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Barry Fitzgerald was born William Joseph Shields in Dublin, Ireland in 1888. He worked at the Unemployment Insurance Division in Dublin, but in his twenties he got some stage roles, and in his thirties he joined the Abbey Theater. He took a quintessential Irish name for his acting career! He quit his day job and started acting full-time. He was friends with famed Irish playright Sean O'Casey, and he performed in his Juno and the Paycock on stage, and when Alfred Hitchcock made a film version in 1930, he repeated his role. He continued on the Irish stage until 1936, when director John Ford convinced him to go to the U.S. for the film version of O'Casey's The Plough and the Stars. He remained in Hollywood, and whenever there was a part for a crusty old Irishman, Fitzgerald got the role! John Ford especially liked casting this diminutive man (he was just 5' 4") opposite large actors like John Wayne! In 1941, he had one of his best roles as "Cooky" in The Sea Wolf, opposite Edward G. Robinson as Wolf Larson, and also John Garfield and Ida Lupino. I highly recommend this very entertaining movie adaptation of the Jack London classic, and you won't miss Fitzgerald's big scene! In 1944, Fitzgerald had the best role of his career, as Father Fitzgibbon in Leo McCarey's Going My Way. This tale of a crusty old Irish Catholic priest (ironically, Fitzgerald was a Protestant!) who is assigned a young priest to save his parish from financial ruin is a beautiful movie and features wonderful performances by Fitzgerald and his co-star, Bing Crosby. It also has a most memorable ending and I doubt there was a dry eye in the house after the end of this movie when it played in 1944! Paramount Pictures wanted to be certain that Fitzgerald would receive the Oscar he so richly deserved for this movie, and they managed to get him nominated for both Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor (he won the latter) and the Academy immediately changed their rules so this double nomination could never happen again! Fitzgerald had an eight year younger brother, Arthur Shields, who looked remarkably like a younger version of his older brother. While Shields never achieved the notoriety of his brother, he had a long and distinguished career, appearing in nearly 100 movies, including several with his brother. In 1952, both brothers took major roles in John Ford's The Quiet Man, starring John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara, another wonderful movie (they both appeared in a number of Ford's films over the years). In 1959, Fitzgerald had the starring role in his last movie, Broth of a Boy and then he retired back to Dublin where he passed away in 1961 at the age of 72. I highly recommend seeing the movies mentioned above (both for Fitzgerald's performances, and because they are wonderful movies!). Fitzgerald was a little man who had a big talent and who added much to every movies he appeared in. He surely is one of the best remembered "character" actors of all time!
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