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Saturday 16 December 2017

How the Hollywood moguls stole stars of Abbey

Ken Sweeney Entertainment Reporter

The Abbey often refused permission to let their actors appear in Hollywood movies

THEY could earn more from one film in Hollywood than from six years on stage in Dublin.

Their commanding stage presence and well enunciated voices made them perfect for the new talking movies.

Hollywood's agents fell over themselves to sign them up and Oscar glory followed as they left Ireland for Tinseltown.

A new book tells the story of how, in the 1930s, Hollywood stole some of the Abbey Theatre's most talented stage actors to make film classics including 'How Green Was My Valley', 'The Long Voyage Home', 'She Wore A Yellow Ribbon' and 'The Quiet Man'.

The book 'Hollywood Irish' by Adrian Frazier reveals how one-time stars of our National Theatre went on to enjoy long film careers in Hollywood, making hundreds of movies between them.

The stars included Will Shields, better known by his stage name Barry Fitzgerald, his brother Arthur Shields, Sara Allgood, JM Kerrigan and Una O'Connor.

The story starts in the early 1930s when, in an attempt to raise money, the Abbey Theatre sent a troup of its actors to tour the US.

They came to the attention of Irish Hollywood director John Ford, who was then making the Irish film 'The Informer'.

"John Ford was so impressed by the Abbey actors he immediately cast one of them, Dennis O'Dea, in his film. He then approached the Abbey to use their actors in a series of movie versions of Sean O'Casey plays," said Mr Frazier, who is Professor of English at NUI Galway.

"The Abbey couldn't refuse simply because of how much money Ford was offering them."

And after the first film 'The Plough And The Stars' (1936), the rest of Hollywood wanted to sign Abbey actors.

"This was a time when talking movies were taking over and here were these unique stage actors over from Ireland with incredible voices. The Abbey actors were highly regarded in Hollywood and every agent was pursuing them," added Mr Frazier.

However, the Abbey Theatre back in Dublin was less than happy to lose its stage stars.

"The Abbey fought Hollywood. They didn't want their actors doing films in Hollywood, even though they could earn more in six weeks on a Hollywood film than they could working on stage in Dublin for six years.

"The Abbey often refused permission to let their actors appear in Hollywood movies or insisted they receive 50pc of what the actor was being paid for the role."

Films like John Ford's 'How Green Was My Valley' beat 'Citizen Kane' to be voted Best Film at the Oscars in 1941.

Dubliner Barry Fitzgerald later won an Oscar himself for Best Supporting Actor in the Bing Crosby classic 'Going My Way' in 1944.

'Hollywood Irish: John Ford, Abbey Actors and the Irish Revival in Hollywood' by Adrian Frazier is published by Lilliput Press

Irish Independent

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