Shields, Arthur (1896–1970), actor, was born 15 February 1896 in North Great George's St., Dublin, one of eight children of Adolphus Shields, journalist, and Fanny Sophia Shields, originally from Germany. His older brother, William, achieved much fame as the actor Barry Fitzgerald (qv). A protestant, he was educated at Merchant Taylor's school, but left school at the age of 14 when he began work as a copyholder for the Evening Telegraph. From there he moved on to Maunsell's publishing house, where he worked as a clerk, and it was at this time that his passion for acting was first excited. He attended evening classes at the Abbey Theatre given by – among others – Lennox Robinson (qv). By the time he earned a full-time contract with the Abbey in 1915, he had already made his first screen appearance, playing the young St Patrick (qv) in a biographical film.
His relationship with the Abbey would be a long and fulfilling one. He made his first stage appearance there in Edward McNulty's play ‘The lord mayor’ on 13 March 1914, and stayed with the theatre until he left Ireland in 1939; he appeared in well over a hundred plays on the Abbey stage. Along with his brother, and other gifted young actors such as J. M. Kerrigan (1885–1964), Paddy Carolan, and Arthur Sinclair (1883–1951), he helped to give the theatre a momentum it had been in danger of losing with the passing of the first wave of great Abbey players. Through the influence of his socialist father and some nationalist friends he became involved in the Irish Volunteers and arrived back from an Abbey tour just in time to take part in the Easter rising (1916). He served in the GPO and his absence, combined with the death of another actor, Sean Connolly (qv), prevented the opening of a double bill at the Abbey on the night of 25 April 1916.
For his part in these events he was interned in Frongoch camp, Wales, where he played a prominent role in camp dramas, establishing a Frongoch dramatic society. Appearing before the Sankey committee, which was established to adjudicate on internments, he was recognised by Mr Justice Jonathan Pim (qv), a member of the committee, who had seen him at the Abbey. Ordering Shields's release, Pim reportedly told the young thespian to forget about revolution and stick to the theatre. He duly returned to acting and to the Abbey, taking part in many tours and sharing much of the directorial responsibilities with Lennox Robinson. In addition he became stage manager, and it may have been for this reason that he earned the sobriquet ‘Boss’, which clung to him for the remainder of his life. A less comical actor than his brother, he was more renowned as an intense and earnest performer. He was particularly famed for his part as Denis in Lennox Robinson's ‘The white-headed boy’: he played in the premiere and reprised the performance on over a thousand occasions in England, Australia, and the USA.
At the Abbey he appeared in the first productions of both ‘Shadow of a gunman’ and ‘Juno and the Paycock’ by Sean O'Casey (qv) and in 1936 he was invited by the Irish-American film director John Ford (qv) to go to Hollywood, to act alongside his brother in Ford's film version of ‘Juno’. One of his last major parts in the Abbey was in ‘Shadow and substance’, by Paul Vincent Carroll (qv), before the lure of Hollywood took him to America to play in another Ford film, Drums along the Mohawk (1939). His intention was to return to Ireland, but a series of incidents ensured that he would spend the rest of his life in America. On his journey home he was asked to do a play in New York. During the run he suffered a broken leg and discovered while recuperating in hospital that he had tuberculosis. On the advice that a dry climate would benefit the illness, he moved to California, where he lived for the next thirty years. He appeared in five more John Ford films, including the classics How green is my valley (1941), She wore a yellow ribbon (1949), and The quiet man, which was filmed on location in Cong, Co. Mayo, in 1951. Other notable film work included Jean Renoir's Indian film The river (1951) and National Velvet (1944), but he did get typecast, appearing on screen as a priest or a preacher on at least seventeen occasions.
In later life much of his work was in television; reflecting his work with Ford, many of his television credits were in western series such as ‘Rawhide’ and ‘Bonanza’. His visits to Ireland became less frequent and a trip home in 1964 was his last. He married first Baisie McGee, an Abbey actress; they had a son, Adam. His second marriage was again to an Abbey player, Aideen O'Connor; they had a daughter, Christine. When he died on 27 April 1970 at his home in Santa Barbara, California, he was survived by his third wife, Laurie.