O'Shea, Milo Donal (1926–2013), actor, was born on 2 June 1926 at 15 Fitzwilliam Terrace, Dublin, one of three children (two boys and a girl) of Daniel J. ('Con') O'Shea, a civil servant, and Nellie O'Shea (née O'Flanagan). His father was a semi-professional singer and his mother a harpist and ballet teacher; both performed with the Rathmines and Rathgar Musical Society. Milo was educated at Synge Street CBS, Dublin, which had a strong tradition of school drama, and appeared in several school plays, sometimes with his friend Donal Donnelly (qv). He also attended drama and elocution classes at Ena Mary Burke's Kildare Street studios, and from the age of nine regularly won prizes in various feiseanna. In November 1941 he was invited by Micheál MacLiammóir (qv) to play the part of the boy-king Ptolemy in G. B. Shaw's (qv) 'Caesar and Cleopatra' at the Gaiety Theatre. Intent on becoming a professional actor, he studied music and drama at the Guildhall School in London, and worked with the touring companies of Louis D'Alton (qv) and Anew McMaster (qv). From 1946 he appeared regularly in drama on Radio Éireann and in several Longford productions at the Gate; his portrayal of the uninvited guest Gunner in Shaw's 'Misalliance' at the Gate in September 1947 brought the house down. He was noticed by John Gielgud who cast him in 'Treasure hunt' at the London Apollo in August 1949, which ran for a year. On returning to Dublin, he worked in most of the city's theatres in everything from variety to Shakespeare.
In June 1951 he married the actress Maureen Toal (qv). Rather than going on honeymoon, the cash-strapped couple joined Ronald Ibbs's company on a US tour, and stayed there to work in radio drama and off Broadway productions. When theatre work dried up O'Shea worked as an elevator operator at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York, and even sold his blood to make ends meet. The couple returned to Ireland in November 1953 and soon became involved with the recently opened experimental Pike Theatre in Herbert Lane, and the local Globe Theatre Company. O'Shea appeared in the first late-night Pike revue, and in all but one of the six twice-yearly revues that followed. In 1954 he played the lead in Tennessee Williams's 'Summer and smoke' at the Pike, and was acclaimed for his leading role in Godfrey Quigley's (qv) production of George Axelrod's 'The seven year itch' at the Gaiety, which allowed him exercise his considerable talent for mime. This often formed an important part of his performances, and even drew praise from the great French mime artist Marcel Marceau. He could also sing and dance (and was a fine pianist) and continued to work with the Globe and other companies. Within a couple of years, he was a sure draw on the Dublin stage, excelling in musicals and comic roles. From 1962 he also worked regularly in London and on Broadway.
From the early 1960s he began to take advantage of opportunities to appear on British television in ITV Playhouse productions such as The moment of Milo (June 1960) and Night school (21 July 1960), the latter specially written for him by Harold Pinter. One of his most notable performances was in Silent song, a play written by Frank O'Connor (qv) and Hugh Leonard (qv), in which O'Shea and Jack MacGowran (qv) gave free rein to their miming abilities by playing monks in a Trappist monastery. O'Shea became a well-known figure in England when he appeared alongside Anna Manahan (qv) as an Irish mammy's boy in Leonard's popular BBC comedy Me Mammy (1968–71; 21 episodes). This was followed by Leonard's Tales from the Lazy Acre (BBC, 1972; 7 episodes), a less successful collection of comedy playlets based in Dublin.
O'Shea had some minor roles in minor films in the 1950s and early 1960s, including Carry on cabby (1963). Having appeared as Leopold Bloom in BBC TV's Bloomsday (1964), he was chosen by Joseph Strick to play the same role in his film adaptation of James Joyce's (qv) Ulysses (1967). His performance was one of the film's main strengths, skilfully combining the comic elements of Bloom's character with an appealing humanity and gentleness. This was followed by two more significant film parts: as the understanding Friar Lawrence in Franco Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet (1968) and as the mad scientist Dr Durand Durand in Roger Vadim's Barbarella (1968) which starred Jane Fonda. During the early 1970s he appeared in several undistinguished films, the best of which were probably Sacco & Vanzetti (1971) and Theater of blood (1973).
In March 1968 he appeared with Eli Wallach in 'Staircase' at the Biltmore Theatre, one of Broadway's earliest attempts to depict homosexual men in a serious way. For this he was awarded a Broadway Season award, and his first Tony award nomination in 1969. By this time he and Toal (who had adopted a son) had separated after her affair in the early 1960s with the actor Norman Rodway (qv); they divorced in December 1973. At Epping Registry office in London on 27 March 1974, O'Shea married Kitty O'Sullivan, an actress and singer originally from St Louis, Missouri; they had one son. In 1976 they moved to New York, which would be home for the rest of his life, settling in an apartment on 72nd Street overlooking Central Park where they often entertained visiting Irish actors. Always keen to maintain his links with Ireland, O'Shea was a key figure in the Irish Repertory Theatre founded in Manhattan in 1988.
His performances on the New York stage in Trevor Griffith's 'The comedians' (1976–7) (directed by Mike Nichols), Eugene O'Neill's 'A touch of the poet' (1977) and as Lucky in 'Waiting for Godot' (1978) were acclaimed by New York critics. He received another Tony award nomination and a Drama Desk award for his part in 'Mass appeal' (1983) and also appeared in the musical 'Meet me in St Louis' (1989) which ran on Broadway for over a year.
His film career continued, with a notable performance as a judge in The verdict (1982) opposite Paul Newman. He rated this along with Barberella and Romeo and Juliet as his favourite film part. He was well known as a versatile and reliable character actor, but such was his expertise and presence that he regularly stole scenes from better-known stars (his expressive black bushy eyebrows were invaluable in this regard). Like his hero Jimmy O'Dea (qv), his comic timing was impeccable and he could employ restraint and subtlety when required. The directors who most impressed him were Gielgud, Zeffirelli, Nichols and José Quintero. Other notable film roles were in Woody Allen's The purple rose of Cairo (1985) and Neil Jordan's The butcher boy (1997). To avoid being cast as a stage Irishman, he tried to play as many non-Irish parts as possible. He attributed his career longevity to his versatility and readiness to take work whenever it was available. When not working – which was rare – he enjoyed playing the piano, watching sports on television or playing a round of golf.
O'Shea also had a significant career in American television, appearing in St Elsewhere (1986), The golden girls (1987), Cheers (1992), Spin city (1998) and The west wing (2003–4). His natural comic ability also ensured regular appearances on television variety and chat shows. Charming and witty on and off stage, he made a particular point of putting younger actors at their ease, and never stinted with praise or encouragement. While living in Ireland, he was a sympathetic and constructive adjudicator at feiseanna and drama contests for many years. After he left, he visited Ireland regularly but was happy living in New York. He believed that Ireland's punitive tax regime prevented him returning and was saddened by the destruction of so much of the Dublin he knew, particularly its grand old theatres. In June 1996 he returned to the Gate to co-star with David Kelly (qv) in 'The sunshine boys', reprising a part he had played twenty-three years earlier.
His last stage appearance was in 2001 in a favourite role as Fluther Good in 'The plough and the stars' directed by Joe Dowling at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. He was awarded an honorary doctorate of literature for his contribution to the arts by UCD in June 2007, and that month had his handprints taken for placing outside the Gaiety Theatre. In 2010 he also received an honorary degree from Quinnipaic University, Connecticut.
He died on 2 April 2013 in New York city and was cremated there. He was survived by his wife Kitty and sons Colm and Steven. His ashes were buried on 10 April in the family grave at Deansgrange cemetery, Dublin, after which tributes were paid by friends and colleagues from the stage of the Gate Theatre, scene of many of his most memorable performances.