Barry Fitzgerald

Barry Fitzgerald


Also Known As
William Joseph Shields
Birth Place
Dublin, IE
March 10, 1888
January 04, 1961
Cause of Death
Complications From Brain Surgery


Going from being one of the leading comedic performers of Ireland's highly respected Abbey Theatre to a second career as a much loved actor on the silver screen, Barry Fitzgerald did not adopt acting as a profession until middle age, but achieved far more in the next 30 years than most of his stage and screen colleagues. Establishing himself as a venerable and diverse character performer...

Photos & Videos

The Catered Affair - Advertising Art
And Then There Were None - Lobby Cards
Going My Way - Movie Posters


Going from being one of the leading comedic performers of Ireland's highly respected Abbey Theatre to a second career as a much loved actor on the silver screen, Barry Fitzgerald did not adopt acting as a profession until middle age, but achieved far more in the next 30 years than most of his stage and screen colleagues. Establishing himself as a venerable and diverse character performer via his work in dozens of stage plays at home and on tour with the Abbey Players, Fitzgerald was soon appearing in movies based on his stage successes and quickly developed a reputation in this medium as an able performer. However, he scaled unexpected heights when cast as an irascible old Catholic priest in the Bing Crosby vehicle, "Going My Way" (1944), which earned him new levels of respect within the movie industry and notoriety with audiences. From that point on, he often played characters of differing profession but similar stripe: old, petulant and loveable. With his plucky demeanour, mischievous smile, natural warmth and soft brogue, the 5'3" Dublin native attained a level of fame unheard of for a character actor and became the only performer in Academy Awards history to receive Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor nominations for the same character in the same film.

The quintessentially Irish performer was born William Joseph Shields on March 10, 1888. After graduating from Skerry's College, his 22-year association with The Abbey Theatre began upon visiting an actor friend backstage. Fascinated by the inner workings of the theater and the craft, Fitzgerald took up acting as a hobby and made his Abbey debut in the play "Hyacinth Halvey" (1914). This was followed by more stage work and a professional pseudonym so that he could remain employed as an administrative officer with The Dublin Board of Trade, while secretly rehearsing during his lunch hour and performing in the evenings. This routine would continue for 15 years until it was clear to Fitzgerald that acting was the path he was meant to take in life. In 1929, he gave up his 20-year civil service career to join the Abbey Players fulltime at the age of 41. By the time he left the company seven years later, he had played over 150 different roles in productions like Sean O'Casey's "The Plough and the Stars" and "Juno and the Paycock," and gone on several overseas tours. Fitzgerald became so identified with his role as The Orator in "Juno" that he was invited to make his film debut in Alfred Hitchcock's rather archaic 1930 adaptation of the play. Similarly, when John Ford wanted to turn "The Plough and the Stars" into a feature, Fitzgerald was enlisted for a cast that also included his younger brother, Arthur Shields, who had followed in his footsteps. That 1936 film was significantly tampered with by RKO Pictures and partially re-shot by another director, but Fitzgerald's performance survived the alterations and a long and fruitful association between the actor and Ford was established.

Between 1932 and 1941, Fitzgerald made 15 appearances on Broadway, recreating his celebrated Abbey performances in the likes of "The Playboy of the Western World," "The Well of the Saints" and two revivals of "The Far Off Hills" and "Juno and the Paycock." In 1935, he received an award from New York City mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, who dubbed him the "greatest character actor in the English-speaking profession of this age." Fitzgerald's screen career also continued during this time, with the actor playing secondary roles in fare like Howard Hawks' screwball comedy "Bringing Up Baby" (1938) - held in the highest regards years later, but a notorious flop in its original release - Ford's "Four Men and a Prayer" (1938), "The Sea Wolf" (1941) and "Tarzan's Secret Adventure" (1941), where he was saved from being mauled by a lion thanks to quick thinking on the part of a production electrician. Working again with Ford, Fitzgerald enjoyed one of his more offbeat roles to date, as a sailor in "The Long Voyage Home" (1940) and Ford also made superb use of the actor's talents in the poignant Welsh family coal-mining drama "How Green Was My Valley" (1941), which won Best Picture that year.

However, it would be director Leo McCarey who gave Fitzgerald the role for which he was best remembered: the irascible Roman Catholic priest Father Fitzgibbon in "Going My Way" (1944). Having run his New York parish for 45 years, an elderly priest is judged in need of help by his bishop. Young and spirited Father O'Malley (Bing Crosby) is sent to be Fitzgibbon's assistant, but is actually there to deal with the church's financial issues and gently ease the old priest out the door. In between this and a handful of subplots, the two bickering stars charmed viewers, helping to make the patently sappy and distended proceedings surprisingly agreeable. As the church figurehead, Fitzgerald - who was actually Protestant in real life - was viewed as both a lead and a supporting part, so Academy voters inadvertently nominated him for both categories. He ended up winning the latter prize, while fellow Best Actor nominee Crosby scored the Best Actor statue. Due to wartime shortages, the Oscars that year were made out of plaster; while practicing his golf swing at home, Fitzgerald accidentally sent the head of his statue sailing across his living room on a line drive. The film ended up with five other Oscar prizes, including Best Picture and Best Director, and topped the box office that year. Fitzgerald's Oscar triumph was almost marred by scandal as a manslaughter charge filed against him the previous year for hitting and killing a pedestrian with his car was dismissed only two months before the ceremony.

Now enjoying considerable popularity with the movie-going public and under contract to Paramount, Fitzgerald continued this loveably cantankerous persona in fare like the musical comedy "Duffy's Tavern" (1945), this time as Bing Crosby's actual father, but did enjoy a slight detour as an evil judge in the Agatha Christie murder mystery "And Then There Were None" (1945). Fitzgerald and Crosby reteamed as practitioners of another honourable profession for 1947's "Welcome Stranger," which echoed the premise of "Going My Way" in rather suspicious fashion. Fitzgerald plays an aging small town doctor who enlists Crosby's younger, less conventional practitioner to fill in for him while on vacation, gradually coming to respect the man. Subsequent roles were in largely unmemorable fare, but Fitzgerald had another chance to stretch as a determined detective in Jules Dassin's groundbreaking police procedural "The Naked City" (1948), which introduced a whole new semi-documentary style to the genre, emphasizing realism via shooting on actual locations, rather than studio backlots. Additional attempts by Paramount to rekindle the "Going My Way" magic by putting Fitzgerald and Crosby in "Variety Girl" (1947) and "Top o' the Morning" (1949) fell short of the mark, but Ford's epic romantic comedy "The Quiet Man" (1952) provided Fitzgerald with another indelible role as a colorful bookie-turned-matchmaker out to bring together John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara. Shot on location in Ireland, the project was a major success for the unlikely studio Republic, known primarily for Westerns and serials, and viewing the lovely Technicolor production became a St. Patrick's Day tradition for many fans.

Going forward, Fitzgerald made a rare television appearance as a petty criminal- turned-department store Santa Claus in a 1955 episode of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" (CBS, 1955-1962) and played what some critics deemed to be a regrettable caricature of his usual hard-drinking Irishman in "The Catered Affair" (1956), the actor's last major feature film. Walt Disney had expressed his hope as early as 1946 that Fitzgerald would star in a movie adaptation of Herminie Templeton Kavanagh's two Darby O'Gill fantasy novels, but by the time the production was finally ready for the cameras in March of 1958, the now 70-year-old actor was experiencing health problems and ultimately returned to Ireland, undergoing exploratory brain surgery in 1959. Eventually titled "Darby O' Gill and the Little People," the production went ahead with Albert Sharpe in the role. After a period of convalescence, Fitzgerald passed away on January 4, 1961 at a nursing home in his birthplace of Dublin. The year prior, he had been awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and in April 1988, Ireland honoured the centennial of Fitzgerald's birth by releasing a stamp bearing his image.

By John Charles



Cast (Feature Film)

Broth of a Boy (1959)
Patrick Farrell
Rooney (1958)
The Catered Affair (1956)
Uncle Jack Conlon
Tonight's the Night (1954)
Thady O'Heggarty
The Quiet Man (1952)
Michaeleen Flynn
Silver City (1951)
R. R. Jarboe
Union Station (1950)
Inspector Donnelly
The Story of Seabiscuit (1949)
Shawn O'Hara
Top O' the Morning (1949)
Officer Briany McNaughton
The Sainted Sisters (1948)
Robbie McCleary
The Naked City (1948)
Lt. Dan Muldoon
Miss Tatlock's Millions (1948)
Denno Noonan
Variety Girl (1947)
California (1947)
Michael Fabian
Welcome Stranger (1947)
Dr. Joseph McRory
Easy Come, Easy Go (1947)
Martin L. Donovan
Two Years Before the Mast (1946)
Terence O'Feenaghty
Duffy's Tavern (1945)
Bing Crosby's father
The Stork Club (1945)
J. B. Bates
And Then There Were None (1945)
Judge Francis J. Quincannon
Incendiary Blonde (1945)
Mike Guinan
I Love a Soldier (1944)
Going My Way (1944)
Father Fitzgibbon
None But the Lonely Heart (1944)
Henry Twite
The Amazing Mrs. Holliday (1943)
Timothy [Blake]
Corvette K-225 (1943)
Stooky O'Meara
Two Tickets to London (1943)
Captain James MacCardie
How Green Was My Valley (1941)
The Sea Wolf (1941)
San Francisco Docks (1941)
The Icky
Tarzan's Secret Treasure (1941)
The Long Voyage Home (1940)
The Saint Strikes Back (1939)
Zipper Dyson
Pacific Liner (1939)
Full Confession (1939)
Michael O'Keefe
Four Men and a Prayer (1938)
The Dawn Patrol (1938)
Bringing Up Baby (1938)
Mr. Gogarty
Ebb Tide (1937)
The Plough and the Stars (1937)
Fluther [Good]
When Knights Were Bold (1936)
Juno and the Paycock (1930)

Life Events


Became a bookkeeping clerk for the Board of Trade's Unemployment Insurance Division; gave up job in 1929 after 14 years of acting on the side


First walk-on part with the Abbey Theatre and took suitably Irish-sounding stage name (one story says that he let the Abbey Theatre pick his name so that the Civil Service wouldn't find out he was moonlighting)


Sean O'Casey wrote "The Silver Tassle" for him which led to his most famous stage role in O'Casey's "Juno and the Paycock"


First film as actor "Juno and the Paycock"


Broadway debut with the Abbey Theatre


Went to US to appear in John Ford's film of O'Casey's "The Plough and the Stars"


Under contract to Paramount

Photo Collections

The Catered Affair - Advertising Art
Here are a few pieces of advertising art prepared by MGM to publicize The Catered Affair (1956), starring Bette Davis, Ernest Borgnine, and Debbie Reynolds.
And Then There Were None - Lobby Cards
And Then There Were None - Lobby Cards
Going My Way - Movie Posters
Here are a few original-release movie posters for Paramount's Going My Way (1944), starring Bing Crosby and Barry Fitzgerald.
The Quiet Man - Movie Posters
Here are a few original American movie posters from John Fords's The Quiet Man (1952), starring John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara.
The Story of Seabiscuit - Movie Poster
Here is an original release American movie poster for The Story of Seabiscuit (1949), starring Shirley Temple and Barry Fitzgerald. This is a Half-sheet poster measuring 22" x 28".
The Story of Seabiscuit - Publicity Stills
Here are a few Publicity Stills from The Story of Seabiscuit (1949), starring Shirley Temple and Barry Fitzgerald. Publicity stills were specially-posed photos, usually taken off the set, for purposes of publicity or reference for promotional artwork.


Movie Clip

Sea Wolf, The (1941) -- (Movie Clip) You Die Too Easy! First appearance by Edward G. Robinson in the title role as sea captain "Wolf Larsen," mostly berating the rescued Van Weyden (Alexander Knox) in the Michael Curtiz version of The Sea Wolf, 1941, from the Jack London novel.
Sea Wolf, The (1941) -- (Movie Clip) Pray For The Night Memorable speech by Barry Sullivan (as "Cooky"), on the row-boat headed for the ship, warning Leach (John Garfield) what awaits, just minutes into The Sea Wolf, 1941, from the Jack London novel, directed by Michael Curtiz.
Dawn Patrol, The (1938) -- (Movie Clip) Those Are The Orders Commander Brand (Basil Rathbone) interrupts his Royal Flying Corps unit, who party constantly to cope with stress, with chilling orders, top pilot Courtney (Errol Flynn) first defiant, then happy again with best pal Scotty (David Niven), in the 1938 version of the WWI drama, The Dawn Patrol.
Quiet Man, The (1952) -- (Movie Clip) Begin At The Beginning John Ford’s Academy Award-winning direction opens with John Wayne arriving in an imaginary Irish town, Ward Bond narrating, Paddy O’Donnell, Web Overlander and Eric Gorman with greetings until Barry FitzGerald intervenes, in The Quiet Man, 1952, co-starring Maureen O’Hara.
Quiet Man, The (1952) -- (Movie Clip) See Here Little Man! Dannaher (Victor McLaglen) throws a tantrum, interrupting Michaeleen (Barry FitzGerald) and Thornton (John Wayne), who’s about to buy his old family home from widow Tillane (Mildred Natwick), though his sister Mary Kate (Maureen O’Hara) doesn’t object, in John Ford’s The Quiet Man, 1952.
Quiet Man, The (1952) -- (Movie Clip) It's Only A Mirage Michaeleen (Barry FitzGerald) conveys Thornton (John Wayne) to Innisfree, explaining to narrating Fr. Lonergan (Ward Bond) that the big American from Pittsburgh was born there, when Mary Kate (Maureen O’Hara) first appears, early in John Ford’s The Quiet Man, 1952.
Naked City, The (1948) -- (Movie Clip) Who Moved The Body? Cranky Lieutenant Muldoon (Barry Fitzgerald) works the crime scene with help from Halloran (Don Taylor) and Schaefer (Arthur O'Connell) in an early scene from The Naked City, 1948.
Naked City, The (1948) -- (Movie Clip) You're Goin' To The Penitentiary Brought in from Boston, theft victim McCormick (Nicholas Joy) gives Lieutenant Muldoon (Barry Fitzgerald) the entree to sweat Frank Niles (Howard Duff), the slippery ex-boyfriend of his murder victim, in The Naked City, 1948, directed by Jules Dassin.
Naked City, The (1948) -- (Movie Clip) Just Another Pretty Girl Lieutenant Muldoon (Barry Fitzgerald) consoles the parents (Grover Burgess and Adelaide Klein) of a murder victim, then producer Mark Hellinger narrates over Manhattan scenery in The Naked City, 1948.
Long Voyage Home, The (1940) -- (Movie Clip) Hates And Desires Dialogue-free opening by director John Ford and screenwriter Dudley Nichols, from a film praised by the original author Eugene O'Neill, depicting Ward Bond, John Wayne, Joseph Sawyer, Ian Hunter, Barry Fitzgerald et al, in The Long Voyage Home, 1940.
Long Voyage Home, The (1940) -- (Movie Clip) The Land's Through With Me West-Indian island girls on board to party, Yank (Ward Bond) indulging, as sage Cocky (Barry Fitzgerald) and sullen Smitty (Ian Hunter) muse together, early in John Ford's The Long Voyage Home, 1940, adapted from four Eugene O'Neill plays.
Long Voyage Home, The (1940) -- (Movie Clip) This Ain't No Life Sailor Yank (Ward Bond) gravely injured in a storm at sea, Driscoll (Thomas Mitchell), Ole (John Wayne), Davis (Joseph Sawyer) and Axel (John Qualen) offering what support they can, in John Ford's The Long Voyage Home, 1940, adapted from Eugene O'Neill.


Top O' The Morning (1949) -- (Original Trailer) From Paramount and Bing Crosby Enterprises, with direct reference to their earlier hits Going My Way, 1944 and Welcome, Stranger!, 1947, the trailer for Top O’ The Morning, 1949, in which Bing plays a singing insurance investigator come to Ireland following the theft of the Blarney Stone, with Barry Fitzgerald as the local cop.
Quiet Man, The - (Original Trailer) John Wayne is an Irish-born ex-boxer who retires to Ireland and searches for the proper wife in John Ford's The Quiet Man (1952).
Going My Way - (Original Trailer) Eight Oscars including Best Picture and Best Actor went to Going My Way (1944) the story of a young singing priest (Bing Crosby) in a new parish.
Bringing Up Baby - (Re-issue Trailer) A madcap heiress (Katharine Hepburn) upsets the staid existence of a straitlaced scientist (Cary Grant) in Howard Hawks' classic screwball comedy, Bringing Up Baby (1938).
How Green Was My Valley - (Re-issue Trailer) Five Oscars®, including Best Picture and Director, went to John Ford's portrait of a Welsh mining town, How Green Was My Valley (1941).
Dawn Patrol, The (1938) - (Original Trailer) A flight commander in France almost cracks under the pressure of sending men to their deaths in The Dawn Patrol (1938) starring Errol Flynn.
Union Station - (Original Trailer) A secretary gets caught up in the hunt for kidnappers at Union Station (1950) starring William Holden.
Welcome Stranger - (Original Trailer) Going My Way stars Bing Crosby and Barry Fitzgerald reunite as small town doctors in Welcome Stranger (1947).
None But The Lonely Heart - (Re-issue Trailer) A young ne'er-do-well (Cary Grant) tries to get his life on track to help his ailing mother (Ethel Barrymore) in None But The Lonely Heart (1944).
Tarzan's Secret Treasure - (Original Trailer) Prospectors kidnap Jane and Boy to force the jungle king (Johnny Weissmuller) to reveal the location of a golden treasure in Tarzan's Secret Treasure (1941).
Stork Club, The - (Original Trailer) New York's famous The Stork Club (1945) is the setting for this Betty Hutton musical about a hat check girl and a millionaire.
Sea Wolf, The - (Original Trailer) Shipwrecked fugitives try to escape a brutal sea captain who's losing his mind in The Sea Wolf starring Edward G. Robinson.


Arthur Shields