Irish actor Albert Sharpe enjoyed a 50 year career that took him from the vaudeville houses of Europe to the soundstages of Hollywood, with one detour for a hit Broadway play along the way. Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in 1885, he attended the Christian Brothers School and entered show business as a boy selling programs at the Empire Theater in Belfast. It wasn't long before he was more involved with the entertainment, working as an assistant to magicians. He later joined the Frank Benson Shakespearean repertory company, where he honed his dramatic and comedic acting skills. But for Sharpe, survival and success came on the vaudeville stage -- some during that period in partnership with Joe Carney. It was only much later that he moved back into legitimate theater by way of the Abbey Players.
Capable of working in any mode but with a special knack for comedy, Sharpe was, not surprisingly, very good at playing Irish and, less commonly, Scottish character roles. In 1946, he appeared in his first movie, the romantic comedy/thriller I See a Dark Stranger, and was noticed by Ria Mooney of the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. She knew theatrical producers Lee Sabinson and William R. Katzell, who were just getting their production of Finian's Rainbow underway and were desperate to find someone to portray Finian McLonergan. And so it was that, in the spring of 1947, Sharpe became an "overnight" star on Broadway at the age of 62 in his first role on the New York stage (in fact, his first chance to come to New York), working alongside Ella Logan. The E.Y. Harburg/Burton Lane musical was one of Broadway's earlier great postwar hits and enjoyed a run that kept Sharpe busy into 1948, enabling him to bring his family -- including six children -- over to America. By the time the play had run its course, Sharpe was in demand in theater as never before and saw a viable movie career opening up. He was seen that year in the Deanna Durbin vehicle Up in Central Park and the New York-based fantasy film Portrait of Jennie (working with his Finian's Rainbow co-star David Wayne), and in the British-made The Return of October. He subsequently worked in movies on both sides of the Atlantic, including Royal Wedding, You Never Can Tell (both 1951), and Brigadoon (1954). Sharpe retired in the mid-'50s, but Walt Disney crossed the Atlantic in 1958 trying to put together a new production called Darby O'Gill & the Little People and convinced the 73-year-old actor to resume working. Sharpe played the title role, which brought him back to Hollywood for one last professional visit in a movie whose cast also included a young Sean Connery. Sharpe died in February 1970 in Belfast. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi