seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Fr. Edward J. Flanagan, Founder of Boys Town

Edward Joseph Flanagan, Irish-born priest of the Catholic Church in the United States, dies in Berlin, Germany on May 15, 1948. He founds the orphanage known as Boys Town located in Boys Town, Douglas County, Nebraska, which now also serves as a center for troubled youth.

Flanagan is born to John and Honoria Flanagan in the townland of Leabeg, County Roscommon, near the village of Ballymoe, County Galway, on July 13, 1886. He attends Summerhill College, Sligo.

In 1904, Flanagan emigrates to the United States and becomes a US citizen in 1919. He attends Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Maryland, where he receives a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1906 and a Master of Arts degree in 1908. He studies at Saint Joseph’s Seminary in Dunwoodie, Yonkers, New York. He continues his studies in Italy and at the University of Innsbruck in Austria where he is ordained a priest on July 26, 1912. His first parish is in O’Neill, Nebraska, where from 1912 he serves as an assistant pastor at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church. He then moves to Omaha, Nebraska, to serve as an assistant pastor at St. Patrick’s Church and later at St. Philomena’s Church.

In 1917, Flanagan founds a home for homeless boys in Omaha. Bishop Jeremiah James Harty of the Diocese of Omaha has misgivings, but endorses Flanagan’s experiment. Because the downtown facilities are inadequate, he establishes Boys Town, ten miles west of Omaha in 1921. Under his direction, Boys Town grows to be a large community with its own boy-mayor, schools, chapel, post office, cottages, gymnasium, and other facilities where boys between the ages of 10 and 16 can receive an education and learn a trade.

Boys Town, a 1938 film starring Spencer Tracy based on Flanagan’s life, wins Tracy an Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance. Mickey Rooney also stars as one of the residents. Tracy spends his entire Oscar acceptance speech talking about Flanagan. Without confirming it with Tracy, an overzealous MGM publicity representative announces incorrectly that Tracy is donating his Oscar to Flanagan. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences hastily strikes another inscription so Tracy keeps his statuette and Boys Town gets one as well. A sequel also starring Tracy and Rooney, Men of Boys Town, is released in 1941.

Flanagan himself appears in a separate 1938 MGM short, The City of Little Men, promoting Boys Town and giving a tour of its facilities. The actor Stephen McNally plays Flanagan in a 1957 episode of the ABC religion anthology series, Crossroads.

Flanagan receives many awards for his work with the delinquent and homeless boys. Pope Pius XI names him a Domestic Prelate with the title Right Reverend Monsignor in 1937. He serves on several committees and boards dealing with the welfare of children and is the author of articles on child welfare. Internationally known, he travels to the Republic of Ireland in 1946, where he is appalled by the children’s institutions there, calling them “a national disgrace.” When his observations are published after returning to Omaha, instead of improving the horrid conditions, vicious attacks are leveled against him in the Irish print media and the Oireachtas. He is invited by General Douglas MacArthur to Japan and Korea in 1947 to advise on child welfare, as well as to Austria and Germany in 1948. While in Germany, he dies of a heart attack on May 15, 1948. He is interred at Dowd Memorial Chapel of the Immaculate Conception Parish in Boys Town, Nebraska.

In 1986, the United States Postal Service issues a 4¢ Great Americans series postage stamp honoring Flanagan. He is a member of the Nebraska Hall of Fame.

On February 25, 2012, the Catholic Archdiocese of Omaha, Nebraska opens the canonization process of Flanagan. At a March 17, 2012 prayer service at Boys Town’s Immaculate Conception Church, he is given the title “Servant of God,” the first of three titles bestowed before canonization as a Catholic saint. The investigation is completed in June 2015 and the results forwarded to the Vatican. If the Vatican approves the local findings, Flanagan will be declared venerable. The next steps will be beatification and canonization.

There is a portrait statue dedicated to Fr. Edward J. Flanagan in Ballymoe, County Galway.


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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.