seamus dubhghaill

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


Leave a comment

Birth of Anew McMaster, Anglo-Irish Stage Actor

Anew McMaster, Anglo-Irish stage actor, is born in Birkenhead, England, on December 24, 1891. During his nearly 45 year acting career he tours Ireland, Britain, Australia and the United States. For almost 35 years he tours as actor-manager of his own theatrical company performing the works of Shakespeare and other playwrights.

McMaster is born as Andrew McMaster, the son of Liverpool-born Andrew McMaster (1855–1940), a master stevedore, and Alice Maude née Thompson (1865–1895). A number of sources make the erroneous claims, based on details supplied by McMaster himself, that he is born in 1893 or 1894 or even 1895 in County Monaghan in Ireland but, according to the Birth Register and the 1901 United Kingdom Census, he is actually born in 1891 in Birkenhead, England. Like his future brother-in-law Micheál Mac Liammóir, who is born in London as Alfred Willmore but claims to have been born in Cork to Gaelic-speaking parents, McMaster reinvents himself as Irish and claims for himself the town of Monaghan as his birthplace, and Warrenpoint, County Down, as the scene of his earliest memories.

At the age of nineteen McMaster gives up a career in banking to pursue one on the stage. He moves to Ireland and tours the country with the O’Brien-Ireland theatrical company from 1910 to 1914. Success quickly follows with his appearance as Jack O’Hara in Paddy the Next Best Thing at the Savoy Theatre (1920). From 1921 he tours Australia in this and other plays, and in 1925 forms his own company, the McMaster Intimate Theatre Company, a ‘fit-up‘ company to tour in the works of Shakespeare, mainly in Ireland but also in Britain and Australia, touring with his theatrical company until 1959. One of the last actor-managers “of the old school – and an epitome of the type,” on occasions he persuades a ‘big name’ to act with his company as a draw for audiences. Frank Benson (1928), Sara Allgood (1929) and Mrs. Patrick Campbell appear with him.

In 1933 at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon McMaster appears as Hamlet opposite Esme Church as Gertrude, Coriolanus, Macduff in Macbeth, Leonato in Much Ado About Nothing, Prince Escalus in Romeo and Juliet, and Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew. His greatest roles are as Othello and as Shylock in The Merchant of Venice, to which he adds King Lear in 1952. Just before World War II he and his company appear at the Chiswick Empire in a Shakespeare season. He tours the United States as James Tyrone in Eugene O’Neill‘s Long Day’s Journey into Night in 1956. Having ‘a great organ voice,’ Harold Pinter, who acts in his company in Ireland from 1951 to 1953 and calls him ‘perhaps the greatest actor-manager of his time,’ later describes McMaster as ‘evasive, proud, affectionate, shrewd, merry.’ In his brief biography Mac (1968), Pinter recalls, “Mac gave about a half dozen magnificent performances of Othello while I was with him… At his best he was the finest Othello I have see. [He] stood dead in the centre of the role, and the great sweeping symphonic playing would begin, the rare tension and release within him, the arrest, the swoop, the savagery, the majesty and repose.”

McMaster’s only film role is an uncredited appearance as the Judge in Sword of Sherwood Forest (1960).

In 1924 McMaster marries the actress and designer Marjorie Willmore (1894–1970), the sister of Micheál Mac Liammóir. They have two children, the actors John Christopher McMaster (1925–1995) and Mary-Rose McMaster (1926–2018).

Anew McMaster dies at the age of 70 at his home in Dublin on August 24, 1962. He is buried with his wife in Deans Grange Cemetery in County Dublin.

McMaster trains a generation of actors who tour with his company and go on to achieve success as actors. These include Pauline Flanagan, Milo O’Shea, T. P. McKenna, Kenneth Haigh, Henry Woolf, Harold Pinter, Donal Donnelly and Patrick Magee. It is while they are touring with McMaster’s company that the actor and dramatist Micheál Mac Liammóir and the actor and producer Hilton Edwards first meet and begin their lifelong partnership.

McMaster’s biography, A Life Remembered: A Memoir of Anew McMaster by his daughter Mary-Rose McMaster, is published in 2017. Harold Pinter also publishes a short biography, Mac, in 1968.


Leave a comment

Birth of Tony Award Nominated Actor Milo O’Shea

Milo Donal O’Shea, Irish actor twice nominated for the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play for his performances in Staircase (1968) and Mass Appeal (1982), is born in Dublin on June 2, 1926.

O’Shea is raised in Dublin and educated by the Christian Brothers at Synge Street CBS, along with his friend Donal Donnelly. His father is a singer and his mother a ballet teacher. Because he is bilingual, he performs in English-speaking theatres and in Irish in the Abbey Theatre Company. At age 12, he appears in George Bernard Shaw‘s Caesar and Cleopatra at the Gate Theatre. He later studies music and drama at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London and is a skilled pianist.

O’Shea is discovered in the 1950s by Harry Dillon, who runs the 37 Theatre Club on the top floor of his shop, the Swiss Gem Company, 51 Lower O’Connell Street, Dublin. Early in his career he tours with the theatrical company of Anew McMaster.

O’Shea begins acting on the stage, then moves into film in the 1960s. He becomes popular in the United Kingdom, as a result of starring in the BBC sitcom Me Mammy alongside Yootha Joyce. In 1967–68 he appears in the drama Staircase, co-starring Eli Wallach and directed by Barry Morse, which stands as Broadway‘s first depiction of homosexual men in a serious light. For his role in that drama, he is nominated for the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play in 1968.

O’Shea stars as Leopold Bloom in Joseph Strick‘s 1967 film version of Ulysses. Among his other memorable film roles in the 1960s are the well-intentioned Friar Laurence in Franco Zeffirelli‘s Romeo and Juliet (1968) and the villainous Dr. Durand Durand in Roger Vadim‘s counterculture classic Barbarella (1968). In 1984, he reprises his role as Dr. Durand Durand, credited as Dr. Duran Duran, for the 1985 Duran Duran concert film Arena (An Absurd Notion), since his character inspired the band’s name. He plays Inspector Boot in the 1973 Vincent Price horror/comedy film Theatre of Blood.

O’Shea is active in American films and television, such as his memorable supporting role as the trial judge in the Sidney Lumet-directed movie The Verdict (1982) with Paul Newman, an episode of The Golden Girls in 1987, and portraying Chief Justice of the United States Roy Ashland in the television series The West Wing. In 1992, he guest stars in the season 10 finale of the sitcom Cheers, and, in 1995, in an episode of the show’s spin-off Frasier. He appears in the pilot episode of Early Edition as Sherman.

Other stage appearances include Mass Appeal (1981) in which he originates the role of Father Tim Farley, for which he is nominated for the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play in 1982, the musical Dear World in which he plays the Sewer Man opposite Angela Lansbury as Countess Aurelia, Corpse! (1986) and a 1994 Broadway revival of Philadelphia, Here I Come!.

O’Shea receives an honorary degree from Quinnipiac University in 2010.

O’Shea’s first wife is Maureen Toal, an Irish actress, with whom he has two sons, Colm and Steven. They divorce in 1974. His second wife is Irish actress Kitty Sullivan, whom he meets in Italy, where he is filming Barbarella and she is auditioning for Man of La Mancha. The couple occasionally act together, such as in a 1981 Broadway revival of My Fair Lady. O’Shea and Sullivan have no children together. They both adopt United States citizenship and reside in New York City, where they both live from 1976.

O’Shea dies on April 2, 2013, in New York City following a short illness at the age of 86. He is buried at Deans Grange Cemetery.