Cyril Cusack

LifeWorksCriticismCommentaryQuotationsReferencesNotes

Life
1910-1993; b. Kentani, Kenya, where his father James was sargeant in the Mounted Police; son of Alice Violet [née] Cole, distantly related to Dan Leno, a noted comedian; his mother acted in London as Charlie Norton after his parents early separation; Breffni O’Rourke his stepfather, joining together the O’Brien and Ireland Players, touring company; arrived in Ireland in 1916; first appeared in East Lynne, in Co. Tipperary, aged 7; appeared in film of Knocknagow (1917); ed. Dominican Coll., Newbridge and UCD (Politics, Mod. History & Roman Law), with Brian O’Nolan et al.; abandoned plans of taking law degree; joined Abbey 1932; first appeared in London in a small part in Bennett’s Milestones (‘suddenly reaised that they liked me’);
 
appeared in one-acter by A. P. Fanning, Vigil, dir. Lennox Robinson; appeared in over 60 productions at Abbey to 1945, with excursions to Gate and Gaelic Players; occasional London appearance included in Synge’s Playboy, 1938 (as Christy), O’Neill’s Ah Wilderness!, 1936, and Les Parent Terrible [q.d.]; dropped from Haymarket production when he arrived late and drunk to appear as Dubedat opp. Vivian Leigh in The Doctor’s Dilemma, 1942; appt. manager of Gaiety Th., Dublin; produced Romeo and Juliet (as Romeo), and O’Casey’s Bishop’s Bonfire (1955); appeared in his own Irish-language play, Tar éis an Aifreann , dir. by Tomás Mac Anna at the Dublin Th. Fest. (Gate 1942); became a stockholder, and then a board member of the Abbey, 1965;
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revived Boucicault’s The Shaughran, 1968, appearing triumphantly as Conn; played The Cherry Orchard (Abbey 1968), Crystal and Fox (1967-70), Hadrian VII ((1970), Vicar of Wakefield (1974), Plough and the Stars (1976), appearing as Fluther in O'Casey's Juno and the Paycock play under MacAnna’s direction; Merchant of Venice (1984); set up own theatre company from film money and played Arms and the Man [1937] and Devil’s Disciple (both 1947); Poomy, at Sarah Bernhardt, Paris (1954); Roger Casement (1959); produced and played at the Olympia his own adaptation of The Trial as The Temptation of Mr O. (1960), a lengthy ‘Dublinization’ of Kafka’s Trial in ‘rhythmic verse’ that emptied the theatre; acted with Royal Shakespeare Co., in 1963, played Cassius; lso appeared in The Physicists and Andorra; with English National Theatre played in The Tempest (1974);
 
in Dublin, John Bull’s Other Island (1987); recorded passages from Ulysses and Finnegans Wake for Caedmon (NY 1988); played the Star-Maker in Michael Scott prod. of Carousel (1990); Herod in Those Three Days, dir. Scott, at St Patrick’s Cath., and Divis Flats; played Michael Bogdanov in Cherry Orchard (Gate, May 1992); rehearsed Prospero with Scott and his dg. Catherine (Miranda); International Critics’s Award for playing Krapp’s Last Tape, and Arms and the Man in Paris, 1961; hon. degress NUI, 1977, TCD (Dublin Univ.) 1980; maintained a house at Porchester Gardens, London; settled in Dun Laoghaire; d. 7 October 1993, aged 83 [motor neuron disease]; m. Maureen Kiely (d.1977), and Mary Rose Cunningham, 1979; travelled to the Guild Hall, Derry, for the premier of Friel's Translations (23 Sept.1980); dgs. Sinead, Sorcha, Niamh, and Catherine; son Paul; there was an obituary in The Irish Times (8 Oct. 1993). DIB
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Works
Film appearances [sel.]
  • Odd Man Out (1946), with James Mason, Kathleen Ryan, et al.;
  • Ill-Met By Moonlight, with Dirk Bogarde, Marius Goring, et al. (1958), dir & prod. Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger [attempt to kidnap Goering];
  • The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965) [novel of John Le Carré];
  • Fahreheit 451 (1966), dir. François Truffaut;
  • Galileo (1968);
  • King Lear (1970), dir. Peter Brook;
  • The Day of the Jackal (1972), dir. Zinemann;
  • Poitín (1978) [in Irish].
  • Nineteen Eighty-four (1984) [novel of George Orwell];
  • Little Dorrit (1987) [novel of Dickens];
  • My Left Foot (1989) [novel of Christy Brown; dir. Peter Sheridan, with Daniel Day-Lewis];
  • I Was Happy Here;
  • The Taming of the Shrew, dir. Zeffirelli, with Burton and Taylor;
  • Cavani’s Gallileo, title role;
  • Hal Ashby’s Harold and Maude;
  • The Outcasts;
  • Little Dorrit,
  • The Fool
  • As you Like It, all dir. by Christine Edzard; Danny the Champion of the World, dir. Gavin Miller after Roald Dahl, with Jeremy Irons, who is married to Sinead;
  • Comedy of Errors (TV 1983), dir. Cellan Jones, in BBC Shakespeare Collection.

also The Blue Lagoon, The Blue Veil, Jacqueline, The Rising of the Moon (dir. John Ford), Shake Hands with the Devil, A Terrible Beauty,

Poetry
  • Time Pieces [Poetry Ireland Edns., 9] (Dublin: Dolmen Press 1970), 32pp.;
  • Poems (Gorey Funge Arts Centre 1976), 16pp.;
  • Between the Acts and Other Poems (Gerrards Cross, Colin Smythe 1992, 80pp. [prev. publ. and new poems]. Also contrib. a poem to Best Poems of 1963 [n.p.].
Drama
  • Tar éis an Aifreann [Gate 1942] (Baile Átha Cliath: Sairséal, Ó Marcaigh 1989), 72pp.
Prose,
  • While the Humour’s on Me: Irish Men and Women Reveal their Humorous Moments (Belfast: Appletree 1980), 143pp., ill. [Rowel Friers];
  • ‘Every week a different school’ interview in Des Hickey & Gus Smith, eds., A Paler Shade of Green (London: Leslie Frewin 1972), pp.23-35, and p.27.
Also sundry articles in Prompt, ed. Richard Pine.
Recordings (sel.)
  • with Maureen Hurley, Love in Song and Poetry from Ireland (Polydor n.d./c.1968) [see details];
  • King Lear [film of 1970] (Royal Shakespeare Company & Filmways Inc./Sony 2004), prod. Michael Birkett, dir. Peter Brook;
  • Cyril Cusack reads Samuel Beckett, Molloy, Malone dies, The Unnamable (q.d.), dir. Howard Sackler.
Miscellaneous
  • pref. to Constance Powell-Anderson, Barren: a modern everyday tragedy in one act [1st edn. 1928] (Dublin: Dolmen Press 1962), 24pp.;
  • pref. to A. S. Knowland, W. B. Yeats: Dramatist of Vision (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe; NJ: Barnes & Noble 1983), xvi, 256pp.

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Bibliographical details

Love in Song and Poetry from Ireland [with] Maureen Hurley & Cyril Cusack (Polydor n.d./c.1968), biographical notes by Benedict Kiely: Cusack emerged from ‘fit-ups’; acted in Knocknagow (1917); National Theatre [Abbey], 1932; desultory studies at UCD; own companies, 1940s-1961; impressed internationally with Krapp’s Last Tape at Theatre des Nations; Zimmerman’s Day of the Jackal; own play, Tareis an Aifreann (Gate 1942), dir. Tomás Mac Anna for Dublin Theatre Fest.; Poems (Funge Arts Centre 1976);

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Quotations
‘The only thing I would regret, perhaps, is that my attitude in theatre was more chauvinistic and less cosmopolitan than it might have been. Theatre has no national identity; it is something for the world, whether it is Irish, English or French.’ (‘Every week a different school’ interview in Des Hickey and Gus Smith, eds., A Paler Shade of Green, London: Leslie Frewin 1972, pp.23-35; p.27.)

Cusack’s Quips ...
  • Acting is the most brotherly and sisterly profession in the world.
  • I am a nationalist ... my native soil is the theatre.
  • I am basically a religious man.
  • I enjoyed playing in O’Casey. I followed Barry Fitzgerald as the Paycock when he went to America. I was a very bad Paycock, an echo of Fitzgerald.
  • I have a family of five.
  • I have been on my own all my life except during those touring days.
  • I have tried to explore the little talent I have for writing.
  • I love the theatre and theatre people.
  • I was rather a fat little boy.
  • If you asked me for my New Year Resolution, it would be to find out who I am.
  • In my younger years my dedication may have expressed itself egotistically.
  • It is plain to me now that the Irish Producers, quite as strongly as the Critics, have neither sympathy nor understanding of my mode of playwriting.
  • One’s performance is often heightened by the brilliance and generosity of other actors.
  • Religion promotes the divine discontent within oneself, so that one tries to make oneself a better person and draw oneself closer to God.
  • Simple stories... emerge as lovely films or television pieces.
  • The actor has a constant problem of personal identity.
  • The relationship with a live audience seems to me to count for more.
  • Theatre has no national identity. It is something for the world, whether it is Irish, English, or French.
  • They say 6 million people see you when you act in a film; it may only be 600 in a play. But the effect on the 600 may be truer and more lasting.
  • To maintain one’s individuality, integrity, and true personality in the theatre is a big task.
—Source: Brainyquote website - online [10.02. 2007].

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References
Kevin Rockett, et al., eds, Cinema & Ireland (1988), Cusack among the demonstrators against the stage-Irishness of Irish Eyes (1929); appeared in Guests of the Nation, 1935; in Bob Quinn’s Poitín, 1978; IRA man Pat in Odd Man Out (novel by FJ Green); Jimmy Hannafin in A Terrible Beauty, 1960; Mr. Flanagan, in Jacqueline, 1956.

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Anthony Slide, The Cinema and Ireland (1988), which lists his performance in Irish films, Knockagow, 1918, Guests of the Nation, 1934, Shake Hands With the Devil, 1959, A Terrible Beauty, 1960, Poitin 1979, The Blue Lagoon, 1949, W. B. Yeats: A Tribute, commentary, 1949; Three Leaves of a Shamrock, stories by O’Connor, Lady Gregory, and Michael McHugh, 1956. And note, b. Durban, but raised in Ireland (p.89; see page index).

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Notes
Rehearsing Krapp’s Last Tape in 1960, Cusack accused Beckett of ‘Irish Protestant sentimentality’. That’s what it’s meant to be,’ quipped Beckett. (John Harrington, The Irish Beckett, Syracuse 1990.)

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Benedict Kiely remembers seeing Cusack as Bluntschli in Shaw’s Arms and the Man, in Dublin 1937. (See Drink to the Bird, London: Methuen 1991, p.2.)

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