Irish people have played a leading role in the history of the cinema and some of the greatest stars of the silver screen came from Ireland, writes Gerry Breen
One reason put forward for the success of Irish actors in film is that they had a natural style and the reason for that was there was almost no formal training available in Ireland until the second half of the twentieth century. Whatever the reason, the number of Irish performers who have won an international reputation is truly remarkable.
The first fiction film made in Ireland was called The Lad from Old Ireland’. It was made in 1910 by an American company, but most films about the Irish were located in America. It is estimated that more than 500 films were produced about the Irish in the United States before 1930, and that number far exceeds the entire output throughout the history of the native cinema.
The most important Irish film production company in the silent film era was the Film Company of Ireland. It produced more than twenty films in the period up to 1920, including Knocknagow in 1918 and Willy Reilly and the Colleen Bawn in 1920.
People with Irish roots have had a long and distinguished association with Hollywood and the American cinema.
Mack Sennett, who was born in January 1880, and died in November 1960, was an Academy award-winning director who was widely regarded as the person responsible for the introduction of slapstick comedy in film. Indeed, during his lifetime, he became known as the King of Comedy. Mack Sennett’s real name was Michael Sinnott. He was born in Canada but his father was an Irish Catholic immigrant farmer.
Many important actors started their careers with Mack Sennett, including Charlie Chaplin, Raymond Griffith, Gloria Swanson, Andy Clyde, Mabel Normand, Bing Crosby and W. C. Fields.
Sennett was the man behind the Keystone Kops and he was responsible for some of the wildest car chases and the most amazing custard pie battles of the silent cinema.
Sadly, following the Great Depression, he was forced into bankruptcy. He found himself, at the age of 55, practically out of work after a hectic career during which he had produced more than 1,000 silent films and dozens of talkies.
Sennett received an honorary Academy Award in 1938. He died on 5th November, 1960, at the age of 80.
There is no doubt but that the Irish played a huge part in American cinema, and they are credited with inventing the westerns. In the early days Samuel Goldwyn, one of the giants of movie-making in America, took on an Irish-American named Hal Roach, who became a legendary producer of such classic comedies as the Laurel and Hardy films, as well as the movies of Harold Lloyd and Our Gang.