The war was over and the sea- and airways were open again.
In 1946, Hymie brought his wife and new baby to Dublin to meet his family for the first time.
In June of that year, Jack married Georgina London, in London.
And two years after that, Bertie married Elaine Shillman in Dublin.
And there was another visit in 1951…
And the family visited London, too…
In 1954, the Dublin family converged on London in strength for the marriage of Rosie’s Sonia to Jack Schofield. It was five years since Rosie had died.
Louis followed his instincts and sought the world’s most extravagant and exciting productions for the Gaiety. He brought the glories of ballet to Dubliners with the Vic Wells Ballet, the Ballet Rambert, the Ballet Joos, the Festival Ballet with Anton Dolin and, twice, Russia’s famed Bolshoi.
The Gaiety’s floorboards also felt the beat of Flamenco dancers whom Louis brought to Dublin — the Luisillo Spanish Dancers, Pilar Lopez, Antonio Gades and José Greco, this last considered one of the world’s greatest. The theatre hosted Proms with the Radio Telefis Eireann Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of conductors such as John Barbirolli, Arthur Fiedler, Alceo Galliera and Jean Fournett. Among the soloists were Charles Lynch, Yehudi Menuhin, Maura Lympany, Alfredo Campoli and Peter Katin.
The Gaiety’s stage plays included Winterset (directed by Ria Mooney who also ran the theatre’s School of Acting), which starred Hollywood actors Burgess Meredith and Paulette Goddard; and She Stoops to Conquer, directed by Anew McMaster and featuring Hamlyn Benson, Denis Brennan, Ginette Waddel and Sally Travers.
In 1955, the Gaiety’s license came up for renewal. The Attorney General demanded a number of public safety measures, particularly backstage — emergency exits from dressing rooms, lantern lighting and renovation of property rooms — as well as reconstruction in the Gallery and extending the Upper Circle. The theatre closed for five months, and the cost of these structural alterations was double the estimate. But the theatre emerged not only safer and with its character intact, but also with improved bar facilities, a new coffee room and a larger entrance foyer.
Its reopening was made into a spectacular. Many of the great names of Irish entertainment appeared in a special programme, performed in the presence of the President and Mrs. Seán T. O’Kelly and the Taoisach and Mrs. Eamonn de Valera. Master of Ceremonies was actor Anew McMaster, and he presented Hilton Edwards, Michael MacLíammóir, Cyril Cusack, Eithne Dunne, Charles Mitchel and Norman Rodway in extracts from plays by the Abbey, Gate, Cyril Cusack Company, the Anew McMaster Company and the Illsley McCabe Company.
This was the programme:
On April 5, 1962, the Gaiety hosted At The Midnight Hour, a players’ tribute to the late Tom Jones, the Gaiety’s stage manager. Introduced by Hilton Edwards, it featured Anew McMaster in a Shakespearean recital, Michael MacLíammóir speaking about Irish poetry and literature, and Peter Ustinov performing Italian, French and Russian folk songs.
In June of that year, Louis produced Gaiety At Eight. Devised and directed by Alice Delgarno and Babs de Monte, it featured Josef Locke, Johnny Victory, Danny, Cummins, Frankie Blowers, the Royalettes and the Jimmy Campbell orchestra.
Finian’s Rainbow was presented in 1964 “for a limited season and thereafter.” It featured Jimmy O’Dea, Maureen Potter, Milo O’Shea, Alice Delgarno, Godfrey James, Christopher Casson, the Royalettes and the Gaiety Singers. It was directed and choreographed by Norman Maen, with Alice Delgarno, and was an outstanding success. Sadly, however, it was Jimmy O’Dea’s last Gaiety appearance. Although preproduction of Sinbad The Sailor as the Christmas pantomime was already underway, it was recast to feature Milo O’Shea and the Scots comedian, Johnny Victory.
Jimmy O’Dea had begun his professional life as an optician — or, in his words, an “optiky.” He had met Harry O’Donovan when both were trying to establish careers as straight actors, and they’d appeared together in John McDonagh’s The Irish Jew at the Empire (Olympia) in February 1922. They took the decision to set up the O’D Company on a street corner, and sealed their agreement with a handshake and a pint of stout in a nearby pub. O’Dea appeared as Buttons in the 1923 pantomime of Cinderella at the Queen’s, and the Queen’s was where the O’D Company put on its first production in 1928. Entitled We’re Here, it was written by O’Donovan, and starred O’Dea, Fay Sargent and Connie Ryan. With its success, the O’Dea/ O’Donovan partnership began to flourish, O’Donovan writing the sketches and songs that made the company one of the great attractions of the Irish stage.
While the company also worked in Britain, appearing regularly at the London Coliseum and Liverpool’s Shakespeare Theatre (where it was patronised by Charlie Elliman), O’Dea’s heart remained in Ireland, and he was happiest touring Ireland’s towns and villages with his Dublin productions. O’Dea was one of the very few Dublin-based comedians accepted into the Grand Order of Water Rats, an honour granted only the very best of comedians by their peers.
According to Michael MacLíammóir, he could be compared with Charlie Chaplin, the artistry of the latter stemming from pathos and silent facial comedy, and of the former from pathos, facial comedy and the spoken word.
O’Dea’s comedy wasn’t always intentional, and the Ellimans greatly enjoyed one of his golfing stories. He was in Ballina, County Mayo, touring with his company, and arranged a four for golf at the local club, one of western Ireland’s most picturesque parkland courses.
Word had leaked and a crowd gathered to watch the celebrity. O’Dea turned up in a canary-coloured sweater and black beret. He was the last to drive and, amid hushed expectancy, unluckily topped the ball from the tee, which ran with momentum along the fairway. Disappointed, O’Dea moved quickly away. His 11-year-old caddy, dwarfed by the large golf bag slung over his shoulder, set after him, calling desperately: “Mr. O’Dea! Mr. O’Dea!!” Jimmy ignored him — and suddenly disappeared from the fairway. When the young caddy reached the spot where he’d disappeared, he found Jimmy fallen into a drain, lying with his cap askew and covered in mud. “That’s what I wanted to tell you, Mr. O’Dea!” said the young caddy.
O’Dea also developed a film career, appearing in a number of early Irish-made films for John McDonagh and one for John Ford. His outstanding film success, however, was Walt Disney’s Darby O’Gill and the Little People, released in 1956, in which he played Brian, King of the Leprechauns. He received no screen credit, however, because Disney wanted audiences to believe that leprechauns were real. The film even begins with a thank you note to them from Disney. Also appearing in this Irish classic is a dashing 29-year-old Sean Connery in his first and last singing role.
When the Savoy opened, controversy was raging as to whether the new craze of talkies would edge out silent films. When it celebrated its silver jubilee in April 1954, the cinema had been altered to incorporate a large CinemaScope screen, and it showed Ireland’s first widescreen feature, The Robe, to the astounded eyes and ears of the Dublin public.
The Savoy’s Silver Jubilee programme was opened by Tommy Dando on the organ. An organist of international reputation, Dando had moved to the Savoy, Dublin, in November 1951. Next came Twenty-Five Years’ Review, a look back at the early days of film, compèred by Eddie Byrne, which was followed by the cinemascope feature, Three Coins in a Fountain. On stage were former Irish president William Cosgrave (who’d attended the Savoy’s 1929 opening), External Affairs Minister Liam Cosgrave and Dublin’s Lord Mayor Alfie Byrne.
THE THEATRE ROYAL.
With the end of the European war in 1945, overseas artistes were again appearing at the Royal. Stars such as Grace Moore and Jeannette MacDonald… orchestras such as the Hallé under John Barbirolli, the Liverpool Philharmonic with Malcolm Sargent and the Royal Philharmonic with Thomas Beecham. The Royal Ballet came, with Margot Fonteyn and performed Swan Lake. Alicia Markova and John Gilpin danced on the Royal’s stage with the Festival Ballet, as did Antonio and his Spanish dancers. Bob Hope came, as did Betty Hutton and Judy Garland at the beginning of her European tour. After a slow opening, she charmed full houses for her week’s engagement.
Danny Kaye kept his Dublin audiences enthralled long after the last bus home had left the city terminus. Maurice Chevalier appeared, as did Frankie Laine, Roy Rogers and his horse Trigger, Howard Keel, Gene Autry and Nat King Cole. Frankie Carson, Tommy Steele, Donald Peers, Frankie Vaughan and Dave Allen were among stars who followed them.
The Theatre Royal was still among the most popular rendezvous in Ireland. Despite its size, you never felt alone there, people said, because you always met someone you knew. The luxury of the building, the quality of its theatre, its reasonable admission prices and its personable managers and house staff all combined to maintain its popularity for decades.
After the war, the Queen’s began featuring all-in wrestling on Sunday nights, promoted by Billy Willis. One night, the wrestling began late. The following day’s newspaper quoted Billy, saying: “The show couldn’t start on time because of the Ellimans.” The day after that, the paper carried a clarification from Billy. What he had, in fact, said was that the delay was due to the elements, and nothing to do with the Ellimans. The ship bringing the wrestlers across the Irish Sea from Liverpool had been delayed by bad weather.
In 1951, Dublin’s Abbey Theatre was destroyed by fire. It was the unofficial National Theatre of Ireland, and its company gratefully accepted the Ellimans’ offer of the Queen’s as a temporary home. (The wrestling moved to the Rotunda on Parnell Street.)
At Louis’s funeral over a decade later, Abbey Theatre director Ernest Blythe paid tribute to the family, saying:
When we were in difficulties after the fire, we all deeply appreciated the way in which we were asked to come over and explore the possibility of taking the Queen’s. Louis was a man I had a great liking and respect for. He was really a friend in need.
After the company moved back to a newly built Abbey Theatre, the Queen’s never regained its momentum as a cine-variety theatre. It closed its doors permanently three years later.
Louis, now the lynchpin of the business, was a wellknown and well-liked man. The feature run on him by The Irish Times in 1955 (below) was one of many. When he died, The Irish Independent saluted him as Ireland’s Mr. Showbusiness.
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