McCormick, F. J. (1890–1947), actor, was born Peter Christopher Judge on 16 June 1890 in Skerries, Co. Dublin, son of Michael Judge of Skerries, a maltster and later a brewery manager, and his wife Mary (née Power). Educated locally, he worked briefly as a post office clerk in London, before returning to Dublin to take up a junior clerkship in the civil service. He dabbled in writing, contributed articles to the press, and more importantly, took up acting in his spare time. One of his earliest roles is thought to have been the juvenile lead in the Irish-made film Fun at Finglas fair (1915). Having made his stage debut in melodramas and thrillers in the Workingmen's Club in York St., he later joined the semi-professionals working at the Queen's Theatre. To conceal his identity from his employers he adopted the stage name ‘F. J. McCormick’, which he kept for the rest of his career. His first significant break as an actor came in November 1917, when he was engaged by Frank Fay (qv) to play the leading role in the popular comedy ‘Flurry to the rescue’ at the Theatre Royal. Fay's direction proved critical to his development as an actor, as McCormick himself later recalled: ‘During those three weeks’ rehearsals I learnt more from Frank Fay than I had learnt before’ (Hunt, 116). His success in the part led to further engagements, among them another comedy, ‘The courting of the Widow Malone’, in which he was spotted by the Abbey Theatre's manager, Fred O'Donovan (qv). O'Donovan invited him to join the company, and in April 1918 he made his first appearance in the Abbey in a minor part in ‘The bribe’ by Seumas O'Kelly (qv). Lunchtime rehearsals resulted in his being continually late back at work, and on being asked to choose between acting and the office, he gave up his job in favour of the stage. This commitment was rewarded the following year when he was given the leading role in Constance Powell Anderson's play ‘The curate of St Chad's’ (opened 20 May 1919), put on by an independent group of actors during the Abbey's close season.
Throughout his prolific career McCormick remained consistently loyal to the Abbey Theatre, despite the fact that even though he was one of their most acclaimed performers he never earned more than £14 a week. In his early days with the theatre he took on stage management, and indulged his passion for photography by taking pictures of stage sets. In June 1921 his defence of actors was published in the journal Banba in response to criticisms by Edward Martyn (qv) published the previous month. After a brief departure from the company (during the lay-off of Abbey actors in 1921 he worked with a company touring in Belfast, Cork, and England) he immediately rejoined their ranks, and continued working there for the remainder of his theatrical career. He took part in five Abbey tours in America, the last taking place in 1938. While he appeared in over 500 Abbey plays, alternating in comedy, drama, and tragedy, for many contemporaries he was identified with the plays of Sean O'Casey (qv). His performance as Seumas Shields in the first production of ‘The shadow of a gunman’ (April 1923) so impressed O'Casey that later he told McCormick: ‘You didn't play the Seumas Shields I wrote; but you substituted a much greater character’ (Fallon, Studies, 184). His subsequent portrayal of Joxer Daly in ‘Juno and the Paycock’ (1924) was considered a definitive characterisation. Much admired by his fellow actors, he was renowned for his ability to identify completely with the character he played – Abbey regular Joseph Holloway (qv) wrote of his Joxer Daly: ‘One completely forgets the actor in his part, and only remembers the shoulder-shrugging loafer and sponger as a real person’ (Holloway, iii, 17). Though the role of The Covey was written specifically for him, at the insistence of Lennox Robinson (qv) McCormick took the part of Jack Clitheroe in the first performance of ‘The plough and the stars’ (1926). His anxiety to distance himself and his fellow actors from the controversy that surrounded the play led to a breakdown in his friendship with O'Casey.
A versatile performer, he remained virtually unrestricted in the type of part he could play. His diverse repertoire included celebrated performances in the title roles of ‘Professor Tim’ (1925) by George Shiels (qv), ‘Oedipus the king’ (1926) and ‘Oedipus at Colonus’ (1927) by W. B. Yeats (qv), and Shakespeare's ‘King Lear’ (1928), and in the role of Gen. Burgoyne in ‘The devil's disciple’ (1920) by G. B. Shaw (qv). He also found time to take part in seventeen plays put on by the experimental Dublin Drama League at the Abbey. After an appearance as Capt. Brennan in the film version by John Ford (qv) of The plough and the stars (1936), he returned to cinema work in two British films, Odd man out and Hungry Hill, both released in 1947. His sympathetic portrayal of the vagrant Shell in Odd man out earned him particular praise in the British and Irish press. On the strength of these performances he was offered the part of the first gravedigger in Laurence Olivier's film version of Hamlet. However, just as he was making a name for himself as a film actor he died 24 April 1947 in Dublin after a short illness.
He married (December 1925) the actress Eileen Crowe (qv), whom he met at the Abbey; they had two children. Portraits of McCormick, painted by Cecil ffrench Salkeld (qv) and Seán O'Sullivan (qv), RHA, are in the Abbey Theatre collection. He was also caricatured in some of his best known roles by Grace Gifford (qv).