The names of my youth
August 12, 2019 8:50 AM   Subscribe

Is there any way to learn more about this person mentioned who James Cagney mentioned in passing?

In the book Alcohol in the Movies, 1898-1962: A Critical History there is this passage:
When Cagney received the American Film Institute Lifetime Achievement Award on March 13, 1974, he made a gracious, understated, thoughtful acceptance speech in which he offered a number of thanks to those people from his youth who had influenced his acting style. Among them were childhood acquaintances from the environment of his boyhood: New York's Lower East Side. Cagney ended his speech with a tribute to them:
"And the names, the names, the names of my youth: Lager-head Quinnlivan, Artie Klein, Pete Leyden, Jake Bodkin, Specks Toporcer, Brother O'Mara, Picky Hoolihan! They were all part of a very stimulating early environment which produced that unmistakable touch of the gutter without which this evening might never have happened at all."
So here I am to ask you researchers and historians and genealogists, amateur and professional: is there any way to find out who Brother O'Mara was? I can only imagine that in the LES in the early 1900s there were more O'Maras than one could shake a stick at, and with no first name to go on ... well, you'd know better than I if this is something that's not worth even exploring.
posted by komara to Grab Bag (10 answers total)
The past was weird...I could easily see "Brother" being an actual name. Phone books? I would contact the NYPL main branch (on 42nd st). They have microfilm of basically every periodical ever, and IIRC phone books too.
posted by sexyrobot at 8:58 AM on August 12

'Brother' means a lay member of a male religious orders - someone who has professed vows but not been ordained a priest (or they'd be 'Father').

One place to start might be with the religious orders in NYC who were present at the time. Still a big haystack, but it's a start. His wikipedia bio says he was confirmed at St. Frances de Sales parish. The Salesians of Don Bosco are known to work with poor children; I'd probably start digging thereabouts.
posted by jquinby at 9:04 AM on August 12 [6 favorites]

Ah - the Christian Brothers are also big in education and schools.
posted by jquinby at 9:06 AM on August 12 [1 favorite]

Yeah it's almost certainly a Christian Brother, given geography.
posted by Miko at 10:00 AM on August 12

Maybe he is an actual Brother, or maybe it is a nickname. Boys often were known by nicknames in those days, as you can see by "Picky, Lager-head, and Specks" in this list. My Irish American Dad said often only your mother called you by your full given name. He had a friend named Snake Sullivan whose real name he did not even know. My Dad's nickname was "Monk" for a while, because he was the good boy compared to his rowdy brothers and they thought he would become a priest. He met my Mom, and that did not happen, luckily for me and my brother.
posted by mermayd at 10:28 AM on August 12 [1 favorite]

This feels like a question for Karina Longworth, host of You Must Remember This podcast.
posted by BlahLaLa at 10:34 AM on August 12 [1 favorite]

This episode of the podcast The Secret History of Hollywood goes into a lot of detail about Cagney's early life--I can't remember if he specifically mentions all of those people but I would bet some of them are in there. Either way it's a fantastic podcast. This episode intertwines the story of the Warner brothers with Cagney's and it's fascinating.
posted by exceptinsects at 10:40 AM on August 12

The 1974 Movietone News article about the AFI tribute lists alternate spellings of the names: "Loggerhead Quinliven, Artie Klein, Jake Brodkin, Brother O’Meara, Pinky Hoolihan."
posted by Iris Gambol at 1:05 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]

Augh, hit post too soon: and Cagney's own "Cagney by Cagney" (1976) has the spelling as O'Meara, too.
posted by Iris Gambol at 1:08 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]

I was wondering if the O'Mara I found was a choice of spelling during transcription. If it's really O'Meara then I'm far less interested. Thanks for that!
posted by komara at 2:13 PM on August 12

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