Hugh Leonard (1926-2009)

[Pseud. of John Keyes Byrne; fam. “Jack”] b. 9 Nov. Dublin, fatherless child of Annie Byrne, given up immediately for adoption and raised by Nicholas and Margaret [née Doyle] Keyes, in Dalkey; ed. Glasthule, [var. Harolds Boys School], and afterwards declined a scholarship to Presentation College; worked in Land Commission, 1945-59 [var. 1963]; m. Paula [var. Paule] Jacquet, 1955 (with whom a dg. Danielle); worked with Granada in Manchester from 1958; an early play Italian Road, rejected by the Abbey; success of Stephen D at Dublin Theatre Festival, 1962, and first of his plays to go on to London, 1963, where he stayed, 1962-1970; adapted Great Expectations for BBC TV, 1967
followed with adaptations of the Sherlock Holmes stories and other popular classics; he scripted the 1916 Rising commemorations for RTÉ as The Week of the Rising, in an 8 part series presented by Prionsias Mac Aonghusa, 1966; issued Patrick Pearse Motel (1971), a Feydeauesque satire on Irish nationalist bourgeoisie; his father-son play Da premiered at the Olympia Theatre (Dublin Tn. Fest. 1973), later produced at the Olney Th., Maryland, and performed with huge success on Broadway winning the “Tony” [Antoinette Perry] Award, 1978; filmed with Martin Sheen and Leonard’s screenplay, 1987; writes script for 5-part BBC TV adaptation of Wuthering Heights (1978);

Da revived in Dublin with Bernard Hughes still in lead role, 1993; appt. literary editor at Abbey Th., 1976-77; his prolific work as screen-writer includes Widow’s Peak with Mia Farrow; reviewed TV for Hibernia, 1973-76 (ed. John Mulcahy), and wrote a column for Sunday Independent from 1976; wrote a successful stage version of Great Expectations, dir. by Alan Stanford, Gate Theatre (January 1996); his version of A Tale of Two Cities took the stage in Winter 1997; contrib. a long-running column (“Curmudgeon”) in Sunday Independent; premiered Love in the Title (Abbey 1999), concerning three generations of women in an Irish family; issued A Wild People (2001), a novel; also Fillums (2004), a novel, a chapter in the life of Perry Perry, a failing dramatist, and his wife Babs in the Irish 1940s; an 80th birthday party was held at the Pavilion, Dun Laoghaire, organised by Bernard Farrell and others, [Sat.] 11 Nov. 2006; d. 12 Feb. 2009; survived by second wife Kathy; his papers are held in the National Library of Ireland. DIW DIL FDA OCIL

[ There is a Hugh Leonard website - online. ]

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Plays (Performances)
  • The Italian Road (1954) [unperformed and unpublished].
  • The Big Birthday (Abbey 23 Jan. 1956).
  • A Leap in the Dark (Abbey Theatre, 21 Jan. 1957).
  • Madigan’s Lock (Globe Theatre, Dublin, March 1958; London 1963).
  • A Walk on the Water [Dublin Theatre Festival] (Eblana Theatre, Dublin, 1960).
  • The Poker Session A Play (Gate Theatre, Dublin, 23 Sept. 1963; Globe Theatre, London, 11 Feb. 1964; Martinique Theatre, New York, 19 Sept. 1967 [16 performances]).
  • Mick and Mick (Dublin Theatre Festival, 1966); also played as All the Nice People (Olney, Maryland, 3 Aug. 1976 [21 performances]).
  • The Au Pair Man (Dublin Theatre Festival, 1968; Duchess Theatre, London, 1969; Vivian Beaumont Theatre, NY, 27 Dec. 1973), 37 performances.
  • The Patrick Pearse Motel: A Comedy (Olympia Theatre, Dublin, 15 March 1971; Queen’s Theatre, London, 17 June 1971).
  • Da: A Play in Two Acts (Olney, Maryland, 7 August 1973 [21 performances]; Olympia Theatre, Dublin, 8 October 1973; Hudson Guild Theatre, NY, 8 March 1978 [hit with Bernard Hughes in lead role; 24 performances]; Morosco Theatre, NY, 1 May 1978, [36 performances]; filmed with Hughes, dir. Matt Clarke (1988); Dublin stage revival with Hughes, 1993.
  • A Life (Abbey Theatre, Dublin, 4 Oct. 1979; Morosco Theatre, NY, 2 Nov. 1980).
  • Summer: A Play (Olney, Maryland, 6 Aug. 1974 [21 performances]; Olympia Theatre, Dublin, 7 Oct. 1974; Watford Palace Theatre, London, 31 May 1979).
  • Time Was (Abbey Theatre, Dublin, 21 Dec. 1976).
  • Sherlock Holmes and the Mask of Moriarty (1987) [farce based on Conan Doyle].
  • Insurrection (1966) [1916 Rising commemorative series comprised of eight television dramatisations].
  • Moving (Abbey 1992; Sam. French 1994), 82pp.
One-act plays
  • The Quick, and The Dead (Dublin, 1967) [i.e., The Late Arrival of the Incoming Aircraft and The Dead, after Joyce].
  • Irishmen (Olney, Maryland, 5 Aug. 1975 [21 performances]; Dublin, 1975) [i.e., A Time of Wolves and Tigers; Nothing Personal; and The Last of the Last of the Mohicans].
  • Scorpions [or Pizzazz] (1983) [i.e., A View from the Obelisk; Roman Fever, after Edith Wharton; Pizzazz (1983).
  • Chamber Music (1994) [i.e., Senna for Sonny; The Lily Lally Show.
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Adaptations (sel.)
  • The Passion of Peter Ginty (Gemini Prod., Gate Theatre, Dublin Theatre Festival, 1961) [adaptation of Peer Gynt by Henrik Ibsen].
  • Stephen D [Dublin Th. Festival] (Gate Theatre, Dublin, 24 Sept. 1962; St. Martin’s Theatre, London, 12 Feb. 1963; East 74th Street Theatre, New York, 24 Sept. 1967 [56 performances]; Abbey Theatre, Dublin, 18 May 1978) [adaptation of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce].
  • Dublin One (Dublin Theatre Festival, Dublin, 1963) [adaptation of Dubliners by James Joyce].
  • When the Saints Go Cycling In (Dublin Theatre Festival, 1965) [adaptation of The Dalkey Archive by Flann O’Brien].
  • The Family Way (Dublin; August 1964; London, 1966) [adapted from Célimare of Eugene Marin Labiche; revived as Some of My Best Friends are Husbands, 1976].
  • The Barracks (Dublin, Dublin Th. Fest. 1969) [adaptation of 1963 novel by John McGahern; dir. Tomas Mac Anna].
  • Liam Liar (Dublin, 1976) [adaptation of s Billy Liar by from Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall] .
  • Some of My Best Friends are Husbands (London, 1976) [prev. as The Family Way, after Labiche; revived 1985].
  • Great Expectations (Abbey Th. 1995) [adaptation of novel by Charles Dickens].
  • A Tale of Two Cities (1996) [ adaptation of novel by Charles Dickens].

Also dramatised num. novels, stories, and biographies, including works by Irish James Joyce, Molly Keane, J. B. Keane, and James Plunkett [viz., Country Matters, Nicholas Nickleby, Me Mammy, Strumpet City, Good Behaviour, and The Field]; also Widow’s Peak with Mia Farrow;

Plays (Editions)
  • The Poker Session: A Play (London: Evans 1964).
  • Stephen D.: A Play in Two Acts adapted from James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (London & NY: Evans 1964).
  • The Late Arrival of the Incoming Aircraft (London: Evans 1968).
  • The Patrick Pearse Motel: A Comedy (London: French 1971).
  • The Au Pair Man (New York: French, 1974); Da: A Play in Two Acts (Newark: Proscenium Press 1975), Do., rev. edn. (London: French; NY: Atheneum 1978 1978).
  • Summer: A Play (London: French 1979); Time Was (London: French 1980).
  • Da, Time Was [and] A Life (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1981).
  • Selected Plays of Hugh Leonard, ed. S. F. Gallagher (Washington: CUA Press 1992) [see details].
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Also“Love in the Title”, in New Plays from the Abbey Theatre, Vol. 3: 1999-2001, ed. Judy Friel & Sanford Sternlicht (Syracuse UP 2003) [q.pp.]

Fiction (novels)
  • Parnell and the Englishwoman (London: André Deutsch 1990), 271pp.; [based on his successful TV script, and winner of Sagittarius Award for first novels over 60].
  • A Wild People (London: Methuen 2001), 240pp.
  • Fillums (London: Methuen 2004), 240pp.
Prose (essays)
  • Leonard’s Last Book (Enniskerry: Egotist Press 1978).
  • A Peculiar People and Other Foibles (Enniskerry: Tansy Books 1979).
  • Hugh Leonard”s Second Last Book (Enniskerry: Tansy Books 1979).
  • Leonard’s Year (Canavaun Books 1985).
  • Hugh Leonard’s Log, Brophy Books, 1987).
  • Leonard’s Log - again (Brophy International Publ. 1988).
  • Dear Paule (Dublin: Mercier Press, 2000).
  • Home Before Night (London: André Deutsch 1979; NY: Atheneum 1980).
  • Out After Dark (London: André Deutsch 1989).
  • Rover and Other Cats (London: André Deutsch 1993), 140pp.
  • contrib. to Fathers and Sons, ed., Tom Hyde (Dublin: Wolfhound 1995).
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Bibliographical details
S[ean] F[inbarr] Gallagher, sel. & intro., Selected Plays of Hugh Leonard (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe; Washington: Catholic University of America 1992), v, 464pp. Contents: “The Au Pair Man”, “Patrick Pearse Motel”, “Da”, “Summer”, “A Life ”, and “Kill” [but not The Poker Session”, or “A Walk on the Water”]. Bibl. list of very many TV plays, adaptations and serials, &c.

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Christopher Murray, ‘H[u]gh Leonard’, in Post-War Literature in English, ed. Joris Duytschaeuer (June 1990), pp.1-17; Sandra Manoogian Pearce, ‘Hugh Leonard’, in ., Irish Playwrights, 1880-1995: A Research and Production Sourcebook, ed., Bernice Schrank & William Demastes (CT: Greenwood Press 1997), pp.145-58; Pat Donlon [interview], in Theatre Talk: Voices of Irish Theatre Practitioners, ed. Lilian Chambers, Ger Fitzgibbon, Eamonn Jordan, et al. (Blackrock: Carysfort Press 2001), pp.252-63.

See also Robert Hogan, After the Irish Renaissance (1967); Gerald Fitzgibbon, ‘Historical Obsession in Recent Irish Drama’, in Geert Lernout, ed., The Crows Behind the Plough: History and Violence in Anglo-Irish Poetry and Drama [Costerus Ser. Vol. 79] (Amsterdam: Rodopi 1991), pp.41-59; esp. pp.41-47.

Websites: See also excerpt from RTE interview with Mike Murphy in Nov. 1996 and Fintan O’Toole assessment [online]. The Da is described at Lit Sum [online]

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Vincent Banville, review of Hugh Leonard, A Wild People (London: Methuen 2001), 276pp., in The Irish Times, 12 May 2001, characterises it as a roman à clef, with Thorn Thorton (cf. Michael Colgan), Emma Ring, the Ennistymon novelist (cf. Edna O’Brien) and Fintan O’Doul, journalist; adjudged to be ‘a rather soft satire, the cutting-edge of his aim deflected by an old-fashioned prose style that makes use of such words as “colloguing” and “folderols” […] and a rash of clichés that would be equally at home on the pages of Ireland’s Own.’ Set c.1985 in Temple Bar, Cayman Islands; protagonist T. J. ‘Thady’ Quill living in Dalkey, a film expert, invited to help in creation of film archive of works of Sean O’Fearna (cf., John Ford who liked to espouse the O’Fearna name); writes sequel to The Quiet Man (“The Man from Inisfree”); Kerry poet Oozer Kenirons (cf. Brendan Kennelly).

Éamonn Kelly, review of Love in the Title (1999), in Books Ireland (April 2004): ‘[...] A surreal piece, it concerns the lives of three women, grandmother, mother and daughter, each communicating with one another, but each firmly fixed in their own time. Their stories combine to illuminate the changes for women in Ireland during the twentieth century. Twenty-year-old Cat, the grandmother, is waiting for her lover in 1932. Product of a church-run orphanage, she has more endurance about her than her daughter Triona in 1964, a repressed 30-year-old suburbanite. Triona’s daughter Kathy is thirty-seven years old in 1999. Sexually liberated but unhappy, she is a writer who, though she always uses love in her titles, discovers that she has no idea what love means.’

Aisling Foster, ‘People out of the Pictures’, review of Fillums, in Times Literary Supplement (6 Aug. 2004): ‘[...] Like his creator, the narrator, Peregrine Perry, is a playwright and novelist, a self-educated Dubliner who, despite a lifelong obsession with cinema, has made his name with dramas reflecting “the cosiness and parish pumpery” of rural Ireland. By 1942 he has grown increasingly unhappy on the fringes of intellectual city life, sensitive to belittlement and to any hint of pretentiousness “half-way between precious and priceless”. Depressed by failure, Perry and his wife, Babs, decamp a few miles down the coast to the village of Drane, a place cut off from the world by a dearth of public transport and a mysterious radio blackout. Films, old and new, are the only entertainment. They pack out the Picture House every night and provide topics through which more contentious topics can be broached. They also have an inordinate influence over their audience, so that aspects of screen characters and their lives pervade the community, in everything from language to moral codes. [...; The] tension between innocence and ignorance runs through every section of Perry’s memoir. And despite his own wide-eyed reportage of love affairs, scandal and tragedy, it is clear that he is by no means as naive as he pretends. Yet in the Never Never Land of neutral Ireland, self-effacement and hypocrisy are the rule, paralleled by Hollywood’s Production Code which rules out explicit sexuality and insists that the good guys always win. Even the “good German” Hansy follows the same polite doublethink. A minor diplomat in the Dublin Consulate, he lives in the village with his manservant, Sean, providing transport and hospitality to any who will accept it. The story of his sexual outing and tragic exit is wonderfully told, humour and pathos distilled through brilliant dialogue and a rich Dublin tone. And as one fantastic event follows another, even Perry’s O’Caseyesque voice begins to sound ironic, inviting the question of just what it must have taken for such a finely tuned ear to make his name as the writer of clichéd rural dramas. For Babs, the effects of so much play-acting come as a final irony. Confronted with reality, her determined innocence retreats into silence. Even when the couple find the end of their rainbow, nothing really changes. The writer will secrete his manuscript in the National Library to await exposure more than half a century later. [...] Ireland is currently allowing itself to examine its complex wartime record. Perhaps part of the therapy should involve broadcasting Fillums, to the nation; it would be hard for many illusions to survive its salutary wit.’

Daily Telegraph, obituary (Feb. 2009): ‘Hugh Leonard, the playwright; who died on Thursday aged 82, enjoyed great success on Broadway with his plays Da and A Life. His jousts with critics and journalists, and his acid newspaper columns also earned him a reputation as a feared but entertaining curmudgeon. / As the leading spirit behind the Irish dramatic revival of the 1960s and 1970s, he became the country’s most caustic social commentator and its most skilled adaptor for the stage and television of short stories and classic novels. / If his days were less profound, poetic or original than those of compatriots such as Brian Friel or Tom Murphy, their humout and technical virtuosity made him the most entertainingly barbed critic of suburban Ireland between the 1960s and the 1980s. Leonard relished quarrels. “An Irish literary movement”, he used to say, “is two playwrights who are on speaking terms.” / He was born John Joseph Byrne in Dublin on 9 Nov. 1926; his mother immediately gave him for adoption. Though deeply affected after discovering his background, he made light of it. He afterwards found his mother but was unable himself to approach her and she died without meeting him. / Leonard was raised as Jack Keyes by his adoptive parents and, after attending the Harold Boys’ school at Glasthule in Co Dublin, he won a scholarship to Presentation College. Da, written in 1973, and declared Play of the Year on Broadway in 1978, was a dramatisation of his childhood in Dalkey. / Leonard’s first theatre play was The Big Birthday, produced at the Abbey in 1956, followed by A Leap in the Dark (1957), and Madigan’s Lock (1958). He became a script editor for Granada Television in London and adapted a number of books for BBC Television. Leonard enjoyed flaunting his financial success and bought a large mansion [sic] at Killiney. He also drove a Rolls-Royce, which was repeatedly vandalised. When the tranquillity of his home was shattered by loud noise from a nearby disco, he moved to a more, secure apartment block, bought an anonymous Toyota and contented himself with a fine collection of pictures. / Leonard resented what he saw as his exclusion from the Irish arts world and poured vitriol on lesser performers. He described Ireland as “a country full of genius, but without absolutely no talent”. His critics were equally fortright about the Leonard ego. He was, said one, not an original playwright, merely “an adapter always in search of a plug”. / Leonard eagerly debunked other famous names, including Brendan Behan, who, he said, owed all his success to Joan Littlewood’s editing. He equated Brian Behan with Salman Rushdie in that, given the quality of his writing, his life could be in danger if, he did not disappear. Behan replied Leonard had no enemies in Dublin. “It is his friends who hate him,” he said.’ (Daily Telegraph; rep. Sunday Times, 15 Feb. 2009, p.11.)

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D. E. S. Maxwell (Modern Irish Drama, 1984) lists Three Plays (1981) [“Da”, “A Lie”, and “Time Was”]; also The Poker Session (1963); The Patrick Pearse Motel, both in Plays and Players (18 May 1971; rep. Samuel French 1972); Stephen D (1962), after Joyce, and “Some of my Best Friends are Husbands” [unpublished], after Labiche; also autobiog, Home Before Night (1979).

Robert Hogan, ed., Dictionary of Irish Literature (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1979), notes: ‘Hugh Leonard’s fascination with the technique of nineteenth century French farce is apparent in The Family Way (1964), an adaptation of Labiche’s Célimare. In his own original farce, The PP Motel (1971), his mastery of this tightly difficult form rivals that of his masters.’ Also cites Liam Liar (1976). See also positive appraisal of Leonard in Robert Hogan, Introduction, Seven Irish Plays (Minnesota UP 1967).

Seamus Deane, gen. ed., Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: FDA Co. 1991), Vol. 3, includes only incidental refs. only [173, 1137-38]; and note Leonard’s scathing review of The Field Day Anthology, in The Irish Independent at the date of publication.

Helena Sheehan, Irish Television Drama, A Society and Its Stories (RTÉ 1987), cites Broth of A Boy (1959), based on The Big Birthday, a play by Hugh Leonard, produced by Emmet Dalton and dir. by George Pollock with Barry Fitzgerald as a 110-year old man and Harry Brogan as his 80-year old son; also Dublin 1 (1964), a TV-film based on Joyce’s Dubliners and dir. by Louis Lentin; Fine Girl You Are (1973), adapt. by Leonard from Chekov’s The Darling and dir. by Shelah Richards; Molly Keane’s Good Behaviour [3 pts] (1983), adapt. by Leonard and dir. by Bill Hays; Insurrection [8 episodes] (1966), written by Hugh Leonard, Louis Lentin, and Michael Garvey; A Life (1984), written by Leonard and dir. by Louis Lentin; James Plunkett’s Strumpet City (1980) adapt. by Leonard and dir. by Tony Barry [refs. at pp.40, 62, 64, 65, 223, 309-14, 315, 407, 422]; Walk on Water (1963), written by Hugh Leonard and dir. by Jim Fitzgerald.

Kevin Rockett, et al., eds., Cinema & Ireland (1988) lists Da; first performed 1973, published 1975; produced successfully in 1978, and filmed with Martin Sheen and Bernard Hughes, dir. Matt Clarke, in 1987; released in 1988.

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Da (1972): Charlie’s adoptive father (“Da”) has died after some years in an old people’s home from which, on one occasion, he attempted to run away. After the funeral Charlie visits the house in Dalkey were he was raised and is visited there by a childhood friend, Oliver, who now wants help to get occupancy of the family house from the Corporation, and by the elderly Drumm, a former friend of his father who offered him a civil service job in childhood and now calls on Charlie to acknowledge that his father was a good man in spite of the troubles between them. Throughout the play Charlie talks with the revenant figure, reliving earlier scenes of life, and also with his own younger self (“Young Charlie”) who expresses disappointment in him. The personality and education of the father is typified by his remark that, when Hitler defeats England there will be plenty of jobs there for Charlie to choose from ... Besides Mother, other characters incl. Mrs. Prynne, widow of the man whom Da served as a gardener, while Mr. Drumm when young makes an appearance also. The play is largely autobiographical.

Pseuds.: Leonard’s pseudonym derives from the psychopathic central character in Italian Road, his first play, which was rejected by the Abbey, while Italian Road is itself an echo of the Vico Road in Dalkey.

First night: Leonard’s first stage visit was to Sean O’Casey’s The Plough and the Stars at the Abbey when a friend in the Land Commission derided him for his ignorance of theatre. (See Bookrags notice, online.)

Arthur Conan Doyle: The Mask of Moriarty is full-length theatrical spoof mixing comedy and whodunit which begins with an impossible murder in fog on Waterloo Bridge involving the classic mystery/detective-story characters Sherlock Holmes, Doctor Watson, Inspector Lestrade and Moriarty - all characters created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - but also other figures of the period such as Bunny Manders in E. W. Hornung’s “Raffles” stories, Dorian Gray, and R. A. Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde. The play was commissioned by the Gate Theatre and premiered in 1985 with Tom Baker as Holmes and Alan Stanford as Watson and toured in the UK with Geoffrey Palmer and James Grout in those roles, and also at the Williamstown Theatre festival with Paxton Whitehead as Holmes. It was revived by the Pittsburgh Irish and Classical Theatre [PICT] in 2011 and has been translated into Finnish for the Sipoo Theatre. (Leonard previously adapted The Hound of the Baskervilles and A Study in Scarlet for the BBC in 1968.) See Hugh Leonard, Playwright website - online; accessed 03.01.2015.

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