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


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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.


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Birth of Shakespearean Actress Harriet Smithson

Harriet Constance Smithson, Anglo-Irish Shakespearean actress of the 19th century and best known as the first wife and muse of Hector Berlioz, is born at Ennis, County Clare on March 18, 1800.

Her father, William Joseph Smithson, is an actor and theatrical manager from Gloucestershire, England, and her mother is an actress whose full name is unknown. She also has a brother, Joseph Smithson, and a sister, name also unknown. In October 1801, she is left in the care of Reverend James Barrett, a priest of the Church of Ireland, parish of Drumcliffe. Barrett becomes her guardian and raises her as though she were his own daughter. He instructs her “in the precepts of religion,” and keeps everything connected with the stage from her view. After his death on February 16, 1808, the Smithsons send Harriet to a boarding school in Waterford.

On May 27, 1814, Smithson makes her first stage appearance at the Theatre Royal, Dublin, as Albina Mandevill in Frederick Reynolds‘s The Will. Her performance is well received. In 1815, she takes her parents’ place in Montague Talbot’s company in Belfast after they return to Dublin. The season opens on January 1, 1816, where she extends her range in roles, performing in multiple comedies. She then travels to Newry, Limerick, Dublin, and Birmingham, where she joins Robert Elliston‘s company. She spends the next two months playing over forty roles in various genres.

Four years later, January 20, 1818, Smithson makes her first London appearance at Drury Lane as Letitia Hardy in The Belle’s Stratagem. Her first performance receives mixed reviews from critics, but she quickly gains some favour of critics and performers as she obtains more experience. She joins the permanent company at the Royal Coburg Theatre later that year. However, she rejoins Drury Lane Company in the autumn of 1820. On February 20, 1821, she takes the lead female role in Thérèse by John Howard Payne, when the cast actress falls ill. Overall, the London public remembers her as The Times put it, “a face and features well adapted to her profession; but [an actress] not likely to make a great impression on a London audience, or to figure among stars of the first magnitude.”

In 1827, Smithson makes her Paris début as Lydia Languish in The Rivals at the Théâtre de l’Impératrice. Though she receives negative reviews for this role, she is highly praised for her beauty and ability in the subsequent performance of She Stoops to Conquer. On September 11, 1827, she is given the small part of Ophelia next to Charles Kemble in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. She leaves a long lasting impression on the French through her interpretation of Ophelia’s madness, utilizing pantomime and natural presentation.

The tremendous success of Hamlet leads to the announcement of Romeo and Juliet, for September 15. Smithson is cast as Juliet, where she revolutionizes the women’s role in theatre by becoming as important as her male counterpart. Until this point, women’s lines in theatre are heavily cut and censored to reduce the role for the company’s “restricted talent.” Again, the production is widely well received. On September 18, Shakespeare’s Othello becomes the third Shakespeare tragedy to be performed by The English theatre. Her performance as Desdemona is less effective, but the production is popular enough to be repeated the following week. She is cast as Jane Shore in the renowned tragedy The Tragedy of Jane Shore, a role in which she moves her audience to tears. The production soon becomes the most performed play in the English season. At the end of her time in France, she had acted in several productions with famous actors such as William Charles Macready, Edmund Kean, and Charles Kemble.

As opportunities to continue her work in Paris dwindle, Smithson returns to London to perform Jane Shore again. The production opens at Covent Garden on May 11, 1829 under unfavorable circumstances. Some audience members, who had read her reviews before she went to Paris, feel reluctant to attend the show. However, just seven days after her next performance as Juliet, in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the press gives her glowing reviews.

After Covent Garden closes for the summer in 1832, Smithson tours England to minor theatres performing almost exclusively in tragedies. In June 1832, she joins the Theatre Royal Haymarket, where she has limited success and receives criticism about her weight.

In 1830, Smithson goes back to Paris to set up an English theatre under her own management. She obtains permission to perform at the Theatre-Italien where she performs several unsuccessful plays. A year later, she breaks her leg and is forced to put her career on hold until her leg heals, leaving her in great debt. She gives her last performance, as Ophelia, on December 15, 1836, before her health deteriorates.

Toward the end of her life, Smithson suffers from paralysis, which leaves her barely able to move or speak. She dies on March 3, 1854, at her home on the rue Saint-Vincent, and is buried at the Cimetière Saint-Vincent. Berlioz has her body is later reinterred at the Montmartre Cemetery when Cimetière Saint-Vincent undergoes redevelopment.

(Pictured: Oil on canvas portrait of Harriet Smithson by Claude-Marie-Paul Dubufe, located at the Musee Magnin, Dijon, France)


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Death of English Actress Ellen Kean

LEAD Technologies Inc. V1.01Ellen Kean, one of the finest English actresses of her day, dies in Bayswater, City of Westminster, England on August 20, 1880. She is known as Ellen Tree until her marriage in 1842, after which she is known both privately and professionally as Mrs. Charles Kean and always appears in productions together with her husband.

Kean is born Eleanora Tree in Ireland on December 12, 1805, the third of four daughters of Cornelius Tree, an official of the East India Company in London. Her three sisters become actresses, but, unlike Ellen, retire from the stage when they marry. Her professional stage debut is in a musical version of Twelfth Night in London in 1822 as Olivia alongside her sister Maria as Viola. She gains experience touring in the provinces, and from 1826 is a regular member of the companies at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane and Theatre Royal Haymarket, making a success in The Wonder and The Youthful Queen. At the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden she takes on the roles of William Shakespeare‘s Romeo to the Juliet of Fanny Kemble, Françoise de Foix in Francis I, and Lady Townley in The Provoked Husband.

In 1832, by now established as a leading actress, Tree accepts an engagement in Hamburg, Germany, where a junior member of the company is Charles Kean. He had made an undistinguished debut at Drury Lane in 1827, and he and Tree had acted together in 1828 in a play called Lovers’ Vows and later in Othello. In the German season they fall in love, but are persuaded by family and friends not to marry in haste. Tree returns to London and resumes her successful West End career, including a considerable success in Ion in another breeches role. At the end of 1836, Tree goes to the United States, where she tours in Shakespeare for more than three years, playing heroines such as Rosalind, Viola and Beatrice, among other roles. By the time of her return to England in 1839, she has made a profit of £12,000 on the tour, equivalent to at least £1 million in modern terms.

By 1841 Charles Kean has established himself as a successful actor, and he and Tree appear together in Romeo and Juliet at the Theatre Royal Haymarket. They are married the next year, and she at once switches her professional name from Ellen Tree to Mrs. Charles Kean. For the next nine years they appear together at the Haymarket, making a joint visit to the United States in 1846. In 1850, Kean takes over the management of the Princess’s Theatre in London. The Times called this “the most important period of Mrs. Kean’s career…. Hitherto she had been the Rosalind and the Viola of the stage; henceforward her name was to be associated with characters of a more matronly type” in roles including Lady Macbeth and Gertrude in Hamlet. The same writer also credits her for “the good taste and artistic completeness” of Kean’s productions. Ellen Terry, who makes her first stage appearance as the boy Mamillius in The Winter’s Tale, remembers Kean “as Hermione wearing a Greek wreath round her head and a crinoline with many layers of petticoats.”

Charles Kean dies in 1868, and his widow retires from the stage, living quietly in Bayswater, in the City of Westminster, where she dies at the age of 73 on August 20, 1880. The Times in its obituary says, “Mrs. Kean is not to be numbered with the greatest votaries of the English stage, but her acting was distinguished by considerable power, tenderness and refinement.” She is buried in a vault alongside her husband at Catherington, Hampshire.

(Pictured: “Charles Kean and Wife Ellen Tree” by Mathew Brady Studio (1844-1894), modern albumen print from wet plate collodion negative, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution)


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Birth of Stage Actress George Anne Bellamy

george-anne-bellamyGeorge Anne Bellamy, English actress whose stage career and personal life are, in their irregularity, not entirely atypical of her era, is born in County Fingal on April 23, 1727. Her best performances are in such tragic roles as Desdemona in Othello and Juliet in Romeo and Juliet.

Bellamy is the illegitimate daughter of a Quaker lady who elopes from boarding school with the diplomat James O’Hara, 2nd Baron Tyrawley. She is named George Anne through a mishearing of the name Georgiana at her christening. Though her mother marries a Captain Bellamy in Lisbon, Bellamy is acknowledged by Tyrawley as his daughter and he provides for her needs, including her education at a convent in Boulogne-sur-Mer. While living with her mother in London, she meets the theatrical manager John Rich and other leading stars of the stage, and she soon determines to pursue an acting career.

Bellamy’s early roles at Covent Garden, beginning about 1744, are as Miss Prue in Love for Love and with James Quin in The Orphan. Her reputation as an actress rests largely on her good looks and her “soft” feminine manner. Her career reaches its pinnacle when, in 1750, her performance of Juliet to David Garrick’s Romeo at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane is said to surpass the work of the revered Susannah Cibber in a rival production of the play at Covent Garden.

Riotous living, including a legal and a bigamous marriage, takes its toll on Bellamy’s beauty and her appeal to managers. Her later life is marred by ill health and credit troubles. Her last appearance is at Drury Lane on May 24, 1785 at her own benefit concert. She is unable to act, but speaks briefly to the audience.

In the same year Bellamy publishes “An Apology for the Life of George Anne Bellamy” in six volumes. The salacious work is said to be ghost written by Alexander Bicknell.

George Anne Bellamy dies in poverty on February 16, 1788 in London.

(Pictured: George Anne Bellamy by F Lindo exhibited in 1833 now owned by Garrick Club)


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Birth of Academy Award Winning Actor Daniel Day-Lewis

Sir Daniel Michael Blake Day-Lewis, English actor who holds both British and Irish citizenship, is born in Kensington, London, England, on April 29, 1957.

Day-Lewis is the son of poet Cecil Day-Lewis and English actress Jill Balcon. His father, who was born in Ballintubbert, County Laois, was of Protestant Anglo-Irish and English background, lived in England from the age of two, and later became the Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom. Day-Lewis’s mother was Jewish, and his maternal great-grandparents’ Jewish families emigrated to England from Latvia and Poland. His maternal grandfather, Sir Michael Balcon, was the head of Ealing Studios.

Growing up in London, he excels on stage at the National Youth Theatre, before being accepted at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, which he attends for three years. Despite his traditional actor training at the Bristol Old Vic, he is considered to be a method actor, known for his constant devotion to and research of his roles. He often remains completely in character for the duration of the shooting schedules of his films, even to the point of adversely affecting his health. He is one of the most selective actors in the film industry, having starred in only five films since 1998, with as many as five years between roles. Protective of his private life, he rarely gives interviews and makes very few public appearances.

Day-Lewis shifts between theatre and film for most of the early 1980s, joining the Royal Shakespeare Company and playing Romeo in Romeo and Juliet and Flute in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, before appearing in the 1984 film The Bounty. He stars in My Beautiful Laundrette (1985), his first critically acclaimed role, and gains further public notice with A Room with a View (1985). He then assumes leading man status with The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988).

One of the most acclaimed actors of his generation, Day-Lewis has earned numerous awards, including three Academy Awards for Best Actor for his performances in My Left Foot (1989), There Will Be Blood (2007), and Lincoln (2012), making him the only male actor in history to have three wins in the lead actor category and one of only three male actors to win three Oscars. He is also nominated in this category for In the Name of the Father (1993) and Gangs of New York (2002). He has also won four BAFTA Awards for Best Actor in a Leading Role, three Screen Actors Guild Awards, and two Golden Globe Awards. In November 2012, Time names Day-Lewis the “World’s Greatest Actor.”

In 2008, while receiving the Academy Award for Best Actor for There Will Be Blood from Helen Mirren, who presented the award, Day-Lewis kneels before her and she taps him on each shoulder with the Oscar statuette, to which he quips, “That’s the closest I’ll come to ever getting a knighthood.” In November 2014, Day-Lewis is formally knighted by Prince William, Duke of Cambridge at Buckingham Palace for services to drama.

Day-Lewis and his wife, Rebecca Miller, have lived in Annamoe, County Wicklow since 1997.


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Birth of Stage Actress Julia Betterton Glover

julia-betterton-gloverJulia Betterton Glover, Irish-born stage actress well known for her comic roles in the late 18th and 19th centuries, is born on January 8, 1779 in Newry, Northern Ireland.

“Betterton” is not her real name, despite her father`s promotion of the fiction. She is born Julianna Butterton, the daughter of the Newry`s theatre manager William Butterton. His venture fails and he decides there will be financial benefit to him if her name is changed to “Betterton,” claiming links to a famous actor and long dead Thomas Betterton. With this deception he and his family travel round the theatres and the young Julia is acclaimed as an infant acting prodigy in York, the West Country, Bath, and elsewhere.

In 1787, she joins the York Circuit under manager Tate Wilkinson and appears as the Page in Thomas Otway‘s The Orphan, as well as the Duke of York with George Frederick Cooke in Richard III. When Cooke is cast as Glumdalca, the Queen of the Giants, in Henry Fielding‘s burlesque play Tom Thumb, Cooke chooses Julia to play the title role.

In 1790, at age nine, she makes her debut in Scotland at the Dumfries Theatre Royal. In 1795 she goes to Bath and plays the parts of Juliet, Imogen, Desdemona, Lady Macbeth, and Lydia Languish. She becomes well known, particularly praised for her comic role as Languish, and news of her success reaches London. A number of job offers are made, but they are declined by her father. He eventually accepts a lucrative offer, taking her salary for himself, for which she makes her London début in 1797 as Percy by Hannah More.

In 1800, her father sells her in marriage to Samuel Glover, the son of an industrial family from Birmingham, for £1, 000, although the money is never paid. Unhappily married, she has eight children, four of whom survive childhood. In 1820, she plays Hamlet at the Lyceum Theatre to critical acclaim. In 1822, she appears as Nurse in Romeo and Juliet at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Her daughter Phyllis plays Juliet. On February 8, 1837, her father, with whom she has had an unhappy relationship, dies.

One of her sons is Edmund Glover and another is William Howard Glover. In 1850, Glover announces her retirement from the stage. After two weeks confined to her bed, she appears at Drury Lane for her farewell benefit performance on July 12, 1850 as Mrs. Malaprop in The Rivals. She is noticeably ill and weak during her performance and is unable to stand to receive her applause at the end of the play. Instead, the curtain rises to reveal Glover seated, surrounded by the rest of the cast. She dies in London four days later on July 16, 1850. She is buried in St. George’s Churchyard Gardens in London.


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Birth of Irish Actor Spranger Barry

spranger-barry

Spranger Barry, actor, is born in Skinner’s Row, Dublin, on November 23, 1719. Barry is the son of a silversmith, to whose business he is brought up. He takes over the business but is not successful.

His first appearance on the stage is at the Theatre Royal, Smock Alley, Dublin, on the February 5, 1744, and this engagement at once increases its prosperity. His first London appearance is made in 1746 as Othello at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Here his talents are speedily recognized, and in Hamlet and Macbeth he alternates with David Garrick, arousing the latter’s jealousy by his success as Romeo. This results in his leaving Drury Lane for the Covent Garden Theatre in 1750, accompanied by Susannah Maria Cibber, his Juliet. Both houses simultaneously put on Romeo and Juliet for a series of rival performances, and Barry’s Romeo is preferred by the critics to Garrick’s.

In 1758, Barry opens the Crow Street theatre in Dublin, and later a new theatre in Cork. He stages many successful productions but seems to have lived beyond his means. In 1767 he returns to London to play at the Haymarket Theatre, then under the management of Samuel Foote. As his second wife, he marries in 1768 the actress Ann Street Dancer, and he and Mrs. Barry play under Garrick’s management, Barry appearing in 1767, after ten years absence from the London stage, in Othello, his greatest part. In 1774 they both move to Covent Garden, where Barry remains until his death on January 10, 1777.