Michael O'Shea (actor)

Michael O'Shea (March 17, 1906 – December 4, 1973) was known as an American character actor who appeared in feature films and later in television and whose career spanned the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s.

Michael O'Shea
from the film Lady of Burlesque (1943)
Born(1906-03-17)March 17, 1906
DiedDecember 4, 1973(1973-12-04) (aged 67)
Dallas, Texas, U.S.
Years active1930s-1971
Grace Watts
(m. 1927; div. 1947)
Virginia Mayo
(m. 1947)


Early lifeEdit

O'Shea was born in Hartford, Connecticut. He wanted to follow his five brothers into the police force but was not tall enough.

He dropped out of school at 12 and began his acting career in vaudeville by touring with boxing idol Jack Johnson's show.[3] He did a variety of jobs including soda jerk, bricklayer, private detective and bodyguard.[4]

Early careerEdit

O'Shea played drums and the banjo. Much like his character from Lady of Burlesque (1943), Biff Brannigan, O'Shea was a comedian and emcee at speakeasies. He put together his own dance band, "Michael O'Shea and His Stationary Gypsies", and later broke into radio and the "legitimate" stage, where he was billed for a time as "Eddie O'Shea". He worked on radio shows such as Superman, Mr District Attorney, The March of Time and Gangbuster.[3]

O'Shea received acclaim for his performance in the 1942 play The Eve of St. Mark on Broadway. The play was a hit and film producers began approaching O'Shea to do screen tests.[4]

Early FilmsEdit

O'Shea's work in Eve led to him being offered to play Barbara Stanwyck's leading man in the film Lady of Burlesque (1943) for producer Hunt Stromberg, released though United Artists. It was a sizeable hit.[5]

Samuel Bronston offered him the title role in the biopic Jack London (1943), also released through United Artists. The cast included Virginia Mayo who would become O'Shea's second wife.[6]

O'Shea was asked to reprise his stage role in the film version of The Eve of St. Mark (1944), produced by 20th Century Fox. That studio contracted him to make two more films.[7] Fox announced they would make Where Do We Go From Here? with him and Stanley Prager, also in Eve, but it appears to have not been made.[8]

He had the lead role in Man from Frisco (1944), a fictional account of the career of Henry Kaiser for Republic Pictures, directed by Robert Florey. At Fox he made a musical, Something for the Boys (1944), with Carmen Miranda.

O'Shea then went into It's a Pleasure! (1945), playing a hockey star who marries figure skater Sonja Henie, done for International Pictures. Back at Fox he had the lead in a B, Circumstantial Evidence (1945).

Return to BroadwayEdit

O'Shea returned to Broadway with a role in the revival of The Red Mill (1945–47), produced by Hunt Stromberg Jr. which ran for 531 performances.

When the show finished he returned to films. He had a support part with Mr. District Attorney (1947) at Columbia.

He was Nancy Coleman's leading man in Violence (1947) at Monogram Pictures and played Natty Bumpo in Sam Katzman's version of Last of the Mohicans, Last of the Redmen (1947), with Jon Hall at Columbia.

He had a support role in Smart Woman (1948), at Allied Artists, and the lead in Parole, Inc. (1949), for Eagle-Lion Films.

He supported Mickey Rooney in The Big Wheel (1949) at United Artists but had the lead in The Threat (1949) a "B" for RKO.

Supporting ActorEdit

O'Shea supported John Payne in Captain China (1950) and Dan Duryea in The Underworld Story (1950). He had a support role in Disc Jockey (1951), then did three films at Fox: Fixed Bayonets (1951) for Sam Fuller, The Model and the Marriage Broker (1951) for George Cukor, and Bloodhounds of Broadway (1952).[3]


After his career in film waned - he was largely out of films by 1952 — he took many roles in television. He acted in TV programs such as The Revlon Mirror Theater, Ethel Barrymore Theatre, Damon Runyon Theater, and Schlitz Playhouse of Stars.

He had a support part in It Should Happen to You (1954).

It's a Great LifeEdit

He also starred in the NBC sitcom It's a Great Life from 1954-1956 as Denny Davis, a former GI trying to find a civilian job. Frances Bavier played his landlady. He won an Emmy in 1954 but quit the show in 1957.[3]

He worked as a panelist on TV shows[9] and filmed a pilot for a TV sitcom with his wife Virginia Mayo, McGarry and His Mouse (1960) but it was not picked up for a series. He guest starred on episodes of Adventures in Paradise, Daktari and Adam-12. In 1964 he returned briefly to New York stage in a production I Was Dancing.[10]

Personal lifeEdit

He was married twice. His first wife was Grace Watts, by whom he had two children. That marriage ended in divorce in 1947.

His second wife was actress Virginia Mayo, whom he married in 1947, and to whom he stayed married until his death from a heart attack in 1973. He met Mayo during the filming of Jack London in 1943. They subsequently appeared on the stock stage together in such productions as George Washington Slept Here, Tunnel of Love and Fiorello!. When he died of a heart attack he was in Dallas, about to go on tour with his wife in a production of Forty Carats.[3]

During their marriage, they had one child, Mary Catherine O'Shea, who was born in 1953.[11] That year O'Shea's first wife sued him for unpaid alimony.[12]

A Republican, he supported Dwight Eisenhower's campaign in the 1952 presidential election.[13]

In 1957 he pleaded guilty to discharging a firearm.[14] In 1959, he was arrested after brandishing a pistol in defence of his wife in an argument between her and another customer in a restaurant over air conditioning.[15] He was an FBI informant who spied on unscrupulous members of the Friars Club in Los Angeles.[16] O'Shea was of the Catholic faith.[17]

Other employmentEdit

O'Shea kept up his bricklayer's card and was a reserve deputy sheriff in the Ventura County Sheriff's Office[18]

O'Shea in Something for the Boys (1944)

Partial filmographyEdit


  1. ^ "Billboard". 1947-07-05.
  2. ^ "Sunday Herald - Google News Archive Search". google.com. Retrieved 20 September 2015.
  3. ^ a b c d e Michael O'Shea, Tough-Talking Actor The Washington Post, Times Herald 6 Dec 1973: B22.
  4. ^ a b MR. O'SHEA, THE HARTFORD GYPSY By THEODORE STRAUSS. New York Times (18 Apr 1943: X3.
  5. ^ Scott Eyman, Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer, Robson, 2005 p 339
  6. ^ Michael O'Shea Debonair 'Jack London' Scheuer, Philip K. Los Angeles Times 14 Jan 1944: A9.
  7. ^ DRAMA AND FILM: Michael O'Shea May Portray Proxy Husband Edward Small Bids for Herbert Marshall to Appear Opposite Marlene Dietrich Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times 4 Dec 1943: 7.
  8. ^ DRAMA AND FILM: O'Shea Promotes Jinni Deal for Actor Prager Ketti Frings' Story, 'The Red Sash,' May Be Produced as Film by Stromberg Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times 19 Nov 1943: 14.
  9. ^ Virginia and the Speed Cars Clicked By Millicent Benner. The Washington Post and Times Herald (1954-1959); Washington, D.C. [Washington, D.C]08 Oct 1956: 27.
  10. ^ Michael O'Shea, 67, Stage Actor Also in TV Series, Films, Dies: Started as Band Leader New York Times 5 Dec 1973: 43.
  11. ^ https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2229&dat=19550724&id=3WgmAAAAIBAJ&sjid=HAAGAAAAIBAJ&pg=5930,7375929&hl=en
  12. ^ O'SHEAS' FINANCIAL TROUBLE SETTLED Los Angeles Times 18 Mar 1953: A1.
  13. ^ Motion Picture and Television Magazine, December 1952, page 28, Ideal Publishers
  14. ^ Michael O'Shea Pleads Guilty to Gun Charge: Fired Two Shots at Tractor Tires Because Boys 'Hot-Rodded' It Near Home, He Says Los Angeles Times 4 Jan 1957: B1.
  15. ^ Michael O'Shea in Brawl Over Virginia Mayo Los Angeles Times 26 Aug 1959: 8.
  16. ^ Handsome Johnny, by Lee Server, chpt. 10
  17. ^ Morning News, January 10, 1948, Who Was Who in America (Vol. 2).
  18. ^ p.7 Michael O'Shea is Claimed By Death Beaver County Times 5 Dec 1973

External linksEdit