Manuscript of the Month: Jimmy O’Dea

Printer-friendly version

Jimmy O'DeaThe great comic artist, Jimmy O’Dea, passed away on 7 January 1965, leaving behind a legacy of laughter.  Born and brought up in Dublin, O’Dea trained as an optician but the lure of live theatre was too great and he began to perform full time in 1928, having already appeared in silent movies. 

Image right: Jimmy O'Dea with bust by Marjorie FitzGibbon.

He formed his own company, O’D Productions, with Harry O’Donovan in 1928 and in Christmas that year they first presented their own pantomime, Sinbad the Sailor.  For decades to come, it was a Dublin tradition that an O’D pantomime would be shown at the Gaiety Theatre at Christmas, to be followed by a summer revue, Gaels of Laughter, starring Jimmy O’Dea with Maureen Potter and Vernon Hayden.

O’Dea always appeared as ‘Biddy Mulligan, the Pride of the Coombe’ – a persona which he created and which was based on a Dublin street-seller. Small of stature, he used his height to good effect, basing another comic character on Napoleon Bonaparte. But O’Dea had a wider range than this suggests since he appeared as ‘Bottom’ in A Midsummer’s Night Dream, with Micheál Mac Liammóir. He was also noticed by Hollywood and was cast as King Brian, in Walt Disney’s Darby O’Gill and the Little People also starring Albert Sharpe, Janet Munro and Sean Connery.   With the advent of Irish television, RTE began to develop programmes with O’Dea, including the comedy series O’Dea’s your man and Once Upon a Time, which was story-telling for children.  His untimely death at the age of 65 left a void in Irish Theatre.

Jimmy O'Dea as Biddy Mulligan  Jimmy O'Dea as Napoleon Bonaparte

Dublin City Library & Archive holds the Jimmy O’Dea Collection, which has been deposited with us by his godson Conor Doyle.  It includes programmes and posters, an extensive range of photographs, scrapbooks and memorabilia which document O’Dea’s life and career in great detail.




Conor has done trojan work in promoting Jimmy's memory to a new generation.

Add new comment