conditions of rain, clouds, fog and zero visibility. The pilot and four other passengers are also killed. On June 7, 1971, he is buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery. In attendance are United States Ambassador to the United Nations George H.W. Bush, Chief of Staff of the United States Army William Westmoreland, and many of the 3rd Infantry Division. His gravesite is the cemetery’s second most-visited gravesite, after that of President John F. Kennedy.

(Pictured: Audie Murphy as Tom Smith in the television series Whispering Smith, 1961)


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Birth of Richard Todd, Stage & Film Actor

richard-toddRichard Andrew Palethorpe Todd OBE, an English soldier, stage and film actor and film director, is born in Dublin on June 11, 1919.

Todd spends a few of his childhood years in India, where his father, an officer in the British Army, serves as a physician. Later his family moves to Devon and he attends Shrewsbury School. Upon leaving school, he trains for a potential military career at Royal Military Academy Sandhurst before beginning his acting training at the Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts in London. This change in career leads to estrangement from his mother. When he learns at age 19 that she has committed suicide, he does not grieve long for her, he admits in later life.

Todd first appears professionally as an actor at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre in 1936 in a production of Twelfth Night. He plays in regional theatres and then co-founds the Dundee Repertory Theatre in Scotland in 1939. He also appears as an extra in British films like Good Morning, Boys (1937), A Yank at Oxford (1938) and Old Bones of the River (1939).

At the beginning of World War II, Todd enlists in the British Army, receiving a commission in 1941. On June 6, 1944, as a captain, he participates in Operation Tonga during the Normandy landings. He is among the first British officers to land in Normandy as part of Operation Overlord.

After the war, Todd is unsure what direction to take in his career. His former agent, Robert Lennard, has become a casting agent for Associated British Picture Corporation and advises him to try out for the Dundee Repertory Company. He does so, performing in plays such as Claudia, where he appears with Claudia Grant-Bogle. Lennard arranges for a screen test and Associated British offers him a long-term contract in 1948. He is cast in the lead in For Them That Trespass (1949), directed by Alberto Cavalcanti. The film is a minor hit and his career is launched.

Having portrayed the role of Yank in the Dundee Repertory stage version of John Patrick‘s play The Hasty Heart, Todd is subsequently chosen to appear in the 1948 London stage version of the play, this time in the leading role of Cpl. Lachlan McLachlan. This leads to his being cast in that role in the Warner Bros. film adaptation of the play, which is filmed in the United Kingdom, alongside Ronald Reagan and Patricia Neal. He is nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor for the role in 1949.

Todd is now in much demand. He appears in the thriller The Interrupted Journey (1949), Alfred Hitchcock‘s Stage Fright (1950), opposite Marlene Dietrich and Jane Wyman, Portrait of Clare (1950), Flesh and Blood (1951), The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men (1952), 24 Hours of a Woman’s Life (1952), with Merle Oberon, Venetian Bird (1952), The Sword and the Rose (1953) and Rob Roy, the Highland Rogue (1953). In 1953, he appears in a BBC Television adaptation of the novel Wuthering Heights.

Todd’s career receives a boost when 20th Century Fox signs him to a non-exclusive contract. He appears the film version of Catherine Marshall‘s best selling biography, A Man Called Peter (1955), which is a popular success. Other films in which he appears include The Dam Busters (1955), The Virgin Queen (1955), Marie Antoinette Queen of France (1956), D-Day the Sixth of June (1956), Yangtse Incident: The Story of H.M.S. Amethyst (1957), Saint Joan (1957), Chase a Crooked Shadow (1958), Intent to Kill (1958), Danger Within (1958), Never Let Go (1960) and The Long and the Short and the Tall (1961).

Todd’s career in films rapidly declines in the 1960s as the counter-culture movement in the Arts becomes fashionable in England, with social-realist dramas commercially replacing the more middle-class orientated dramatic productions that Todd’s performance character-type had previously excelled in.

In retirement, Todd lives in the village of Little Ponton and later in Little Humby, eight miles from Grantham, Lincolnshire. Suffering from cancer, he dies at his home on December 3, 2009. He is buried between his two sons, Seamus and Peter, at St. Guthlac’s Church in Little Ponton, Lincolnshire, England.


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Death of James Plunkett, Novelist & Playwright

james-plunkettJames Plunkett Kelly, known by the pen name James Plunkett, Irish novelist, playwright, and short-story writer, dies in Dublin on May 28, 2003. His works, which deal with Ireland’s political and labour problems, contain vivid portraits of working-class and middle-class Dubliners.

Plunkett is born in Sandymount, Dublin on May 21, 1920 and grows up among the Dublin working class and they, along with the petite bourgeoisie and lower intelligentsia, make up the bulk of the dramatis personæ of his oeuvre. He is educated at Synge Street CBS, a Christian Brothers school located on Synge Street in Dublin. He leaves school at the age of seventeen. He later studies violin and viola at the Dublin College of Music and plays professionally in Dublin. He serves for a time as an official in the Workers’ Union of Ireland.

Plunkett’s best-known works are the novel Strumpet City, set in Dublin in the years leading up to the Dublin lock-out of 1913 and during the course of the strike, and the short stories in the collection The Trusting and the Maimed. His other works include a radio play on James Larkin, who figures prominently in his work.

During the 1960s, Plunkett works as a producer at Telefís Éireann. He wins two Jacob’s Awards, in 1965 and 1969, for his TV productions. In 1971 he writes and presents “Inis Fail – Isle of Destiny,” his very personal appreciation of Ireland. It is the final episode of the BBC series Bird’s Eye View, shot entirely from a helicopter, and the first co-production between the BBC and RTÉ. Plunkett is a member of Aosdána.

James Plunkett dies in a Dublin nursing home on May 28, 2003, just a week after his 83rd birthday. He is cremated at Mount Jerome Cemetery and Crematorium in Dublin.

A second year class, “2 Plunkett” at Synge Street CBS, is named in honour of James Plunkett.


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Birth of Dennis Day, Radio, TV & Film Personality

dennis-dayDennis Day, American singer, radio, television and film personality and comedian of Irish descent, is born Owen Patrick Eugene McNulty on May 21, 1916 in The Bronx borough of New York City.

Day is the second of five children born to Irish immigrants Patrick McNulty and Mary (née Grady) McNulty. He graduates from Cathedral Preparatory School and Seminary in New York City, and attends Manhattan College in the Bronx, where he sings in the glee club.

Mary Livingstone, wife of comedian Jack Benny, brings Day to Benny’s attention after hearing him on the radio during a visit to New York. She takes a recording of Day’s singing to Benny, who then goes to New York to audition Day. The audition results in Day’s role on the Benny program.

Day appears for the first time on Benny’s radio show on October 8, 1939, taking the place of another famed tenor, Kenny Baker. He remains associated with Benny’s radio and television programs until Benny’s death in 1974. He is introduced as a young, naive boy singer, a character he keeps through his whole career.

Besides singing, Day is an impressionist. On the Benny program, he performs impressions of various noted celebrities of the era, including Ronald Colman, Jimmy Durante and James Stewart.

From 1944 through 1946 Day serves in the United States Navy as a Lieutenant. While in service he is temporarily replaced on the Benny radio program by fellow tenor Larry Stevens. On his return to civilian life, he continues to work with Benny while also starring on his own NBC show, A Day in the Life of Dennis Day (1946–1951). His last radio series is a comedy/variety show that airs on NBC’s Sunday afternoon schedule during the 1954–55 season.

An attempt is made to adapt A Day in the Life Of Dennis Day as an NBC filmed series, produced by Jerry Fairbanks for Dennis’ sponsor, Colgate-Palmolive, featuring the original radio cast, but gets no farther than an unaired 1949 pilot episode. Eventually, his own TV series, The Dennis Day Show, is first telecast on NBC on February 8, 1952, and then in the 1953–1954 season. Between 1952 and 1978, he makes numerous TV appearances as a singer, actor and voice for animation, such as the Walt Disney feature Johnny Appleseed, handling multiple characters. His last televised work with Benny is in 1970, when they both appear in a public service announcement together to promote savings and loans.

Although his career is mainly radio and TV-based, Day also appears in a few films. These include Buck Benny Rides Again (1940) opposite Jack Benny, Sleepy Lagoon (1943), Music in Manhattan (1944), I’ll Get By (1950), Golden Girl (1951), The Girl Next Door (1953), and Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood (1976) as a singing telegraph man. For the soundtrack of My Wild Irish Rose (1947), a biopic about Chauncey Olcott, Day provides the singing voice to the acting of Dennis Morgan.

Dennis Day dies on June 22, 1988, of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, in Los Angeles, California. His star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is at 6646 Hollywood Boulevard. He is interred in Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City.


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Birth of James Bernard Fagan, Producer & Playwright

james-bernard-faganJames Bernard Fagan, Irish-born actor, theatre manager, producer and playwright in England, is born in Belfast on May 18, 1873.

Fagan is the eldest of the five children of Sir James Fagan, a surgeon at the Belfast Royal Hospital and an inspector of Irish reformatories, and Mary Catherine Fagan, née Hughes. He attends Clongowes Wood College near Clane, County Kildare and then moves to England. Initially interested in a career in the church, he begins studying law at Trinity College, Oxford in 1892 but leaves in 1893 without a degree. He works for a time in the Indian Civil Service but abandons this career for the stage.

Fagan begins his career as an actor with the company of Sir Frank Benson for two years, then joining, from 1895 to 1899, the company of Herbert Beerbohm Tree at Her Majesty’s Theatre. There he appears in Katherine and Petruchio, A Man’s Shadow, Julius Caesar, The Musketeers and Carnac Sahib. He starts writing plays in 1899, with The Rebels, for the time forsaking acting. In 1913 he returns to the stage touring as the Rt Hon. Denzil Trevena in his own play, The Earth. He next writes The Fourth of August (1914) and Doctor O’Toole (1917). In 1917 he produces his first play, his own adaptation of the Brieux play Damaged Goods at St. Martin’s Theatre. He next produces The Wonder Tales and The Little Brother at the Ambassadors Theatre in London.

Fagan takes over the Court Theatre in London’s Sloane Square as a Shakespearean playhouse in 1920. The Times calls his revivals of Twelfth Night, The Merchant of Venice, Henry the Fourth (Part Two) and A Midsummer Night’s Dream “memorable for their freshness, sanity and distinction, and [deserving of] a place in theatrical history.” At the Court, he revives Damaged Goods and, in 1921, with the assistance of the author, produces George Bernard Shaw‘s Heartbreak House, with Edith Evans as “Lady Utterwood.” In 1922 he produces his play The Wheel at the Apollo Theatre. Its success allows him to repay his creditors. Even more successful is his adaptation of Treasure Island at the Savoy Theatre with Arthur Bourchier as “Long John Silver,” which opens December 26, 1922. It is revived every Christmas until the outbreak of World War II.

Fagan is persuaded by Jane Ellis, the actress who with Alfred Ballard founds the Oxford Playhouse “Red Barn” in 1923, to be its first manager. His first production at the Oxford Playhouse is a restaging of Shaw’s Heartbreak House and numbered Shaw among the audience. He produces The Cherry Orchard, at various theatres, to favourable reviews, popularising Anton Chekhov in Britain. From November 16, 1925, with Dennis Eadie, he presents Juno and the Paycock at the Royalty Theatre, thus bringing Seán O’Casey to the attention of London’s theatre-going public. O’Casey’s The Plough follows the next year.

Fagan receives little support from the University of Oxford or the play-going public and resigns in 1929. His successor is Stanford Holme, who broadens its appeal and, despite the straitened times, makes it financially viable. In 1929, he is a director of the Festival Theatre, Cambridge, where his friend Terence Gray is director. He also produces many works for the Irish Players.

Beginning in the 1920s, several of Fagan’s plays are adapted for film. He moves to Hollywood in 1929 for the filming by Paramount Pictures of his play The Wheel as The Wheel of Life. Other film work includes his co-adaptation of the screenplay for the 1932 film Smilin’ Through, and he co-writes Paramount’s Forgotten Commandments the same year. His play Bella Donna is filmed four times, including posthumously in 1946, and a 1936 film, The Improper Duchess is based on his 1931 play of the same name.

James Bernard Fagan dies in Hollywood, California, on February 17, 1933 at the age of 59 of a heart attack following a bout of influenza.


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“The Riordans” Ends 15 Year Run

the-riordans-title-cardThe Riordans, a drama about life in a rural Irish village and the most successful serial in the history of Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTÉ), running from 1965 to 1979, comes to an end on May 11, 1979. It is the second Irish soap opera made by RTÉ (then called Telefís Éireann).

In 1964 the fledgling Telefís Éireann launches Tolka Row, a soap opera set in a working class part of Dublin. Its success is immediate, with its actors becoming household names. One year later, aware that Ireland is still a largely rural country, and of the immense popularity of rural-based radio shows on RTÉ Radio (then called Radio Éireann), Telefís Éireann decides to create a new rural soap opera, set on a family farm. Located in Dunboyne, The Flathouse, owned by the Connolly family, is the setting for this programme.

The show is called The Riordans after the name of the central family, who are two middle-aged parents, Tom Riordan and his wife Mary Riordan, together with their oldest son, Benjy and other siblings, including brother Michael and sister Jude, all of whom except Benjy have left farming for other careers and have more adventurous personal lives.

The Riordans is set in the fictional townland of Leestown in County Kilkenny and proves to be a revolutionary television programme, both in Ireland and internationally. Its most dramatic innovation is in the use of Outside Broadcast Units (OBUs) to film most of each episode on location in the countryside. This is a marked innovation. Previously soap operas had all been studio-based, with even supposed exterior filming all done with studio sets built in sound stages. This breaks the mould of broadcasting in the soap opera genre and inspires the creation of its British equivalent, Emmerdale Farm (now called Emmerdale) by Yorkshire Television in 1972. In 1975 The Riordans begins to be filmed and transmitted in colour, having been available in monochrome only up to then.

The show undergoes a number of changes in the mid-1970s, most notably moving from a half-hour to one-hour format, as well as a change in theme tune. The decision of actor Tom Hickey to leave the series causes some problems. His character, Benjy is not killed off but goes abroad “on the missions.” While the show has declined somewhat from its heyday, it still regularly battles with The Late Late Show to top the TAM ratings. The production team is surprised when one episode, which unusually departs from the 1970s and focuses on Tom Riordan as a young man in the 1930s at a family céilí, is critically acclaimed by the media and many older viewers, who view it as an accurate representation of life on an Irish farm in the 1930s and 1940s.

With its considerable popularity, large cast of respected actors and high production values, and its central location on the schedules of RTÉ 1, few expect the show to be axed, let alone so suddenly. There is considerable surprise, and a lot of criticism, when the new Director of Programming at RTÉ, Muiris Mac Conghail, decides that the show has run its course and so axes it in May 1979. Part of the justification is cost as it is one of RTÉ’s most expensive shows to produce.

(Pictured: The Riordans title card)