Barry Fitzgerald – Hollywood’s Lovable Leprechaun

Posted in Rewind by - October 23, 2013
Barry Fitzgerald – Hollywood’s Lovable Leprechaun

Hollywood’s Lovable Leprechaun

Barry Fitzgerald – (10 March 1888 – 14 January 1961)

Lending his distinctive Irish brogue to many classic pictures, the scene-stealing Barry Fitzgerald has the honour of being the only actor in history to be nominated for the Academy Award for both Best Actor and Supporting Actor for the same performance, as “Father Fitzgibbon” in 1944’s ‘Going My way’, ultimately winning for Supporting Actor.

Born William Joseph Shields in Dublin on March 10th 1888, Fitzgerald began acting with the world famous Abbey Players (the National Theatre of Ireland), and shortly thereafter made his debut as The Orator in the 1929 Alfred Hitchcock movie ‘Juno and the Paycock’.

Later, he was invited to the US by John Ford to star in his 1935 version of famed playwright Sean O’Casey’s ‘The Plough and the Stars’. This was the first of four John Ford pictures that Fitzgerald would appear in, the others being ‘The Long Voyage Home (1940), ‘How Green Was My Valley (1941), and the enduring ‘The Quiet Man’ (1952), as boozy matchmaker Michaleen Oge Flynn.

One of the most successful pictures of Barry Fitzgerald’s career was 1944’s ‘Going My Way’, directed by comedy veteran Leo McCarey. As the elder pastor, Fitzgerald shone as the old-fashioned Father Fitzgibbon, who is initially put off by the antics of incoming priest, Father Charles “Chuck” O’Malley (Bing Crosby). ‘Going My Way’ was the highest-grossing picture of the year, and was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, and winning 7, including Best Picture, Best Actor for Crosby, and Supporting Actor for Fitzgerald.

Another wonderful performance came in Rene Clair’s 1945 version of the Agatha Christie perennial ‘And Then There Were None’, co-starring alongside a top notch cast of scene-stealers including Walter Huston, Roland Young and C. Aubrey Smith . Keeping the same ending as the stage play rather than the novel, it was nonetheless exciting and entertaining in equal measure.

Fitzgerald also gave a funny turn in 1941’s ‘Tarzan’s Secret Treasure’, the fifth movie in the popular MGM series starring Johnny Weissmuller. Just the sight of the diminutive Fitzgerald looking and acting rather out of place in the jungle was funny enough, without having to play stooge to the mischievous Cheetah.

One later movie that became a cult classic was Jules Dassin’s1948 film noir ‘The Naked City’, which saw Fitzgerald cast as Detective Lt. Dan Muldoon, who is assigned to the case of a murdered model. Shot in semi-documentary style, it proved so popular that it spawned a TV Series which ran from 1959 to 1963.

Never married, Barry Fitzgerald retired to Dublin in 1959, and died 2 years later on January 14th 1961, aged 72. Whether playing a priest, detective or villain, he always did it with a twinkle in his eye and a grin on his face.

Favourite Movie: And Then There Were None
Favourite Performance: The Quiet Man

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