4 – Is that a skunk outside my window?

I was woken by a skunk outside my window. In the midst of a ferocious sneezing fit, I pushed up the pillows behind my head and realized what it was. There are a few of them around – JJ explained to me what it was when the first one came to visit the other evening. An odd way to awaken on a Tuesday morning – but a change from 2fm.

Thank you all so much for the feedback – I’m going to try and answer some of your individual questions bit-by-bit here.

Things are not eventful at the moment. We’re holed up in Silver Lake – JJ tapping away at her feature film script while I prepare lists of questions. A wonderful friend has put me in touch with a UCLA professor who specialises in the local history of Hollywood, so now I’m preparing two lists of questions – one for Christine Shields and one for Dr. Kay.

Every morning, I go for a stroll before the clouds burn off and the heat becomes unbearable. I totter down the hill of Micheltorena, and turn right onto Sunset Boulevard. Going past the crowds coming out of the 99cent store laden with bags, and the homeless black woman who likes to show me her bare breasts, I go as far as the corner of Sunset and Santa Monica Boulevard and join the spiralling queue for coffee in Intelligentsia. It’s the coolest cafe around. In fact, it’s SO HIP IT HURTS. Seriously: I want to take photos of the haircuts and shades of the ‘hipster kids’ in the queue and the baristas in the straw fedoras, and send them to the Sunday Times ‘Style’ magazine. Every morning, I reflect that without skinny-skinny jeans and perfect tresses, I am not cool enough to drink coffee here. Except they have great espresso, free wi-fi and a shaded terrace. EVERYONE in Intelligentsia is working away on their Macbook and EVERYONE is writing a film script. I brought a notebook once, and was too embarrassed to take pen and paper out of my bag. The guy sitting beside me this morning was writing a comedy script, and his father was a DP on Dukes of Hazzard and then Beverly Hills 90210. I’ve no idea what a DP is – but it sounds cool. Answers on a postcard please …

Arthur Shields/Boss has taken a bit-part in my research and writing for a long time. Mainly because I’m adamant that this is Aideen’s tale, and he has already had articles and books written about him. But I can’t avoid him forever – he’s a major role in this drama – and finding a ‘voice’ for him in my novel is proving one of the biggest challenges so I’m hoping this will help. People are also increasingly curious about him so here goes.

Boss Shields was a real-life ‘Henry Smart’. Like Roddy Doyle’s hero, he lived through all the major events of Irish history without ever getting old. He just kept reading scripts, planting vegetables, marrying young ladies, and hanging out with his brother, the comedian and filmstar Barry Fitzgerald. Born in 1896, he fought in the 1916 Rising and then met the actress Bazie Magee in London. In the 1920s, they got an apartment in one of the Georgian houses on Merrion Square. The solicitor-turned-playwright Denis Johnston also had an apartment there with his wife, and I imagine that they were quite the foursome, plotting theatrical adventures and putting the world (and the Abbey Theatre) to rights over dinner and drinks until the wee hours.

Arthur was already acting and directing for the Abbey when Aideen graduated from the School of Acting in 1933. Bazie was with Aideen on her first tour to the USA, and the elder woman even helped her cope with period cramps by dosing her with painkillers when Aideen felt too sick to perform. (Bazie also taught Aideen it was alright to bathe at ‘that time of the month’, that all the American girls did it. Her Catholic sisters at home were scandalized.) But Bazie didn’t travel to the US again in 1937, electing to stay at home on Sandymount Avenue with their young son Adam.

Shields kept thin pocket diaries for most of his life, where he noted rehearsal times, production dates and the vegetables he’d planted in his Sandymount garden. A note on 6 April 1937 reads simply, ‘Marriage 16 years’. On the following page, dated 12 April, is the note, ‘Aideen home’.

There is one black and white photo showing Aideen with Arthur Shields and another (unidentified) man outside the Mandarin Theatre in San Francisco in 1938. Aideen’s arm is tucked comfortably into Arthur’s. He is tall, imposing and clearly older; he was seventeen years her elder.  It is the only photograph from that tour that shows them as a couple. There are press shots, but the photograph of the Mandarin Theatre is the only photograph in the archive that shows them together out of costume. There are no wedding photos, and no honeymoon snaps. That I’ve seen – another question for Christine.

Arthur & Aideen in 1938
Arthur & Aideen in 1938

Something JJ and I have debated long into the night is what their relationship may have been like when they were here. Boss came to California to be treated for his TB, and then when Barry Fitzgerald started to find fame, Arthur did his best to get parts with Paramount and RKO too. But they were only ever minor roles. In one letter, Aideen defends him: ‘true most of his parts were small but he is beginning to be known at the studios and that means a lot’.

There is no evidence that Boss did anything to help Aideen find work as an actress. In fact, when she got her (only) audition here at Selznick’s studio, “Boss was terribly against it” and that seems to have been “because of the money question”. There is no evidence that he tried to deal with her increasingly heavy drinking. There is also no evidence that he had affairs with other women after Aideen nursed him from his TB and while she waited at home in North Cherokee, cleaning and cooking. But they do say ‘Once a cheater …’

Once the war ended, Boss sent for Adam, who had been with relatives since his mother’s death. He also ensured there were a constant stream of visitors at the house to stay with Aideen while he was filming, both in Hollywood and sometimes in Europe and just before she died, for a lengthy spell in India. So he knew about her unhappiness, her pain and her loneliness. He must have done. But he was Henry Smart; he was a survivor.

YES!! In answer to another question – Aideen had lots of admirers … More of this anon …

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