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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 Roma Downey, Actress, Producer & Author

Roma Downey, actress, producer, and author, is born in the Bogside district of Derry, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland, on May 6, 1960.

Downey attends Thornhill College, a Catholic girls school. Her mother, Maureen O’Reilly Downey, a homemaker with an interest in the performing arts, dies of a heart attack at age 48 when Downey is 10 years old. Her father, Patrick Downey, is a schoolteacher by training but works as a mortgage broker. He dies when Downey is 20. Originally, she plans to be a painter and earns a Bachelor of Arts at Brighton College of Art. She studies BA(Hons) Expressive Arts at Brighton Polytechnic, which later becomes the University of Brighton. Based at the Falmer campus she combines Art and Drama for her degree.

Downey joins the Abbey Players in Dublin and tours the United States in a production of The Playboy of the Western World. She moves to New York after an agent, whom she met during the tour of The Playboy of the Western World, suggests she has potential for success there. She takes a job as a coat checker at an Upper West Side restaurant before getting cast in Broadway shows. The production leads to a nomination during the Broadway run for the Helen Hayes Award for Best Actress in 1991. She also stars on Broadway in The Circle with Rex Harrison and also at the Roundabout Theater and The Public Theater in New York City.

For nine seasons Downey plays Monica, the tender-hearted angel and employee of Tess (played by Della Reese), on the CBS television series Touched by an Angel (1994-2003), for which she earns multiple Emmy and Golden Globe Best Actress nominations. She plays the leading role of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in the miniseries A Woman Named Jackie for NBC.

Downey stars in and is executive producer for a number of hit television movies for the CBS network. She is an ambassador for Operation Smile, a nonprofit medical service organization. On August 11, 2016 she is honored for her work as an actress and producer with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In her acceptance speech, she dedicates her star to the people of Derry and anyone who ever “walked Hollywood Boulevard with a dream in their hearts.”

As President of Lightworkers Media, the family and faith division of MGM, Downey and her husband, Mark Burnett, produce the Emmy-nominated miniseries The Bible for History channel, which airs in 2013 and is watched by over 100 million people in the United States. She also stars in the miniseries in the role of Mary, mother of Jesus. They also executive-produce the feature films Son of God (2014), Little Boy (2015), Woodlawn (2015), and Ben-Hur (2016) starring Jack Huston, Toby Kebbell and Morgan Freeman.

Variety recognizes Downey and Burnett as “Trailblazers” and lists Downey as one of Variety’s “100 Most Powerful Women in Hollywood.” The Hollywood Reporter includes the couple in their “Most Influential People of 2013” and Downey as one of the “100 Women in Entertainment Power” in 2014. She is honored on Variety‘s “Women of Impact in 2014.” Downey and Burnett also produce The Dovekeepers (2015) based on the best selling book by Alice Hoffman for CBS and A.D. The Bible Continues (2015) for NBC, Women of the Bible for Lifetime, and Answered Prayers (2015) for TLC. Downey is the executive producer of the documentary “Faithkeepers” about the persecution of Christians in the Middle East.

Downey is the author of two books, Love Is a Family (2001) and Box of Butterflies: Discovering the Unexpected Blessing All Around Us (2018).


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Birth of Motion Picture Actress Greer Garson

greer-garsonEileen Evelyn Greer Garson, motion picture actress best known as Greer Garson, is born on September 29, 1904 in Manor Park, London, England. Her classic beauty and screen persona of elegance, poise, and maternal virtue make her one of the most popular and admired Hollywood stars of the World War II era.

Garson often claims to have been born in County Down, Ireland, where her grandparents lived and which she happily visited as a child, but she is, in fact, born and raised in London. Although she wanted to study acting, she wins a scholarship to the University of London and her practical-minded family encourage her to pursue a teaching career. After graduating with honours, she works briefly for Encyclopædia Britannica and a London advertising firm but continually tries to get her foot into a backstage door.

In 1932 Garson makes her debut with the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, playing a middle-aged schoolteacher in Elmer Rice’s Street Scene. Later that year she tours in George Bernard Shaw’s Too True to Be Good, billing herself as Greer, a maternal family name, for the first time. She soon establishes herself as a popular ingenue and leading lady in London’s West End. In 1938 Louis B. Mayer, head of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), catches her performance in Old Music and signs her to a contract with his studio.

After suffering through a discouraging first year in Hollywood, Garson returns to England to film the small role of Mrs. Chips in MGM’s Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939). She receives her first Oscar nomination for the role but loses to Vivien Leigh for Gone with the Wind. Her portrayal of the beloved schoolteacher’s charming wife endears her to the American public and sets her career in motion. It is the first in a series of roles in which she plays women of great loyalty, refinement, and wifely or motherly strength.

Garson’s other significant films of the period include Pride and Prejudice (1940), Blossoms in the Dust (1941), her first appearance with her frequent costar Walter Pidgeon, Random Harvest (1942), and Madame Curie (1943). The film that cements her reputation and image, however, is Mrs. Miniver (1942). Filmed during World War II and tailor-made for the times, Mrs. Miniver extolls the strength and spirit of the British home front and is one of the year’s biggest hits. Her grace-under-pressure portrayal of a courageous wife and mother, the personification of British fortitude, not only wins her an Academy Award but is credited with bolstering American support for the war.

Following the war Garson’s career falters. The public rejects her attempts to reforge her image to that of a more fun-loving, less noble heroine in such films as Adventure (1945) and Julia Misbehaves (1948). During the 1950s she appears in several unexceptional films and television dramas and stars on Broadway in Auntie Mame. Her remarkably convincing portrayal of Eleanor Roosevelt in Sunrise at Campobello (1960) is widely praised and earns her a seventh Oscar nomination, but she performs only occasionally thereafter, devoting most of her time to philanthropic causes, including the endowment of scholarships for theatre students at Southern Methodist University in University Park, Texas and the construction of a campus theatre.

Garson spends her final years occupying a penthouse suite at the Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas. She dies there from heart failure on April 6, 1996 at the age of 91. She is interred beside her husband in the Sparkman-Hillcrest Memorial Park Cemetery in Dallas.


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Death of Actress Maureen O’Sullivan

maureen-osullivanMaureen Paula O’Sullivan, Irish-American actress best known for playing Jane in the Tarzan series of films starring Johnny Weissmuller, dies in Scottsdale, Arizona, of complications from heart surgery on June 23, 1998.

O’Sullivan is born in Boyle, County Roscommon on May 17, 1911, the daughter of Evangeline “Mary Eva” Lovatt and Charles Joseph O’Sullivan, an officer in the Connaught Rangers who serves in World War I. She attends a convent school in Dublin, then the Convent of the Sacred Heart at Roehampton, England. One of her classmates there is Vivian Mary Hartley, future Academy Award-winning actress Vivien Leigh. After attending finishing school in France, O’Sullivan returns to Dublin to work with the poor.

O’Sullivan’s film career begins when she meets motion picture director Frank Borzage, who is doing location filming on Song o’ My Heart for 20th Century Fox. He suggests she take a screen test, which she does, and wins a part in the movie, which stars Irish tenor John McCormack. She travels to the United States to complete the movie in Hollywood. O’Sullivan appears in six movies at Fox, then makes three more at other movie studios.

In 1932, she signs a contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. After several roles there and at other movie studios, she is chosen by Irving Thalberg to appear as Jane Parker in Tarzan the Ape Man, opposite co-star Johnny Weissmuller. She is one of the more popular ingenues at MGM throughout the 1930s and appears in a number of other productions with various stars. In all, O’Sullivan plays Jane in six features between 1932 and 1942.

She stars with William Powell and Myrna Loy in The Thin Man (1934) and plays Kitty in Anna Karenina (1935) with Greta Garbo and Basil Rathbone. After co-starring with the Marx Bros. in A Day At The Races (1937), she appears as Molly Beaumont in A Yank at Oxford (1938), which is written partly by F. Scott Fitzgerald. At her request, he rewrites her part to give it substance and novelty.

She plays another Jane in Pride and Prejudice (1940) with Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson, and supports Ann Sothern in Maisie Was a Lady (1941). After appearing in Tarzan’s New York Adventure (1942), O’Sullivan asks MGM to release her from her contract so she can care for her husband who has just left the Navy with typhoid. She retreats from show business, devoting her time to her family. In 1948, she re-appears on the screen in The Big Clock, directed by her husband for Paramount Pictures. She continues to appear occasionally in her husband’s movies and on television. However, by 1960 she believes she has permanently retired. In 1958, Farrow’s and O’Sullivan’s eldest son, Michael, dies in a plane crash in California.

Actor Pat O’Brien encourages her to take a part in summer stock, and the play A Roomful of Roses opens in 1961. That leads to another play, Never Too Late, in which she co-stars with Paul Ford in what is her Broadway debut. Shortly after it opens on Broadway, John Farrow dies of a heart attack. O’Sullivan sticks with acting after Farrow’s death. She is also an executive director of a bridal consulting service, Wediquette International. In June and July 1972, O’Sullivan is in DenverColorado, to star in the Elitch Theatre production of Butterflies are Free with Karen Grassle and Brandon deWilde. The show ends on July 1, 1972. Five days later, while still in Denver, deWilde is killed in a motor vehicle accident.

When her daughter, actress Mia Farrow, becomes involved with Woody Allen both professionally and romantically, she appears in Hannah and Her Sisters, playing Farrow’s mother. She has roles in Peggy Sue Got Married (1986) and the science fiction oddity Stranded (1987). Mia Farrow names one of her own sons Ronan O’Sullivan Farrow for her mother. In 1994, she appears with Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers in Hart to Hart: Home Is Where the Hart Is, a feature-length made-for-TV movie with the wealthy husband-and-wife team from the popular weekly detective series Hart to Hart.

Maureen O’Sullivan dies in Scottsdale, Arizona, of complications from heart surgery on June 23, 1998, at the age of 87. O’Sullivan is buried at Most Holy Redeemer Cemetery, Niskayuna, New York. She is survived by six of her children, 32 grandchildren, and 13 great-grandchildren. Michael, her oldest son, is killed at age 19 in a plane crash in 1958.


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Birth of Actor Spencer Tracy

spencer-tracySpencer Bonaventure Tracy, American actor noted for his natural style and versatility, is born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on April 5, 1900. One of the major stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age, Tracy wins two Academy Awards for Best Actor, from nine nominations, sharing the record for nominations in that category with Laurence Olivier.

Tracy is the second son of Caroline and John Edward Tracy, a truck salesman. His mother is a Presbyterian from a wealthy Midwestern family and his father is of Irish Catholic background.

Tracy first discovers his talent for acting while attending Ripon College, and he later receives a scholarship for the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. He spends seven years in the theatre, working in a succession of repertory theatres and intermittently on Broadway. His breakthrough comes in 1930, when his lead performance in The Last Mile catches the attention of Hollywood. After a successful film debut in Up the River, he is signed to a contract with Fox Film Corporation. His five years with Fox are unremarkable and he remains largely unknown to audiences after 25 films, most of them starring Tracy as the leading man. None of them are hits although The Power and the Glory (1933) features one of his most acclaimed performances.

In 1935, Tracy joins Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, at the time Hollywood’s most prestigious studio. His career flourishes with a series of hit films, and in 1937 and 1938 he wins consecutive Oscars for Captains Courageous and Boys Town. By the 1940s, Tracy is one of the studio’s top stars. In 1942, he appears with Katharine Hepburn in Woman of the Year, beginning a popular partnership that produces nine movies over 25 years.

Tracy leaves MGM in 1955 and continues to work regularly as a freelance star, despite an increasing weariness as he ages. His personal life is troubled, with a lifelong struggle against alcoholism and guilt over his son’s deafness. He becomes estranged from his wife in the 1930s but never divorces, conducting a long-term relationship with Katharine Hepburn in private. Towards the end of his life, he works almost exclusively for director Stanley Kramer. It is for Kramer that he makes his last film, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner in 1967, completed just 17 days before his death.

On June 10, 1967, Tracy awakens at 3:00 AM to make himself a cup of tea in his apartment in Beverly Hills, California that he shares with Hepburn. She hears a loud thump and finds Tracy lying dead on the kitchen floor from a heart attack.

A Requiem Mass is held for Tracy on June 12, 1967 at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in East Hollywood. Pallbearers included George Cukor, Stanley Kramer, Frank Sinatra, James Stewart, and John Ford. Out of consideration for Tracy’s family, Hepburn does not attend the funeral. Tracy is interred at Glendale‘s Forest Lawn Memorial Park, near his wife, Louise, and son John.

During his career, Tracy appears in 75 films and develops a reputation among his peers as one of the screen’s greatest actors. In 1999 the American Film Institute ranks Tracy as the 9th greatest male star of Classical Hollywood Cinema.


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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 Cairbre, the Original MGM Lion

Cairbre, the original Leo the Lion mascot for the Hollywood film studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), is born at the Dublin Zoo on March 20, 1919.

Cairbre is renamed Slats and is trained by Volney Phifer. Slats is used on all black-and-white MGM films between 1924 and 1928. The original logo is designed by Howard Dietz and used by the Goldwyn Pictures Corporation studio from 1916 to 1924. Goldwyn Pictures is ultimately absorbed into the partnership that forms MGM, and the first MGM film that uses the logo is He Who Gets Slapped (1924). Dietz states that he decided to use a lion as the company’s mascot as a tribute to his alma mater Columbia University, whose athletic teams’ nickname is The Lions. He further adds that Columbia’s fight song, “Roar, Lion, Roar“, inspired him to make the lion roar.

Ironically, unlike his successors, Slats does nothing but look around in the logo making him the only MGM lion not to roar, although it is rumored that Volney Phifer trains the lion to growl on cue, despite the fact that synchronized sound is not officially used in motion pictures until 1927.

Slats dies in 1936. However, his hide is currently on display at the McPherson Museum in McPherson, Kansas.


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Birth of Actress Maureen O’Sullivan

maureen-osullivanMaureen Paula O’Sullivan, Irish-American actress best known for playing Jane in the Tarzan series of films starring Johnny Weissmuller, is born in Boyle, County Roscommon on May 17, 1911.

O’Sullivan is the daughter of Evangeline “Mary Eva” Lovatt and Charles Joseph O’Sullivan, an officer in the Connaught Rangers who serves in World War I. She attends a convent school in Dublin, then the Convent of the Sacred Heart at Roehampton, England. One of her classmates there is Vivian Mary Hartley, future Academy Award-winning actress Vivien Leigh. After attending finishing school in France, O’Sullivan returns to Dublin to work with the poor.

O’Sullivan’s film career begins when she meets motion picture director Frank Borzage, who is doing location filming on Song o’ My Heart for 20th Century Fox. He suggests she take a screen test, which she does, and wins a part in the movie, which stars Irish tenor John McCormack. She travels to the United States to complete the movie in Hollywood. O’Sullivan appears in six movies at Fox, then makes three more at other movie studios.

In 1932, she signs a contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. After several roles there and at other movie studios, she is chosen by Irving Thalberg to appear as Jane Parker in Tarzan the Ape Man, opposite co-star Johnny Weissmuller. She is one of the more popular ingenues at MGM throughout the 1930s and appears in a number of other productions with various stars. In all, O’Sullivan plays Jane in six features between 1932 and 1942.

She stars with William Powell and Myrna Loy in The Thin Man (1934) and plays Kitty in Anna Karenina (1935) with Greta Garbo and Basil Rathbone. After co-starring with the Marx Bros. in A Day At The Races (1937), she appears as Molly Beaumont in A Yank at Oxford (1938), which is written partly by F. Scott Fitzgerald. At her request, he rewrites her part to give it substance and novelty.

She plays another Jane in Pride and Prejudice (1940) with Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson, and supports Ann Sothern in Maisie Was a Lady (1941). After appearing in Tarzan’s New York Adventure (1942), O’Sullivan asks MGM to release her from her contract so she can care for her husband who has just left the Navy with typhoid. She retreats from show business, devoting her time to her family. In 1948, she re-appears on the screen in The Big Clock, directed by her husband for Paramount Pictures. She continues to appear occasionally in her husband’s movies and on television. However, by 1960 she believes she has permanently retired. In 1958, Farrow’s and O’Sullivan’s eldest son, Michael, dies in a plane crash in California.

Actor Pat O’Brien encourages her to take a part in summer stock, and the play A Roomful of Roses opens in 1961. That leads to another play, Never Too Late, in which she co-stars with Paul Ford in what is her Broadway debut. Shortly after it opens on Broadway, John Farrow dies of a heart attack. O’Sullivan sticks with acting after Farrow’s death. She is also an executive director of a bridal consulting service, Wediquette International. In June and July 1972, O’Sullivan is in Denver, Colorado, to star in the Elitch Theatre production of Butterflies are Free with Karen Grassle and Brandon deWilde. The show ends on July 1, 1972. Five days later, while still in Denver, deWilde is killed in a motor vehicle accident.

When her daughter, actress Mia Farrow, becomes involved with Woody Allen both professionally and romantically, she appears in Hannah and Her Sisters, playing Farrow’s mother. She has roles in Peggy Sue Got Married (1986) and the science fiction oddity Stranded (1987). Mia Farrow names one of her own sons Ronan O’Sullivan Farrow for her mother. In 1994, she appears with Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers in Hart to Hart: Home Is Where the Hart Is, a feature-length made-for-TV movie with the wealthy husband-and-wife team from the popular weekly detective series Hart to Hart.

Maureen O’Sullivan dies in Scottsdale, Arizona, of complications from heart surgery on June 23, 1998, at the age of 87. O’Sullivan is buried at Most Holy Redeemer Cemetery, Niskayuna, New York. She is survived by six of her children, 32 grandchildren, and 13 great-grandchildren. Michael, her oldest son, is killed at age 19 in a plane crash in 1958.