Why North Tipperary – The Hollywood Connection

Hollywood, Keeper Hill, North Tipperary, IrelandHollywood, Keeper Hill, North Tipperary, Ireland

Did you ever realize how many connections North Tipperary has to Hollywood; it’s true and I’m not just talking about bit-part players or yer wan down the road who just happened to be on some B-Movie set. I’m referring to some major players from the world of Hollywood, who have visited North Tipperary again and again, and some who have made their homes amongst us. So who are they? Well I visited this subject a number of months ago, but since then I’ve added a few names to the previous list. This week I’m going to take another look at some of these world famous names, because you’d never know who’d you meet in and around the highways and byways of North Tipperary.

Rex IngramReginald Ingram Montgomery Hitchcock

So, first of all I’m going to start with the big man himself. Reginald Ingram Montgomery Hitchcock, later to become known as Rex Ingram, was born in Rathmines in Dublin. As a young man his family moved to North Tipperary, whereby his father was employed as a verger in the Borrisokane Church of Ireland and also the Nenagh Church of Ireland. He lived for approximately eighteen months in Nenagh and it was here where he viewed his first moving picture. That was in 1901 at a traveling circus. The experience obviously stuck with him, because as we all know, Rex went on to become one of the great pioneers of Hollywood in the silent era. A plaque in his honour was erected in the town at the house where he lived by the Nenagh Silent Film Festival Committee in February 2013. He died on July 21st 1950.

Gene KellyGene Kelly in ‘Singing in the Rain’

The first of a couple of Hollywood musical greats to be mentioned is the great Gene Kelly – he of Singing in the Rain fame. Gene Kelly loved Ireland and his Irish roots and he especially loved Puckane village. After his wife, Jeannie, passed away in the early 1970’s, Gene Kelly escaped what has been termed as a ‘Hollywood that was buzzing with curiosity and sympathy‘ to Puckane, near the shores of Lough Derg in North Tipperary. That was in 1973 and he spent the best part of a month in the area. There is a wealth of stories about Gene Kelly’s time in his ‘ancestral home’ including one regarding a man named Peter McGrath. Peter walked into Paddy Kennedy’s bar and having stopped momentarily to take in the appearance of the stranger at the end of the bar counter, he then approached him and said: “Did anyone ever tell you that you look a lot like Gene Kelly?” Gene Kelly enjoyed that and jumped up immediately and performed a dance routine to prove his identity.

Bing CrosbyPhotographer unknown – Can anyone educate us on this?

Another musical genius, who had a fondness for North Tipperary was Bing Crosby. The famous crooner was a visitor to Nenagh town during the 1960’s and it is obvious that the town was filled with excitement when word spread around that the Hollywood great was staying within their midst. The full story of this visit is that back in 1961 Bridie Brennan, who was a Borrisokane native that was living and working in Nenagh town, answered an advertisement for a nanny for Bing Crosby and his wife, Kathryn. Over the following years, Bridie became very close to the Crosby’s and even became an adviser and travel companion to Kathryn. A few years after Bridie took up the position, during 1965, Bing Crosby was visiting Ireland to see how a horse named ‘Meadow Court’ of which he had a third share in fared in the Irish Sweeps Derby at the Curragh. Bing stated at the time that he didn’t bet on the horse himself, but he had placed a wager of £2 on the horse for Bridie. Meadow Court was to win the Irish Sweeps Derby that year. While in Ireland, Bing Crosby had decided to travel to Nenagh town in recognition of what Bridie meant to the Crosby’s and he also wanted to see where Bridie had lived. Of course news of his visit to O’Meara’s Hotel spread like wildfire and a number of photos were taken of the visit. Bridie Brennan passed away in the Crosby residence, where she had been greatly cared for, in San Francisco on April 23rd, 1973. Bing Crosby, who regrettably had been unable to attend the obsequies after Bridie’s remains had arrived back to Ireland for burial, arranged through Interflora to have a carpet of flowers delivered to the grave.

MartinSheenMartin Sheen in ‘The West Wing’

So who’s next, well you see, there’s more than one president connected to North Tipperary (see President Barack Obama of Moneygall, which is on the border of County Tipperary and County Offaly and is just 12 miles from Nenagh town) and also (President Ronald Reagan of Ballyporeen, County Tipperary). The world renowned Hollywood actor and star of The West Wing, Martin Sheen, has very strong connections to North Tipperary. His family roots are from the Borrisokane area and it was from here where his mother emigrated to the United States. Martin is a proud son of North Tipperary and is a regular visitor to the area.

Patrick BerginPatrick Bergin

And it doesn’t end there; in fact I’m only starting as there is another famous Hollywood actor who lives within our midst here in North Tipperary. Patrick Bergin lives in a castle that is situated near Cloughjordan. Patrick has plenty of form as an actor including Sleeping with the Enemy, in which he wouldn’t leave poor Julia Roberts alone, and of course Robin Hood along with a number of very impressive titles. He is regularly seen in Nenagh town and other North Tipperary parishes.

Charlie SheenCharlie Sheen

And then there’s Charlie! Charlie Sheen, son of aforementioned Martin Sheen has, through his father and then of course his grand-mother, strong connections to the North Tipperary locality. Martin is very well known as a major Hollywood actor and American television star. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, you’ll never know who you might meet around about North Tipperary.

Emilio EstevezEmilio Estevez

Now I couldn’t leave it at that about the Sheen clan. There’s also Martin‘s other son Emilio. He may have taken the name his father was christened with, but like his brother and of course his father, there is still North Tipperary blood running through his veins. Another major Hollywood connection for North Tipperary. Emilio has a wonderful career in his own right with some wonderful productions behind him like Young Guns, St Elmo’s Fire and The Breakfast Club to name just a few. He also has a career as a director, screenwriter and a producer.

Johnny DeppJohnny Depp

Now Johnny Depp hasn’t being able to find roots to North Tipperary as of yet, that I know of, but he was reported to be in the Toomevara village graveyard searching for his ancestral roots a few years back. But Johnny is no stranger to Nenagh town and the North Tipperary countryside. He’s a very close friend of Shane MacGowan, who is from and lives a few miles from Nenagh and he’s a regular visitor to the area. We’ll just have to dig a little deeper and I’m sure before long we’ll find his true Irish roots in the heartland of North Tipperary, but let me provide you with what is possibly a bit of an exclusive here: I’ve been led to believe, from a very reliable source, that Johnny Depp will again be visiting Nenagh town at some stage over the coming months (October probably). The thing about Johnny Depp’s visits is that he is gone before you’d know he was there, but I’ll keep an eye on that one.

Frank ThorntonFrank Thornton

There is also Frank Thornton, who played Captain Peacock in Are You Being Served? and also other productions like Crooks and Coronets, (1968); Spike Milligan’s The Bed-Sitting Room, (1969); No Sex Please We’re British (1973); The Three Musketeers, (1973); Steptoe and Son, (1974); The Bawdy Adventures of Tom Jones, (1975); and Gosford Park, (2001). Frank Thornton made his professional debut at the age of 19 in the old Confraternity Hall in Thurles town in a production of Terence Rattigan’s play “French Without Tears”.

George ClooneyGeorge Clooney

There are quite a number of other connections to the world of film and television and this is something we are very proud about. To name just a few more, there’s George Clooney who has been reported to have visited North Tipperary in the recent past in search of his own roots. Then there’s Brigie de Courcy (Executive Producer of Fair City and formally Producer on Eastenders), who is married to Nenagh man Kevin McGee (Award-Winning Playwright, Director, Producer, Irish television script-writer). And there is Kevin’s brother Noel, who is also an Irish television script-writer. There are countless others and if you want to remind me of them please leave a comment in the Comment box below. So until the next time …, that’s a wrap!

Posted by Michael ‘Charlie’ McGee

Friday Facts

The Squaw ManThe Squaw Man Poster

I’ve come across another article from way back in the 1930’s and this one is by Mr. Robert E. Sherwood. This one was published in a publication called America As Americans See It back in 1932 and the title of the article was Hollywood: The Blessed and the Cursed! Over the next couple of weeks or so I’m going to reproduce this article and at the same time learn some more about life during the pioneering days of the Silent Film Era! This is another edition of Friday Facts:

HollywoodEarly Hollywood

“The Discovery of Hollywood, like most epoch-making discoveries, was accidental. It happened that, in 1912, Jesse L. Lasky, a vaudeville magnate, joined with his brother-in-law, Samuel Goldfisch, a glove salesman, in the formation of a motion picture producing company. Their first offering (and, they assured themselves, probably their last) was to be “The Squaw Man“. They engaged Cecil B. DeMille as director and Dustin Farnum as star, and sent them to Flagstaff, Arizona, to make the picture. Flagstaff was selected because it sounded as though it would provide suitable backgrounds for the enactment of a vigorous Western melodrama, but when DeMille and Farnum arrived there, and took one look at the prospect from the station platform, they stepped back on the train and continued on to the Pacific Coast. A chance acquaintance happened to mention to them a hamlet called Hollywood, a sleepy suburb of Los Angeles, which is itself the largest suburb on Earth, and they made that their objective. They rented a barn on Vine Street, and there produced “The Squaw Man“, the first feature picture to be born beneath the California sun.”

Early HollywoodProgressing Hollywood

“(I do not know whether there was actually any holly in Hollywood when the first adventurers arrived there, or whether that Christmassy, Dickensian name emerged from the imagination of some pioneer realtor. There is no holly in Hollywood now, nor any green thing that grows by the will of God as opposed to the artifice of man. The water which irrigates the gaudy gardens about the villas of the stars is imported from far distant sources, just as is the supply of talent, ingenuity and sex appeal which animates the cameras.)”

Mary PickfordMary Pickford in ‘Tess of the Storm Country’

“After “The Squaw Man“, came the first of the immortal Keystone comedies, produced by Mack Sennett, with Ford Sterling, Chester Conklin, Mabel Normand, Fatty Arbuckle, Marie Dressler and eventually, Charlie Chaplin; then Adolph Zukor moved his Famous Players organization to Los Angeles to make “Tess of the Storm Country“, starring little Mary Pickford, and David Wark Griffith arrived with his company of Biograph players to produce the first of the epics, “The Birth of a Nation“. In the year 1915, the second gold rush to California assumed colossal proportions.”

CleopatraCleopatra

“As vast prosperity came to Hollywood, so did scandal, and with it, fame unbounded. The sensational stories, printed in the less scrupulous newspapers and magazines, of Byzantine orgies in the film colony – stories of immorality on the grand scale – conveyed to the avid public the assurance that life in Hollywood was a veritable bed of orchids to be shared with the most desirable, the most god-like representatives of the opposite sex. As a direct result of this misconception, Hollywood became the goal toward which traveled the hopes and dreams of all the frustrated morons: it was recognized as the fountainhead of romance, wherein the frailest, pimpliest ribbon clerk could be converted into a devastating Don Juan and the sorriest slavey into a voluptuous Cleopatra.”

Flagstaff 1882Flagstaff Picture from Back in the Day (1882)

Well that’s that for this week. I hope you have enjoyed this week’s article and sure I’ll have the second part of it for you next week. It’s amazing though how fate led the film industry to Hollywood, but now you know how it happened and why, and I’m sure you’ll agree that Flagstaff doesn’t exactly have the same ring to it.

 

Posted by Michael “Charlie” McGee

Silent Movie Picture Book: The Sheik (part 3)

And finally the third part of The Sheik, as is put together by ‘Movies, Silently’. Coming soon to a Nenagh Silent Film Festival near you, but for now click on the link and connect up to Movies, Silently Blog for their collection of stills from the production:

Silent Movie Picture Book: The Sheik (part 3).

A Quote on Thursday

Buster KeatonQuoted by Buster Keaton:

“Is Hollywood the cruelest city in the world? Well, it can be. New York can be like that, too. You can be a Broadway star here one night, and something happens, and then you’re out – nobody knows you on the street. They forget you ever lived. It happens in Hollywood, too.”

Paulette GoddardQuoted by Paulette Goddard:

You live in the present and you eliminate things that don’t matter. You don’t carry the burden of the past.”

Charlie ChaplinQuoted by Charlie Chaplin:

Failure is important. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself.”

Fatty ArbuckleQuoted by Fatty Arbuckle:

Life is a pie fight and then you die.

Clara BowQuoted by Clara Bow:

We had individuality. We did as we pleased. We stayed up late. We dressed the way we wanted. I used to whiz down Sunset Boulevard in my open Kissel, with several red Chow dogs to match my hair. Today, they’re sensible and end up with better health. But we had more fun.”

Cecil B DeMille

Quoted by Cecil B. DeMille:

What I have crossed out I didn’t like. What I haven’t crossed out I’m dissatisfied with.

Friday Facts

Harold LlyodHarold Llyod

Some more facts this week of the golden silent era of film: Well, as movies became more and more popular, memorabilia from the stars of the big screen were sort after to an extent whereby there were thousands of requests for photographs of favourite actors. The actors were only delighted to oblige. They charged their fans 25 cents for a picture, and since they were originally charged just 10 cents for each picture, they made a 15 cents profit for each picture. This helped boost their weekly income with these picture sales totalling more than their weekly salary.

 Allan Dwan

Allan Dwan

One film director, Allan Dwan had worked continuously in motion pictures from 1909 up to 1947, when the Hollywood’s Green Years article was published. During this time Mister Dwan’s salary had ascended $50 a year to earnings of $1,000,000 by 1947. He had made more than 1250 productions of all lengths and his productions had earned more than $500,000,000 up to 1947.

 D. W. Griffith

D. W. Griffith

Directors talked constantly during shooting in the silent era. The Hollywood’s Green Years article reported a typical scene went along these lines: “Come in, Kerrigan (J. M. Kerrigan was an early favourite of the silent era). Go to the table. Pick up a book. Look for something in it. You don’t find it. You’re mad. Put it down. Hard. Now turn toward the fireplace. Walk slowly. Still mad. Take out a cigarette. Light a match. Light a cigarette. Put out the match. Cross to the window. You see someone coming. Someone you love. You look at the door expectantly. All right, come in Jessalyn. (Jessalyn van Trump was one of the first leading ladies). Go to each other. You embrace. You kiss. Hold it. Hold it. You’re saying goodbye. Alright, Kerrigan, get out. Get out.“ If the hero didn’t get out fast enough, the cameraman simply slowed his cranking. Projected at normal speed on the screen, it looked as if the hero had being yanked out. How things change, in the silent era there was obviously plenty of talking during shooting, while nowadays it’s hugely important for silence on the set. That’s all for this week. Now I’m off to dig up some more facts for you for next week.

Friday Facts

journoheadline

Welcome back to our weekly Nenagh Silent Film Festival Friday Facts post. Again I’ve been studying the 1947 article Hollywood’s Green Years, which is a treasure trove of information about the silent era. Of course with this article having being published less than twenty years after the beginning of talkies, the time would have being fresh in many minds. I hope you may be amazed at some of the facts I’ve found as I have been, and you if you want to read the previous Friday Facts posts, you’ll find them under the Category Friday Facts.

 

Hollywood

In 1909 the American Film Company (AFC) sent it’s first unit to California. After a time there was no sign of any word coming back, so a scout was sent out to locate the company. He eventually found it in San Juan Capistrano, where the director had become a confirmed drunkard and the actors and crew were broke and stranded. The scout contacted AFC and advised them of the situation. The reply wire from AFC read: “WE WANT PICTURES. MAKE UP STORY AND DIRECT IT.” The scout did as he was told! Such was the way of things back in the pioneering days of the early silent era.

 

tarentino

The title of the first two-reeler ever shot was called Oil on Troubled Waters. The story was about a heroine who owned oil wells that were located in the sea off California. The villain of the piece coveted the wells, but the hero of the story arrived just in time (Hooray!) Of course, as in every story like this back in the day pre-Tarentino, you have a calm, comfortable setting at the beginning, then an anti-hero or a villain comes along and upsets the apple cart, until the hero arrives to resolve everything, before everything returns to a calm, comfortable setting again. This is usually accompanied with a love interest between the hero and the heroine. (Check out most films you have watched – same rules nearly always apply) Anyway, a fight inevitably happens between the hero and villain and this occurs when the hero is drilling a new well from a rowboat(?) and the villain had swam out to beat the bejaysus out of him (Booo!), however the hero wins through and ends up drowning the villain by sitting upon him. (Tarentino again: Unnecessary violence)

Complaining

After the first two-reeler was screened, there was a lot of people who were very unhappy with this progression in the motion film industry and hundreds of letters were addressed to the powers that be, as well as to the film companies. An extract from on of these letters from a church minister read: “It is morally degrading to have a motion picture more than one reel in length.” The film industry remained tight-lipped over the matter and continued to make two-reel silent films – Thank God! That’s all for this week, but don’t forget to check us out next week when we’ll have some more amazing facts from the silent era.

Posted by Michael ‘Charlie’ McGee