seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Chauncey Olcott, Actor, Singer & Songwriter

chauncey-olcottJohn Chancellor “Chauncey” Olcott, American stage actor, songwriter and singer of Irish descent, is born in Buffalo, New York on July 21, 1858. His mother, Margaret (née Doyle), is a native of Killeagh, County Cork.

In the early years of his career Olcott sings in minstrel shows, before studying singing in London during the 1880s. Lillian Russell plays a major role in helping make him a Broadway star. When the producer Augustus Pitou approaches him in 1893 to succeed William J. Scanlan as the leading tenor in sentimental operettas on Irish themes, Olcott accepts and performs pseudo-Irish roles for the remainder of his career.

Olcott combines the roles of tenor, actor, lyricist and composer in many productions. He writes the complete scores to Irish musicals such as Sweet Inniscara (1897), A Romance of Athlone (1899), Garrett O’Magh (1901), and Old Limerick Town (1902). For other productions he collaborates with Ernest Ball and George Graff, Jr. in works such as The Irish Artist (1894), Barry of Ballymore (1910), Macushla (1912), and The Isle o’ Dreams (1913). There are some twenty such works between 1894 and 1920.

Olcott is a good songwriter who captures the mood of his Irish American audience by combining melodic and rhythmic phrases from traditional Irish music with melancholy sentiment. Some numbers from his musicals become very popular, such as “My Wild Irish Rose” from A Romance of Athlone, “Mother Machree” from Barry of Ballymore, and “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” from The Isle o’ Dreams. Sometimes he uses tunes from others, such as that of the title song from Macushla from Irish composer Dermot Macmurrough (pseudonym of Harold R. White) or Too Ra Loo Ra Loo Ral (Irish Lullaby) by James Royce Shannon for his production Shameen Dhu (1914).

In 1925, a serious illness forces Olcott to retire and he moves to Monte Carlo, Monaco where he dies of pernicious anemia on March 18, 1932. His body is brought home and interred in the Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx, New York City.

Olcott’s life story is told in the 1947 Warner Bros. motion picture My Wild Irish Rose starring Dennis Morgan as Olcott. The film’s plot is based on the biography by Olcott’s widow, Rita Olcott, Song in His Heart (1939).

In 1970, Olcott is posthumously inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

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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.