SINGING THE SONG OF PEGGY O'NEIL
She was such a real person
BY GEORGIE WOOD
THE national Press did not give the obituary tributes many of us would have liked to have read about an actress and star whose name at one time was a household word Miss Peggy O'Neil. I was, therefore, very pleased to see that the "Sunday Dispatch" published a picture of this lovely actress taken when she was the personification of the artist (and film maker's) conception of "Irish beauty" with a letter from a Cheltenham reader, Mr. Herbert Wintlesham, who writes:
WHO IS THERE?
"Who is there now who could have a song written about her such as the Peggy O'Neil song? When I was a boy this was sung by all picrrot troupes at the seaside, to the delight of young and old on the sands." In the year 1920, Miss O'Neil was the star of "Paddy the Next Best Thing," at the Savoy Theatre. At that time, Wee Georgie Wood, that "little boy" which was me, was appearing for Sir Oswald Stoll at the Alhambra, which is now the Leicester Square Odeon Cinema's location. On one of my rare "night-out" occasions I arrived at the famous night club Chez Henri just as Peggy O'Neil's entrance with a party of friends was greeted by pianist Charlie Kunz, playing "Peg o' my Heart I Love You," together with "If her eyes are as blue as the skies, that's Peggy O'Neil."
Clasping her hands excitedly she embraced shy, generous, lovable Charlie Kunz, shouting enthusiastically, "Isn't he just marvellous!" I'm afraid I only had eyes that night for Miss O'Neil, and paid little at tention to the pianist who years later became one of my dearest friends. It was my privilege to take the late Charlie Kunz to play for the children, in 1938, in St. Gerard's Hospital at Walter Hudson's Homes, Coleshill, when he met that great soul, the late Mother Philomena. My meetings with Miss O'Neil were few and far between. I could not count myself as more than one of her many acquaintance-s, but she always had a smile for me on those days when we happened to be at the same parties. It was at a party when she said to me, "Isn't it silly, Georgie, but I wish you were a Catholic." I do remember that although I resented her impulsive remark, 1 did not show I had taken offence, which was unusual for me if I felt any cause for grievance. Of course, I realise now that it wasn't silly at all—even though it wasn't until years 'later that Peggy O'Neil's wish came true with my admission to the Church, Miss O'Neil was a member of the Catholic Stage Guild which resumed activities in 1950 consequent on my telephone call to Fr. J. O'Hear at Corpus Christi in Maiden Lane following my visit to Rome in Holy Year. When I read out "Peggy O'Neil is dead," a young and TV-minded member said: "I always thought Peggy O'Neil was just a song. I didn't know she was a real person." She was a very real person. She was so real that she will be remembered long after those who are the cynosure of TV eyes today are forgotten. I felt reluctant to write about Miss O'Neil when asked to do so, but I suppose it's all right, and having written this brief memory on my way to the post I'll call in at my parish church of St. Charles Borromco with a remembrance of someone of my own generation who bravely took failures after success, the theft of her jewels which were not insured, and years of crippling arthritis. Names that were famous might pass out of the parade and become faded. What a consolation it is to know that we are never forgotten even though we don't always think as much as we want to.