In ‘Moby Dick,’ his hometown played New Bedford

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In 1954, Ireland was a poor and isolated country, mired in a much larger recession as all of Europe struggled to emerge from the devastation of World War II.

Former Mayor of Youghal, Olly Casey speaking at the Zeiterion Performing Arts Center,New Bedford, Massachusetts, USA.

Former Mayor of Youghal, Olly Casey speaking at the Zeiterion Performing Arts Center, New Bedford, Massachusetts, USA.

Oliver Casey was a lad of just 12 summers, living in the small town of Youghal in County Cork.

But then something magical occurred. John Huston, Gregory Peck and a large film crew arrived in Ireland to shoot “Moby Dick,” using the ancient town of Youghal to replicate New Bedford of the 1860s.

“I’m not ashamed to say we had nothing back then,” Casey said before the screening of the classic film at the Zeiterion Performing Arts Center last night.

But Hollywood star power transformed the life of the town. For four months, Youghal became a little Tinseltown and the tightly knit community was dazzled. Aside from the bustle and glamor of the silver screen, the movie provided an enormous boost to the local economy. It would be impossible to overstate its impact, Casey said.

“It’s burned into my brain forever,” Casey, 69, said. “My mother was hired as an extra at 30 shillings a day,” (That was about $4.20 in 1954 dollars). His mother was the caretaker at the town hall and also helped with the film wardrobe. “She was making twice what my father was getting down at the gas company,” he said.

Some 125 people were hired as extras and were paid every day whether they were used or not, he said. All of their families benefited from the windfall.

Casey, who grew up to serve as Youghal’s mayor on three occasions, has retained a lifelong interest in the Huston film and is visiting New Bedford in conjunction with the events this weekend celebrating all things “Moby-Dick.”

On Saturday, he will present a lecture on the movie illustrated with behind-the-scenes photos from his collection, accompanied by some colorful stories from those heady days.

“Gregory Peck was very unsteady on that leg,” he said. “So when they were taking the publicity shots, John Huston was crouched down low holding onto him.”

People flocked to Youghal from afar to watch the moviemakers at work, and Lenihan’s pub was the first to cash in on the excitement.

“As soon as the filming started, Paddy Lenihan hung a banner outside his place renaming it the Moby Dick pub,” Casey said, a name it still bears today.

Casey also recalled seeing John Huston emerging from town hall with a fierce expression. “I said to myself, ‘This guy means business.’ Even as a young fellow I could see that he was a driven man.” One man who owned property in the center of the set demanded more money from Huston in the belief that they couldn’t shoot around him, Casey recalled. “Huston wouldn’t back down. They shot around him.”

When the cast and crew departed they left behind the two mechanical whales used to portray Ahab’s nemesis. One broke free of its moorings during a storm and drifted away.

“They had to issue a warning on the radio to all shipping in the Irish Sea,” Casey said. “They advised mariners to keep a sharp lookout for a partially submerged white whale. It was a hazard to navigation.”

However, it appears the whale followed Ahab into the depths, since it was never seen again, he said.

“Moby Dick” had its world premiere in New Bedford at the Zeiterion, then called the State, in 1956, sparking tremendous excitement in the city. It was shown simultaneously in two other city theaters, and thousands of people lined the city streets to greet the director and cast, who attended the first night.

“Gregory Peck came along in an open convertible waving to everybody,” said New Bedford’s Paul Swain, who was standing on the corner of Elm and Pleasant streets that night. “Getting a big Hollywood star here was a real big deal. They’ve made some newer versions of the movie since then, but they’re not as good as the original.”

Mayor Oliver Casey’s lecture on the making of “Moby Dick” will be at the whaling museum theater at 5 p.m. on Saturday.

Story and photo courtesy:

By DON CUDDY
doncuddy@s-t.com
November 04, 2011 12:00 AM

www.southcoasttoday.com

 

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5 Comments

  1. One of the very very few who has ever sat in the council chamber with pride in his town and the conviction to carry it off, and also one of the very very few who has worked for the people of the town without looking for rewards or a vote. Throwing money at things is not pride. Well done Ollie.

    • Well said Mr Slattery. I have been observing your musings on this forum for some time now, and am now asking myself why not consider putting your name to ballot for the next local election? I believe that you and a few others that are passionate about our town’s future while fed up with the same old worn out monopolised responsorials from the chamber, would make a most feasible and welcome alternative. In case you might ponder the possibilities of doing so, you have our number one for starters. My God man, it would be something to look forward to…

  2. Well thank you for your confidence in me but I must sadly decline for a number of reasons.

    Firstly, YTC handed over control of water, roads and refuse (now privatised) to Cork County Council some years ago so apart from doing the job of the OPW by looking after old buildings the council is of little benefit to the townspeople in my view. It is now just a talking shop for potholes, lights and overgrown hedges, with most of the decision making being done by the Town Clerk under Executive Functions. The phrase ‘Oh that’s county’, is more or less the stock answer for any complaint these days.

    Secondly, its is my belief the the current Government will continue the previous Government’s policy of removing town councils and handing power to the County Councils. In fact I believe and announcement is due shortly from Phil Hogan the Minister responsible for Local Government. If this is indeed the case then there will probably not be YTC elections in 2 years time.

    Finally, as a person of good character (I hope) with a moral compass (again I hope) and a good deal of common sense I feel I might end up doing a George Lee due to the sheer frustration of having to deal with the lack of all of the above in Irish politics.

    • Perhaps a Peggy Lee with “Fever” could be another option with all that is going on at the moment.
      I respect and understand your opinions on this, but in the off chance that your forecast on Mr Hogan’s announcement bears no fruit on this occasion, I will be back to spur you on as I believe categorically that we still need intelligent people with sound and solid judgements to speak up on the communities behalf. Til the next time. Thanks again Mr Slattery.