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


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Birth of James Bernard Fagan, Producer & Playwright

james-bernard-faganJames Bernard Fagan, Irish-born actor, theatre manager, producer and playwright in England, is born in Belfast on May 18, 1873.

Fagan is the eldest of the five children of Sir James Fagan, a surgeon at the Belfast Royal Hospital and an inspector of Irish reformatories, and Mary Catherine Fagan, née Hughes. He attends Clongowes Wood College near Clane, County Kildare and then moves to England. Initially interested in a career in the church, he begins studying law at Trinity College, Oxford in 1892 but leaves in 1893 without a degree. He works for a time in the Indian Civil Service but abandons this career for the stage.

Fagan begins his career as an actor with the company of Sir Frank Benson for two years, then joining, from 1895 to 1899, the company of Herbert Beerbohm Tree at Her Majesty’s Theatre. There he appears in Katherine and Petruchio, A Man’s Shadow, Julius Caesar, The Musketeers and Carnac Sahib. He starts writing plays in 1899, with The Rebels, for the time forsaking acting. In 1913 he returns to the stage touring as the Rt Hon. Denzil Trevena in his own play, The Earth. He next writes The Fourth of August (1914) and Doctor O’Toole (1917). In 1917 he produces his first play, his own adaptation of the Brieux play Damaged Goods at St. Martin’s Theatre. He next produces The Wonder Tales and The Little Brother at the Ambassadors Theatre in London.

Fagan takes over the Court Theatre in London’s Sloane Square as a Shakespearean playhouse in 1920. The Times calls his revivals of Twelfth Night, The Merchant of Venice, Henry the Fourth (Part Two) and A Midsummer Night’s Dream “memorable for their freshness, sanity and distinction, and [deserving of] a place in theatrical history.” At the Court, he revives Damaged Goods and, in 1921, with the assistance of the author, produces George Bernard Shaw‘s Heartbreak House, with Edith Evans as “Lady Utterwood.” In 1922 he produces his play The Wheel at the Apollo Theatre. Its success allows him to repay his creditors. Even more successful is his adaptation of Treasure Island at the Savoy Theatre with Arthur Bourchier as “Long John Silver,” which opens December 26, 1922. It is revived every Christmas until the outbreak of World War II.

Fagan is persuaded by Jane Ellis, the actress who with Alfred Ballard founds the Oxford Playhouse “Red Barn” in 1923, to be its first manager. His first production at the Oxford Playhouse is a restaging of Shaw’s Heartbreak House and numbered Shaw among the audience. He produces The Cherry Orchard, at various theatres, to favourable reviews, popularising Anton Chekhov in Britain. From November 16, 1925, with Dennis Eadie, he presents Juno and the Paycock at the Royalty Theatre, thus bringing Seán O’Casey to the attention of London’s theatre-going public. O’Casey’s The Plough follows the next year.

Fagan receives little support from the University of Oxford or the play-going public and resigns in 1929. His successor is Stanford Holme, who broadens its appeal and, despite the straitened times, makes it financially viable. In 1929, he is a director of the Festival Theatre, Cambridge, where his friend Terence Gray is director. He also produces many works for the Irish Players.

Beginning in the 1920s, several of Fagan’s plays are adapted for film. He moves to Hollywood in 1929 for the filming by Paramount Pictures of his play The Wheel as The Wheel of Life. Other film work includes his co-adaptation of the screenplay for the 1932 film Smilin’ Through, and he co-writes Paramount’s Forgotten Commandments the same year. His play Bella Donna is filmed four times, including posthumously in 1946, and a 1936 film, The Improper Duchess is based on his 1931 play of the same name.

James Bernard Fagan dies in Hollywood, California, on February 17, 1933 at the age of 59 of a heart attack following a bout of influenza.

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Birth of Irish Novelist Arthur Joyce Lunel Cary

arthur-joyce-lunel-caryIrish novelist Arthur Joyce Lunel Cary is born in a hospital in Derry, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland on December 7, 1888. Shortly after his birth the family moved to London.

Cary is born into an old Anglo-Irish family, and at age 16 he studies painting in Edinburgh and then in Paris. From 1909 to 1912 he is at Trinity College, Oxford, where he reads law. Having joined the colonial service in 1914, he serves in the Nigeria Regiment during World War I. He is wounded while fighting in Cameroon and returns to civil duty in Nigeria in 1917 as a district officer. West Africa becomes the locale of his early novels.

Resolved to become a writer, Cary settles in Oxford in 1920. Although that year he publishes ten short stories in The Saturday Evening Post, he decides he knows too little about philosophy, ethics, and history to continue writing in good conscience. Study occupies the next several years, and it is only in 1932 that his first novel, Aissa Saved, appears. The story of an African girl converted to Christianity but still retaining pagan elements in her faith, it is followed by three more African novels — An American Visitor (1933), The African Witch (1936), and Mister Johnson (1939) — and a novel about the decline of the British Empire, Castle Corner (1938). Childhood is the theme of his next two novels, his own in A House of Children (1941) and that of a cockney wartime evacuee in the country in Charley Is My Darling (1940).

Cary’s trilogy on art begins with the first-person narration of a woman, Sara Monday, in Herself Surprised (1941) and follows with that of two men in her life, the lawyer Tom Wilcher in To Be a Pilgrim (1942) and the artist Gulley Jimson in The Horse’s Mouth (1944), his best-known novel. Monday is portrayed as a warm-hearted, generous woman who is victimized both by the conservative upper-class Wilcher and by the talented but disreputable painter Jimson. The latter character is a social rebel and visionary artist whose humorous philosophy and picaresque adventures in The Horse’s Mouth helped make him one of the best-known characters in 20th-century fiction.

Similarly, Cary’s other trilogy is seen from the vantage of a politician’s wife in A Prisoner of Grace (1952), the politician himself in Except the Lord (1953), and the wife’s second husband in Not Honour More (1955).

In 1952, Cary has some muscle problems which are originally diagnosed as bursitis, but as more symptoms are noted over the next two years, the diagnosis is changed to that of motor neuron disease (known as Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS) in North America), a wasting and gradual paralysis that is terminal. As his physical powers fail, Cary has to have a pen tied to his hand and his arm supported by a rope to write. Finally, he resorts to dictation until unable to speak, and then ceases writing for the first time since 1912. His last work, The Captive and the Free (1959), first volume of a projected trilogy on religion, is unfinished at his death on March 29, 1957. His short stories are collected in Spring Song (1960).