Micheál Mac Liammóir, British-born Irish actor, playwright, impresario, writer, poet and painter, is born Alfred Willmore on October 25, 1899. He is born to a Protestant family living in the Kensal Green district of London. He co-founds the Gate Theatre with his partner Hilton Edwards and is one of the most recognizable figures in the arts in twentieth-century Ireland.
As Alfred Willmore, he is one of the leading child actors on the English stage, in the company of Noël Coward. He appears for several seasons in Peter Pan. He studies painting at London’s Slade School of Fine Art, continuing to paint throughout his lifetime. In the 1920s he travels all over Europe. He is captivated by Irish culture and learns the Irish language which he speaks and writes fluently. He changes his name to an Irish version, presenting himself in Ireland as a descendant of Irish Catholics from Cork. Later in his life, he writes three autobiographies in Irish and translates them into English.
While acting in Ireland with the touring company of his brother-in-law Anew MacMaster, Mac Liammóir meets the man who becomes his partner and lover, Hilton Edwards. Their first meeting takes place in the Athenaeum, Enniscorthy, County Wexford. Deciding to remain in Dublin, where they live at Harcourt Terrace, the pair assists with the inaugural production of Galway‘s Irish language theatre, An Taibhdhearc. The play is Mac Liammóir’s version of the mythical story Diarmuid agus Gráinne, in which Mac Liammóir plays the lead role as Diarmuid.
Mac Liammóir and Edwards then throw themselves into their own venture, co-founding the Gate Theatre in Dublin in 1928. The Gate becomes a showcase for modern plays and design. Mac Liammóir’s set and costume designs are key elements of the Gate’s success. His many notable acting roles include Robert Emmet/The Speaker in Denis Johnston‘s The Old Lady Says “No!” and the title role in Hamlet.
In 1948, Mac Liammóir appears in the NBC television production of Great Catherine with Gertrude Lawrence. In 1951, during a break in the making of Othello, he produces Orson Welles‘s ghost-story Return to Glennascaul which is directed by Hilton Edwards. He plays Iago in Welles’s film version of Othello (1951). The following year, he goes on to play ‘Poor Tom’ in another Welles project, the TV film of King Lear (1953) for CBS.
Mac Liammóir writes and performs a one-man show, The Importance of Being Oscar, based on the life and work of Oscar Wilde. The Telefís Éireann production wins him a Jacob’s Award in December 1964. It is later filmed by the BBC with Mac Liammóir reprising the role.
In 1969 Mac Liammóir has a supporting role in John Huston‘s The Kremlin Letter. In 1970 he performs the role of narrator on the cult album Peace on Earth by the Northern Irish showband, The Freshmen and in 1971 he plays an elocution teacher in Curtis Harrington‘s What’s the Matter with Helen?.
Mac Liammóir claims when talking to Irish playwright Mary Manning, to have had a homosexual relationship with General Eoin O’Duffy, former Garda Síochána Commissioner and head of the paramilitary Blueshirts in Ireland, during the 1930s. The claim is revealed publicly by RTÉ in a documentary, The Odd Couple, broadcast in 1999. However, Mac Liammóir’s claims have not been substantiated.
Mac Liammóir’s life and artistic development are the subject of a major study by Tom Madden, The Making of an Artist. Edwards and Mac Liammóir are the subject of a biography, titled The Boys by Christopher Fitz-Simon.
Micheál Mac Liammóir dies at the age of 78 on March 6, 1978. Edwards and Mac Liammóir are buried alongside each other at St. Fintan’s Cemetery, Sutton, Dublin.