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The Making of Miracle on 34th Street

By Thomas Myler

Christmas would hardly be the same without watching the movie Miracle on 34th Street. There were two versions, one made in 1947 and the second in 1994, but it is generally agreed that the earlier version was the best, as good as the second one was, surprisingly for a re-make.

With Maureen O’Hara in one of her best roles as a Macy store executive and a strong cast headed by John Payne as her husband, Natalie Wood as their daughter and Edmund Gwenn as Santa Claus, the movie was a delightful fantasy and soon became a holiday classic – and stands up well today, exactly 70 years on.

Maureen always said it was one of her favourite movies. In an interview this writer did for Ireland’s Own some years ago, the Dublin-born star recalled: ‘It was a joy to make, and we all had a wonderful time.’

The story will be familiar. A kindly, white-bearded man, a resident of an old folks home and calling himself Kris Kringle shows up at the parade and is horrified to find that the fellow portraying Santa is so drunk that he can hardly stand on his feet. Furiously, he reports the situation to the parade director who in turn convinces Kris to play the role himself, not only in the parade but in Macy’s big department store.

Children and adults alike are drawn to the new Santa and many begin to believe that Kris Kringle is the real Santa Claus. This sets in motion a series of events in which Kris touches the lives of many, teaching them a lot about faith and the true meaning of Christmas. One who is not a bit impressed is O’Hara’s sophisticated little girl Susan, played by Natalie Wood, who thinks the very idea of Santa Claus is ridiculous.

Continue reading in this year’s Christmas Annual

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By Jim Rees

What is it in the human psyche that prompts us to be fascinated by fear? It’s an undeniable trait – Alfred Hitchcock made a lifelong movie career and several fortunes pandering to it.

Bram Stoker did it with Dracula, Mary Shelley did it with Frankenstein. A similar figment of fantasy has been a money spinner in Scotland for well over a century, as tourists flock in search of the Loch Ness Monster.

Okay, okay – I apologise. I’m stating with absolute confidence that no such being exists, which is as silly as categorically believing in the monster without hard evidence.

It’s an argument that has been going on for a very long time and there have been several serious attempts to prove or disprove the story of a massive creature living in Britain’s largest and deepest lake.

The first report goes back to the 6th century when the Irish monk Adomnán mentioned the beast in his biography of St. Columba. Columba was in Scotland when he came across a funeral in progress on the edge of Loch Ness.

Some of the mourners explained to him that the deceased man had been swimming when he was attacked by a strange beast. Columba ordered one of his followers to act as bait by swimming in the lake and, sure enough, the beast popped his head above the surface.

As Nessy was about to attack, Columba made the sign of the Cross and the beast withdrew.

Continue reading in this week’s Autumn Special

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Stranger Than Fiction

By John Macklin

Samuel Hoosen, a mild-mannered real-estate broker, arrived at New York’s La Guardia airport early in the morning of May 3rd, 1955 to catch the 9.45 flight to Los Angeles for a business conference the following day.

It was just a routine business trip, one he had done several times before. How could Hoosen have guessed that it would become the most important day of his life and that the passengers on Flight 119 could well end up owing their lives to him?

Hoosen carried a small overnight bag, his briefcase, a raincoat and a magazine to occupy him during the flight. He didn’t enjoy flying, but he wasn’t frightened of it–he had flown all over the world during his army service in the war.

There was nothing particularly remarkable about Hoosen. He was small, never known to make a fuss or to throw his weight about. All of which made his behaviour on that May morning in 1955 even more extraordinary.

For when passengers were called to board the DC6 airliner for flight 119 to Los Angeles, Hoosen simply refused to go. “I don’t want to cause trouble”, he told the cabin steward, “But I know there’s something wrong with the plane.”

“Don’t you worry, sir,” said the steward, as though talking to a difficult child. “The guys have been checking it over all morning. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with it. I’m on the flight myself,” he added, “Can you step through now, sir? You’re causing a holdup.”

But Hoosen refused to budge. By now people were beginning to murmur and look at him strangely. One man said: “Have we got a nut on this flight or something?” Hoosen blushed with embarrassment but he refused to board the red and silver plane.

Continue reading in Ireland’s Own

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Ireland’s Own Children’s Short Story Competition in association with O’Brien Press has been launched! Full details below or check out your weekly magazine.

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NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 25: Alfred M. Butts, inventor of the board game 'Scrabble' is photographed August 25, 1981 in New York City. (Photo by Yvonne Hemsey/Getty Images)

By Seán Hall

A knowledge simulation built around the concept of creating words on a board competitively, but only utilising words accepted in a reputable dictionary of the English language, sounds like a complex proposal does it not? Well, it is in actual fact the popular game of Scrabble known across the globe, with over 150 million sets estimated to have been sold.

Many readers of this piece have probably known Scrabble most of their lives, considering it is the seventieth anniversary of its creation in New York next year. Lesser known are its humble origins, stemming from the mind of an out of work architect during the Great Depression.

On April 13th, 1899, a small boy entered the world to lawyer Allison Butts and his wife, Arrie Elizabeth Mosher, a high school teacher. The child was named Alfred Mosher Butts, the youngest of five. Education was revered in their family with Alfred’s elder brother, Allison Jr., going on to be an accomplished academic of metallurgy, while Alfred trained in architecture.

The parents’ surnames were both French in origin, however, his maternal grandmother Maria Mosher’s maiden name was Carroll, suggesting an Irish connection with the inventor of the board game.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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C.A. Sarsfield tells the story of Frank Freshwaters, whose real-life jailbreak echoes the plot of the film The Shawshank Redemption.


Found guilty and given a sentence of up to twenty years at the Ohio State Reformatory (the prison where some scenes in the 1994 film The Shawshank Redemption were shot, which told the story of Dufresne, played by Tim Robbins, a man wrongfully convicted of murdering his wife and her lover, and sentenced to two life sentences) for a parole violation after he had pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter charges from a car accident in 1957, Frank Freshwaters, smiled at the court official as he was led away. The reason for this smile, was simple, Freshwaters had no intention of spending twenty years in prison, and was already making mental plans on how to escape.

The difference between Dufresne and Freshwaters was that according to the script in the film Dufresne was wrongfully convicted, whereas there can be no doubt that Freshwaters was guilty. In 1957, he pleaded guilty to manslaughter for killing a pedestrian with a vehicle, and received a suspended sentence, but two years later a prison term of twenty years was imposed after he violated his probation by driving and obtaining a driver’s licence.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own (issue 5619)

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3rd May 1966: British film director Alfred Hitchcock (1899 - 1980) in Cambridge. (Photo by Peter Dunne/Express/Getty Images)

Everyone loves a good thriller. But Tom McParland hasn’t always been thrilled by them, unless of course they are by the master of thrillers himself, Alfred Hitchcock.

In Belfast schoolyards a show-off was derided as somebody who thought himself the fella (hero) in the big picture. We called Westerns cowboys, gangster films cops and crooks, and religious orientated dramas holy films. Our mothers or teenage sisters appropriated the weepie as a woman’s picture.

Because in those self-satisfied, two-gender days only females were understood to interpret convulsions.
What confused pre-adolescent me was, if there were women’s pictures why not men’s? So firmly had my chauvinist cement set that I regarded Batman, Hopalong Cassidy, Kit Carson, Jungle Jim, Superman and Tarzan as non gender. Even if I’d tried, I’d never dream up Hopalong Hetty, Kitty Carson, or Jungle Gemma.

But our genre oblivion occasionally showed cracks. For example, celibacy precluded our regarding of The Bells of St Mary’s as a weepie, a holy, or religious movie. Yet we wept buckets, were up to our wimples in habits and canonised Ingrid. We were too busy living the cinema to be genre conversant and overall our homespun terminology was generally adequate.

A great movie defies categorisation and proclaims its own greatness. As 1972’s The Godfather and the brutal dishonesty of Marlon Brando. Or the unflinching honesty of 9 year-old Tatum O’Neill’s duplicity in Paper Moon (1973). Both Paramount pictures. Both different as pasta and pumpkin. Both set in gangster America and both thrilled. Yet both made innocuous the term thriller.

Anecdotal history about movies can also be confusing. Silents weren’t called silents when they were silent, but moving picture shows until talkies arrived. Talkies lost that moniker after radio’s advent. Then with TV’s dominance the old silent name was resurrected – this time abbreviated to movies.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own (issue 5616)

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My father was a civil servant in Dublin and on summer holidays he wanted to get as far away as possible from his boss who lived on our estate, in case he was called back to work over the break. We loaded everything into the car and drove the mammoth day-long journey to the other end of the country, arriving exhausted in the dead of night, waking to the mystery of new surroundings in the morning.

In the cottage in Skibbereen, my father slept in on Sunday mornings while we children got up and ran about by ourselves. He sent us into the village to buy the paper. When we came back, he grabbed us and rubbed his itchy-scratchy face against ours. It was great, we loved it. Ugh! Then we had a cooked breakfast.

One morning we got up early and left the cottage. My mother came out shortly afterwards searching for us up and down the lane but we were gone. The next thing was, she looked out at the lake and saw the three of us out on the fishing boat in the middle of the lake with Bob, the farmer who rented us the cottage!

She must have had a heart attack seeing us on the lake with no life jackets or anything. We were very young at the time; my youngest sister must have been about two or three. Bob might have had a drink problem because the next year he wasn’t around. Maybe that was why we were so bold when we returned the following year because we missed him.

We sat in the dirt for hours gorging on the strawberries in the fields then we couldn’t eat our tea. We threw stones in the barrel for the potato spray by a wall at the back of the farm. The new farmer complained to our mother who gave out to us for throwing stones in the spray.

I enjoyed throwing the rocks in the barrel competing with my middle sister, to see who could make the biggest splash.

I used to wonder why the farmer complained to my mother or ‘ratted’ on us, as I would call it later, but we were wasting the spray – it was no big mystery.

We didn’t bother coming back the next year.

The place wasn’t as well kept and my mother didn’t want us around the ‘bad influence’ of a drinker.

Dad must have liked West Cork. He probably visited when he moved to Cobh with Una after they got married. The MOD transferred him from Dublin to the naval base on Haulbowline Island, which was how I ended up being born in Cobh general hospital and baptised in Saint Colman’s cathedral, although we returned to settle in Dublin six months later.

On hot days, we drove to the seaside in Dad’s powder blue Vauxhall Viva, the hot leatherette of the car seats uncomfortably sticky on our bare legs, hurtling past the blooming hedgerows of ivy, fuchsia and lilies, bustling with vibrant avian life.
The grassed-over potato beds and hard-working gorse on the hillsides, testified to our troubled past.

Swallows swooped and darted as we followed the track to the beach, deserted except for German tourists horse-racing in the surf.

There we set up camp for the day, swimming in the sea or hunting in the rock pools for fish abandoned by the departing tide and other marvels wonders of that underwater world.

Read memories of Ireland like these every week in Ireland’s Own

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John Gallagher recalls the mysterious disappearance of Lord Lucan in 1974

The title Earl of Lucan was first held by Patrick Sarsfield, the acclaimed Irish military leader. However, it is the more controversial story of the 7th Earl of Lucan, John Bingham, that continues to weave a web of intrigue.

In November, 1974, John Bingham, the aforementioned 7th Earl of Lucan, left a friend’s house in Uckfield, Sussex, England, and was never seen again.

The police, along with the coastal authorities organised a series of intensive searches throughout the land including the sea channel routes to France, all without success. His whereabouts to this day remains an intriguing mystery.

The fact that the Earl was present when his children’s nanny, Sandra Rivitt, was bludgeoned to death on the night of 7th November, 1974, in the basement of his London’s Belgravia home, made him a prime suspect. Scotland Yard speedily issued a warrant for his arrest. But where was the Earl?

At the inquest held shortly after Sandra Rivitt’s death, the coroner named Lord Lucan as her murderer. It was the last occasion in Britain that a coroner’s court was permitted to make such a decision.  

John Bingham was born in London in 1934 and following his education at Eton College, he joined a leading London bank as a trainee banker. His extraordinary skill as a card player saw his spending a great deal of his time at gambling clubs and casinos. Such was his talent and ability that he resigned from his banking career and became a professional gambler.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own (issue 5611)

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Michael Tanner recalls how a far-removed Irish village on Ireland’s west coast prospered when Hollywood director David Lean chose Dingle to be the backdrop to the famous story of love, lust and betrayal that became Ryan’s Daughter.

Ryan’s Daughter first brought me to Dingle.

More importantly, the Oscar-winning film of 1970 brought prosperity to the people of Dingle and its eponymous peninsula. By the time location shooting ended on 24th February, 1970, a year to the day after commencing, £1m to £3m had been spent in this isolated region of Ireland. New cars, kitchens and bathrooms sprouted like mushrooms among a populace suddenly and rapidly introduced to 20th century consumerism.

David Lean was to thank for this unexpected largesse. He may have started his directing career with smaller intimate films such as Brief Encounter and Dickens adaptations like Great Expectations but when his cameras began rolling on Ryan’s Daughter in 1969 his name was synonymous with sprawling multi Oscar-winning epics such as Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago.

Making films on this gigantic scale in the days before CGI meant spending money like there was no tomorrow. Lean demanded locations that illuminated his stories; genuine deserts and true wastelands.

Ryan’s Daughter had begun life as the ‘love child’ of screenwriter Robert Bolt for his actress wife Sarah Miles, but Lean was determined to stage this tale of love and betrayal against a backdrop of wild grandeur. Cue Corca Dhuibhne.
Lean’s two right-hand men, Peter Dukelow (construction) and Eddie Fowlie (location), ran their rule over Sicily, Sardinia and the Shetland Isles before settling on the Dingle peninsula.

Continue reading in this year’s June Summer Special (issue 5607)