seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Christy Brown, Writer & Painter

christy-brownChristy Brown, Irish writer and painter who has cerebral palsy and is able to write or type only with the toes of one foot, dies on September 7, 1981 in Parbrook, Somerset, England. His most recognized work is his autobiography, My Left Foot (1954).

Brown is born into a working-class Irish family at the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin on June 5, 1932. He is one of 22 siblings of parents Bridget Fagan and Patrick Brown. After his birth, doctors discover that he has severe cerebral palsy, a neurological disorder which leaves him almost entirely spastic in his limbs. Though urged to commit him to a hospital, his parents are unswayed and subsequently determined to raise him at home with their other children. During his adolescence, social worker Katriona Delahunt becomes aware of his story and begins to visit the Brown family regularly. She brings him books and painting materials as, over the years, he has shown a keen interest in the arts and literature. He has also demonstrated extremely impressive physical dexterity since, soon after discovering several household books, he had learned to both write and draw himself with his left leg, the only limb over which he has unequivocal control.

Brown quickly matures into a serious artist. Although he famously receives almost no formal schooling during his youth, he does attend St. Brendan’s School-Clinic in Sandymount intermittently. At St. Brendan’s he comes in contact with Dr. Robert Collis, a noted author. Collis discovers that Brown is also a natural novelist and, later, helps use his own connections to publish My Left Foot, by then a long-gestating autobiographical account of Brown’s struggle with everyday life amidst the vibrant culture of Dublin.

When My Left Foot becomes a literary sensation, one of the many people who write letters to Brown is married American woman Beth Moore. Brown and Moore become regular correspondents and, in 1960, he holidays in North America and stays with Moore at her home in Connecticut. When they meet again in 1965 they began an affair. Brown journeys to Connecticut once more to finish his magnum opus, which he had been developing for years. He finally does so in 1967 with help from Moore, who introduces and administers a strict working regimen, mostly by denying him alcohol until a day’s work is completed. The book, Down All the Days, is published in 1970. It is an ambitious project drawn largely from a playful expansion of My Left Foot. It becomes an international best-seller, translated into fourteen languages. The Irish Times reviewer Bernard Share claims the work is “the most important Irish novel since Ulysses.”

Down All the Days is followed by a series of other novels, including A Shadow on Summer (1972), Wild Grow the Lilies (1976) and A Promising Career (published posthumously in 1982). He also publishes three poetry collections: Come Softly to My Wake, Background Music and Of Snails and Skylarks. All the poems are included in The Collected Poems of Christy Brown.

Brown’s fame continues to spread internationally and he becomes a prominent celebrity. Upon his return to Ireland, he is able to use proceeds from the sales of his books to design and move into a specially constructed home outside Dublin with his sister’s family. Though he and Beth had planned to marry and live together at the new home, and though Moore had informed her husband of these plans, it is around this time that he begins an affair with Englishwoman Mary Carr, whom he meets at a party in London. He then terminates his affair with Moore and marries Carr at the Registry Office, Dublin, in 1972. They move to Stoney Lane, Rathcoole, County Dublin, to Ballyheigue, County Kerry and then to Somerset. He continues to paint, write novels, poetry and plays. His 1974 novel, A Shadow on Summer, is based on his relationship with Moore, whom he still considers a friend.

Brown’s health deteriorates after marrying Carr. He becomes mainly a recluse in his last years, which is thought to be a direct result of Carr’s influence and perhaps abusive nature. He dies at the age of 49 on September 7, 1981 after choking during a lamb chop dinner. His body is found to have significant bruising, which leads many to believe that Carr had physically abused him. Further suspicions arise after Georgina Hambleton’s biography, The Life That Inspired My Left Foot, reveals a supposedly more accurate and unhealthy version of their relationship. The book portrays Carr as an abusive alcoholic and habitually unfaithful. He is buried in the Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.

A film adaptation of My Left Foot directed by Jim Sheridan is produced in 1989 from a screenplay by Shane Connaughton. Daniel Day-Lewis stars as Brown and Brenda Fricker as his mother. Both win Academy Awards for their performances. The film also receives Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay.

The Anglo-Irish rock band The Pogues pay tribute to Christy Brown with a song titled “Down All the Days.” It is the seventh track on their 1989 recording Peace and Love. Similarly, U2 releases a song titled “Down All the Days” with the 20th anniversary edition of Achtung Baby. The Men They Couldn’t Hang also writes a song “Down All the Days” which appears on their Silver Town album also released in 1989.

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Birth of Production Designer Cedric Gibbons

cedric-gibbonsAustin Cedric Gibbons, Irish American art director and production designer for the film industry, is born in Dublin on March 23, 1893. He also makes a significant contribution to motion picture theater architecture from the 1930s to 1950s.

Gibbons was born to architect Austin P. Gibbons and Veronica Fitzpatrick Simmons. He is privately tutored and studies at the Art Students League of New York. In 1911 he begins working in his father’s office as a junior draftsman. From 1915 he serves as art director at Edison Studios in New Jersey and then serves in the United States Navy during World War I. He then joins Goldwyn Studios and begins a long career with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1924, the year the studio is founded.

Gibbons is one of the original 36 founding members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and oversees the design of the Academy Awards statuette in 1928, a trophy for which he himself would be nominated 38 times for Best Production Design, winning eleven.

In 1930, Gibbons marries actress Dolores del Río and co-designs their house in Santa Monica, an intricate Art Deco residence influenced by Rudolf Schindler. They divorce in 1941. Three years later he marries actress Hazel Brooks, with whom he remains until his death.

Gibbons’s set designs, particularly those in such films as Born to Dance (1936) and Rosalie (1937), heavily inspire motion picture theater architecture in the late 1930s through 1950s. The style is found very clearly in the theaters that are managed by the Skouras brothers, whose designer Carl G. Moeller uses the sweeping scroll-like details in his creations. Among the more classic examples are the Loma Theater in San Diego, The Crest in Long Beach and Fresno, and the Culver Theater in Culver City. The style is sometimes referred to as Art Deco and Art Moderne.

Gibbons retires in 1956 with about 1,500 films credited to him, however, his contract with MGM dictates that he receive credit as art director for every MGM film released in the United States, even though other designers might do the bulk of the work. Even so, his actual hands-on art direction is believed to be about 150 films.

Gibbons’ second cousin Frederick Gibbons, a musician, orchestra conductor, and entertainer who works with him at MGM, is the father of Billy Gibbons of the rock band ZZ Top.

Cedric Gibbons dies in Los Angeles on July 26, 1960, at the age of 67. He is buried in the Calvary Cemetery, East Los Angeles.


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Birth of Jim Sheridan, Playwright, Director & Producer

jim-sheridanJim Sheridan, Irish playwright, screenwriter, film director, and film producer, is born in Dublin on February 6, 1949. In the few years from 1989 to 1993, Sheridan makes three acclaimed films set in Ireland (My Left Foot, The Field, and In the Name of the Father) that between them receive a remarkable 13 Academy Award nominations. Sheridan has personally received six Academy Award nominations. In addition to the above-mentioned films, he is also known for the films The Boxer and In America.

Sheridan is born to Anna and Peter Sheridan Snr and raised in the inner city of Dublin. He is the brother of playwright Peter Sheridan. The family runs a lodging house, while Anna Sheridan works at a hotel and Peter Sheridan Snr is a railway clerk with CIÉ. Sheridan’s early education is at a Christian Brothers school. In 1969 he attends University College Dublin to study English and History. He becomes involved in student theater there, where he meets Neil Jordan, who also is later to become an important Irish film director. After graduating from UCD in 1972, Sheridan and his brother begin writing and staging plays, and together found the Project Theatre Company.

In 1981, Sheridan emigrates to Canada, but eventually settles in the Hell’s Kitchen section of New York City. He enrolls in New York University‘s Tisch School of the Arts and becomes the artistic director of the Irish Arts Center.

Sheridan returns to Ireland in the late 1980s. In 1989, he directs My Left Foot, which becomes a critical and commercial success and wins Daniel Day-Lewis and Brenda Fricker Academy Awards. He follows that with The Field starring Richard Harris in 1990, then with In the Name of the Father in 1993, a fictionalized re-telling of the case of the Guildford Four. The film wins the Golden Bear at the 44th Berlin International Film Festival.

In 1996 he co-writes Some Mother’s Son with Terry George. The Boxer, with Daniel Day-Lewis, is nominated for a Golden Globe Award for best film drama in 1997. In 2003, he releases the semi-autobiographical In America, which tells the story of a family of Irish immigrants trying to succeed in New York. The film receives positive reviews and earns Samantha Morton and Djimon Hounsou Academy Award nominations. In 2005 he releases Get Rich or Die Tryin’, a film starring rap star 50 Cent. He is connected with the upcoming film adaptation of Artemis Fowl and is rumoured to have written the screenplay and been asked to direct it.

Sheridan helms the 2009 film Brothers, starring Tobey Maguire and Jake Gyllenhaal, which is shot in New Mexico. He also directs the thriller Dream House, which stars Daniel Craig, Naomi Watts, and Rachel Weisz.

Sheridan has a wife, Fran, and three daughters, Naomi Sheridan, Kirsten Sheridan, and Tess Sheridan, with whom he has collaborated, most notably with Naomi and Kirsten on the screenplay for In America.