Fagan, James Bernard (1873–1933), actor-manager, director and playwright, was born 18 May 1873 in Belfast, the eldest son of the surgeon John (later Sir John) Fagan (qv) of Queen's County (Laois) and Mary Catherine Fagan (née Hughes) of Belfast; his family lived in Belfast, where his father worked. Educated at Clongowes Wood College, Co. Kildare, James went to Trinity College, Oxford, in 1892 but left without graduating. Plans for a career in the law, the Indian civil service, and the church had all been abandoned in favour of the stage by October 1895, when he made his acting debut with F. R. Benson's company. A two-year stint with Benson was followed by a further two years with Herbert Beerbohm Tree's company at Her Majesty's Theatre, London. In 1899 he gave up acting and turned his attention to writing, having begun his career as a dramatist that year with The rebel. This was followed by a further fourteen plays, including his poetical drama The prayer of the sword (1904), a revue Shakespeare v. Shaw (1905), his hugely popular adaptation of Treasure Island (1922), his Pepysian comedy And so to bed (1926), and The improper duchess (1931).
Fagan returned to the stage in 1913 to tour in the role of the Rt Hon. Denzil Trevena in his own play ‘The earth’ (first produced in 1909). His first major success as a producer came in March 1917 with a popular production of Eugène Brieux's ‘Damaged goods’ at St Martin's Theatre, London. The following year he took over the management of the Royal Court Theatre, London, where he mounted some notable Shakespearean productions, and the British premiere of ‘Heartbreak House’ (1921) by George Bernard Shaw (qv). After moving to Oxford, in October 1923 he established the Oxford Playhouse, where he engaged a young and talented company of actors which at various times included Tyrone Guthrie (qv), John Gielgud, and Flora Robson. During his period with the playhouse he directed works by Ibsen, Chekhov, Strindberg, and John Synge (qv). Later theatrical engagements in London included work with the Lyric Theatre (1925), the Royalty Theatre, where he directed the London premiere of ‘Juno and the paycock’ (November 1925) by Sean O'Casey (qv), the Fortune Theatre, where he directed the London premiere of O'Casey's ‘The plough and the stars’ (May 1926), and the Globe Theatre (1927).
In 1929 he became director of the Festival Theatre, Cambridge. After managing the Irish Players, founded by Arthur Sinclair, he left his work in the theatre for the American film industry in the thirties. His marriage to actress Elizabeth Kirby in 1897 was later dissolved, and in 1914 he married another actress, Ada Baron ap Rees Bryant, who performed under the name Mary Grey. They had one daughter. He died 17 February 1933 in Hollywood, California; his remains were returned to England for burial.