Written in my off hours whilst working from home during the COVID-19 zombie apocalypse. The following is the third in a series of stories about the baroness. These stories are true as she remembers them.
The baroness has always had an affinity for Ireland. She claims a very Norwegian lineage and her heredity test revealed no Irish blood. Curiously, it revealed no Norwegian blood, either, and 1 percent Kurdish, despite a century of empirical evidence showing her descendants on both sides came from towns a few miles apart in northern Norway.
I’m a list-writing planner and knew Ireland had recently banned smoking in bars and restaurants. In 2009, I arranged a 2010 visit to attend Tedfest IV on Inis Oirr (Innisheer), one of the small, rocky islands off the coast of Galway. Tedfest is an ongoing celebration of the late 90s British Channel 4 TV series “Father Ted.” The show has brilliant comedy writing and timing. I got the scripts to inspire my work, which I’ll detail later in a tragic love story I’ll call “The Lady in Green.”
Tedfest IV turned out to be another Frye Festival. It bilked a few hundred rubes like me with promises of events that turned out to be as cheesy as the $65 ham & cheese sandwich ripoff at Disneyworld. One of the featured events was a Chinese luncheon at the wreck of the MV Plassey, the ship featured in the opening credits of Father Ted. The lunch consisted of cheap-ass ramen; drinks were extra. The best thing about Tedfest IV was making many new Irish and international friends with a common bond. We were the only Americans present. Everyone was dressed as characters from the show; those dressed as priests and nuns were referred to as Father or Sister.
While still on the island, the baroness and I clambered aboard the rusted hulk to explore. It has many jagged metal edges from years of being pounded by the surf on the rocky shoreline. Since our visit, the ship was again lifted and moved further inland by another fierce storm. It’s days are numbered. I’ve studied passenger shipwrecks since I was in college, being a member then of the Titanic Historical Society. A commercial ship, the Plassey carried cargo instead of people. Still, it reminded me of the wreck of the La Jenelle outside of Port Hueneme, California. By the time we disembarked, we were covered in orange rust.
Through my early planning, we’d flown from Munich to Dublin to Galway and were booked for one euro each for a bus back to Dublin. But then a Festivus Miracle occurred. Much like the baroness’ birthday card detailed in Chapter 3 of her stories, I reached out months ahead to Hollywood legend Maureen O’Hara for an audience. Late in the planning, the Queen of Ireland offered to join us for dinner in Glengarriff, a lovely town in southwest Ireland. I had to rent a car and, for the first time in my life, drive on the left side of the road. I drove on the wrong side twice, briefly, even though the car had a big red warning sign on the driver’s visor reminding tourists how to drive in Ireland.
The baroness got her audience with her favorite actress due to her working for O’Hara’s brother, producer Charles B. Fitzsimons. During a visit to his office when he was interviewing child actors for parts, the baroness saw a photo of O’Hara on his wall.
“Maureen O’Hara is my favorite actress,” the 8 year old baroness said. “Do you know her?”
“I should,” Fitzsimons replied with a smile. “She’s my sister.”
The baroness got the part and others, and is friends to this day with Fitzsimon’s son.
It took us a full day to drive to Glengarriff along Ireland’s western coast and we made it easily without benefit of a GPS. Fortunately, the hotel we’d booked housed the restaurant O’Hara suggested, so we simply freshened up and ordered a couple of pints while we waited.
There was a stir in the restaurant by the staff and guests at her entrance. O’Hara was 90 in 2010, and walked with a cane. I went to the door and offered her my arm, escorting her to our table. Although she looked great and much younger than her years, her assistant insisted we take no photos. I’d already filled my Nikon’s memory card with 500 photos from the previous days in Ireland, plus I didn’t want to make any waves. This dinner was for the baroness, not me.
The queen and the baroness had a grand conversation as O’Hara regaled us with stories about her many movies with John Wayne and other actors from Hollywood’s Golden Age. She told a story about costarring with Rex Harrison in the 1947 film “The Foxes of Harrow,” describing Harrison as crude and unpleasant to work with. As she told it:
“I hear you don’t like the English,” Harrison said during a stroll between takes.
“I like the English. I don’t like you,” she replied.
She spoke at length about the baroness’ favorite film, “The Quiet Man,” filmed in Cong. At the end of the film, she whispers something into Wayne’s ear that made him smile. To her dying day, she kept it a secret.
There were only two awkward moments, both involving me. The first was during a discussion of the Christmas classic, “Miracle on 34th Street,” also filmed in 1947. Natalie Wood was the child star in that one (I later met her sister, Lana, who played Plenty O’Toole in the James Bond flick “Diamonds are Forever.”)
“You worked with Natalie Wood in Miracle,” I commented.
The queen became rigid, and with full Hollywood diva engaged, she snapped: “I did nothing of the sort. She worked with me!” I begged her forgiveness and she relented.
The other moment was when her American assistant began dissing President Barack Obama and singing the praises of rightwing clown Glenn Beck, then on Pravda … er, Fox. The baroness became most concerned, squeezing my leg hard under the table, for she and I both loathe that Vicks Vaporub waste of skin as well as the other Fox propagandists. I’m outspoken when it comes to how awful Fox is.
“So what do you think? Isn’t he marvelous?” the assistant asked, leaning into me like Judge Reinhold in the close-talker episode of Seinfeld. “He speaks for America.”
“Don’t do it!” mouthed the baroness, squeezing harder.
Although the American Forces Network ran his feltercarb where I was stationed, I pretended that I’d never heard of the guy and the moment passed. Before O’Hara passed, there was controversy that ended up in court over the assistant’s handling of her affairs.
The queen autographed photos for us and the baroness’ DVD of The Quiet Man. She chose one of her sexy publicity stills for me and a more demure one for the baroness.
One final anecdote about Father Ted and the 2015 trip to Ireland when we visited Cong, ticking another box on the baroness’ bucket list. On that visit, I didn’t have to drive. Instead, “Sister” Niamh, whom we’d met at Tedfest, drove us to the estate used for the opening credits and exterior shots of the show. Homeowner Cheryl McCormack showed us around, served high tea and let us use props from the show to take photos. For the record, Baroness vonBeavis’ favorite episode of Ted is “Speed 3,” while mine is “Are you right there, Father Ted?”
A side note about AFN and Fox: for years I’ve been tilting at windmills to get AFN to stop broadcasting so much Fox Propaganda … er, “news.” If one digs hard enough, he/she will find acerbic pleas on Crooks and Liars written by yours truly to cut back or eliminate that drivel. The last time I checked, Fox had the most “news” time on AFN radio and television. I recall it being 50 percent, with other shows from real networks making up the rest. American service members don’t need the likes of fathead and BFF to the orange sphincter, Hannity the Manatee, indoctrinating young warriors to his 1984 thinkspeak misinformation. And I’m still waiting for that jerk of all trades to fulfill his promise to be waterboarded to prove it ain’t torture.
(In part five, the young baroness escapes a child molester and an airplane crash, receives death threats against her and her popstar brother, schools me in front of a star of the biggest grossing film of all time, and does a Chicago TV interview in Waikiki.)