seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Alistair Cooke, Journalist & Broadcaster

alistair-cookeAlistair Cooke, British journalist, television personality, and broadcaster, who describes himself as a “Lancastrian Irishman,” is born in Salford, Lancashire, England on November 20, 1908. He is best known for his lively and insightful interpretations of American history and culture.

The son of Samuel Cooke, a Wesleyan Methodist lay preacher, and Mary Elizabeth (Byrne) from County Sligo, He is educated at Blackpool Grammar School, Blackpool and wins a scholarship to Jesus College, Cambridge, where he gains an honours degree in English. Later he wins a Commonwealth Fund fellowship to study in the United States, first at Yale University (1932–33), then at Harvard University (1933–34). His cross-country travels during the summers of these years have a profound influence on his professional life.

Following a brief period as a scriptwriter in Hollywood, Cooke returns to England to become a film critic for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and later serves as London correspondent for the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) of the United States. In 1937 he returns to the United States, settles in New York City, and becomes an American citizen in 1941.

From the late 1930s, Cooke reports and comments on American affairs for BBC Radio and several major British newspapers. His weekly 15-minute program, Letter from America, broadcast from 1946 to 2004, is one of the longest-running series on radio. The texts of many broadcasts are collected in One Man’s America (1952) and Talk About America (1968). From 1956 to 1961 he hosts and narrates the weekly television “magazine” Omnibus, which wins numerous broadcasting awards.

Cooke’s interpretation of the American experience culminates in his BBC-produced television series America: A Personal History of the United States (1972–1973). In thirteen installments, filmed on location throughout the United States, he surveys some 500 years of American history in an eclectic and personal but highly coherent narrative. Alistair Cooke’s America (1973), the book based on the award-winning program, is a best-seller in the United States. From the 1970s to the early 1990s, as host of Masterpiece Theatre, he serves as an interpreter of British culture through the presentation of BBC dramatic television programming to American audiences.

Cooke’s other works include the critical biography Douglas Fairbanks: The Making of a Screen Actor (1940), Generation on Trial: The USA v. Alger Hiss (1950), based on his coverage of a celebrated Congressional investigation, The Vintage Mencken (1955), The Patient Has the Floor (1986), America Observed (1988), Memories of the Great and the Good (2000) and, with Robert Cameron, The Americans (1977).

On March 2, 2004, at the age of 95, following advice from his doctors, Cooke announces his retirement from Letter from America—after 58 years, the longest-running speech radio show in the world.

Alistair Cooke dies at midnight on March 30, 2004 at his home in New York City. He had been ill with heart disease, but dies of lung cancer, which had spread to his bones. He is cremated and his ashes are clandestinely scattered by his family in New York’s Central Park.


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Birth of Peter Boyle, Irish American Actor

peter-boylePeter Lawrence Boyle Jr., Irish American character actor and comedian, is born on October 18, 1935 in Norristown, Pennsylvania. He is most noted for his role as Frank Barone on the sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond and the comical monster in Mel Brooks‘s film spoof Young Frankenstein (1974).

Boyle is born to Alice (Lewis) and Francis Xavier Boyle. His paternal grandparents are Irish immigrants, and his mother is of mostly French and British Isles descent. He eventually moves to Philadelphia, where his father is a sought-after local TV personality and children’s show host. Following a solid Catholic upbringing, he is a sensitive youth and joins the Christian Brothers religious order at one point while attending La Salle University in Philadelphia. He leaves the monastery after only a few years when he “lost” his calling.

Bent on an acting career, Boyle initially studies with guru Uta Hagen in New York. The tall, hulking, prematurely bald actor wannabe struggles through a variety of odd jobs as a postal worker, waiter and bouncer while simultaneously building up his credits on stage and waiting for that first big break. Things start progressing for him after appearing in the national company of The Odd Couple in 1965 and landing TV commercials on the sly. In the late 1960s Boyle joins Chicago‘s The Second City improv group and makes his Broadway debut as a replacement for Peter Bonerz in Paul Sills’ Story Theatre (1971).

Boyle gains acclaim for his first starring role, playing the title character, a bigoted New York City factory worker, in the 1970 movie Joe, directed by John G. Avildsen. The film’s release is surrounded by controversy over its violence and language. The role leads to major notoriety, however, and some daunting supporting parts in T.R. Baskin (1971), Slither (1973) and as Robert Redford‘s calculating campaign manager in The Candidate (1972). During this time his political radicalism finds a visible platform after joining Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland on anti-war crusades, which also includes the anti-establishment picture Steelyard Blues (1973). This period also sees the forging of a strong friendship with former Beatle John Lennon.

Destined to be cast as monstrous undesirables throughout much of his career, Boyle plays a monster of another sort in his early film days, and thus avoids a complete stereotype as a film abhorrent. His hilarious, sexually potent Frankenstein’s Monster in the cult Mel Brooks spoof Young Frankenstein (1974) sees him in a sympathetic and certainly more humorous vein. His creature’s first public viewing, in which Boyle shares an adroit tap-dancing scene with “creator” Gene Wilder in full Fred Astaire regalia, is a show-stopping audience pleaser. Late 1970s filmgoers continue to witness him in seamy, urban settings with brutish roles in Taxi Driver (1976) and Hardcore (1979). At the same time he addresses several TV mini-movie roles with the same brilliant darkness such as his Senator Joe McCarthy in Tail Gunner Joe (1977), for which he receives an Emmy nomination, and his murderous, knife-wielding Fatso in the miniseries remake of From Here to Eternity (1979).

While the following decade finds Boyle in predominantly less noteworthy filming and a short-lived TV series lead as remote cop Joe Bash (1986), the 1990s bring him Emmy glory for a guest role in an episode of The X-Files (1993). Despite a blood clot-induced stroke in 1990 that impairs his speech for six months, he ventures on and caps his enviable career on TV wielding funny but crass one-liners in the “Archie Bunker” mold on the long-running sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond (1996). A major Emmy blunder has him earning seven nominations for his Frank Barone character without a win, the only prime player on the show unhonored. He survives a heart attack while on the set of Everybody Loves Raymond in 1999, but manages to return full time for the remainder of the series’ run through 2005.

Following a superb turn as Billy Bob Thornton‘s unrepentantly racist father in the sobering Oscar-winner Monster’s Ball (2001), the remainder of Boyle’s films are primarily situated in frivolous comedy fare such as The Adventures of Pluto Nash (2002), The Santa Clause 2 (2002), Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed (2004), and The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause (2006), typically playing cranky curmudgeons.

Boyle dies of multiple myeloma and heart disease at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital on December 12, 2006. He is interred at Green River Cemetery in Springs, New York. At the time of his death, he has completed his role in the film All Roads Lead Home and is scheduled to appear in The Golden Boys. The end credits of All Roads Lead Home include a dedication to his memory.