Someone pointed out that a few people (not many, given my capacity to gossip, but still) don’t know who Aideen is exactly – So here’s a brief history for those who haven’t yet been introduced.
In August 1934 the Abbey Theatre agreed an increased weekly wage of £3 10s for a young woman named Una Mary O’Connor. Una had graduated from the Abbey School of Acting in 1933 and was granted the increased wage because she had agreed to give up her job in Polikoffs’ clothing factory to go on tour with the company. The Abbey was transporting ‘fourteen players, three stage hands with the necessary scenery, costumes and property’ to the United States and Canada. Official identification documents show that Una was five foot two and half inches tall and weighed 106 pounds.Her heart-shaped face was doll-like, pale with wide grey eyes and she had hair of ‘a copper colour … a mass of tiny ringlets’. At twenty-one years of age, Una would board a ship from Belfast on 29 September 1934 to cross the Atlantic ocean for the first time. They would arrive back in Dublin in June 1935, and she would have no job to return to.
In March 1935, she wrote to her sisters from the Sir Francis Drake hotel in San Francisco:
Mick says that when Lennox [Robinson] hears I turned down the films to stay with the Abbey he will surely keep me on. One thing is certain and that is I won’t go back to Polikoffs’ or to any office. I shall stick to the stage for good or evil now.
I always refer to her as ‘Aideen’ rather than ‘Una Mary’ because this was the stage name she chose for herself – the name that appears in newspapers and theatre programmes. It was also the woman she became, and the life she chose for herself.
Aideen did ‘stick to the stage’, touring the US and Canada twice with the Abbey, and appearing on the UK stage. In March 1937, a ‘virtuous’ member of the Abbey Company (as described by George Yeats) sent an anonymous letter to Aideen’s father in their home in Ranelagh, informing him that his daughter was having an affair with the married Abbey producer Arthur (Boss) Shields. Bazie Magee (the wife) appeared backstage at the theatre to slap Aideen’s face and Aideen was put out of the house.
In 1939, Aideen followed Boss to New York. Some months later, he contracted TB and was advised to move to the West Coast where he could be treated in a proper sanitorium. So, he headed for California and Aideen followed soon after, when a role she was rehearsing in New York fell through because she had no Equity status and no Visa.
The couple spent the war years in Hollywood, where Arthur appeared in Ford movies and his brother Barry Fitzgerald began to find real fame. In 1943, Bazie Magee died and the couple married. Christine Shields, their only daughter, was born in 1947 and on 4 July 1950, Aideen died at the age of 37. On Friday, I will visit her grave in Culver City Cemetery with Christine.