T IS only now in his 80th year that actor, Des Keogh, is considering hanging up his touring boots. He is currently touring with his new one-man show, My Fair Ladies, about the love life of legendary Irish man of letters, George Bernard Shaw. It follows Keogh’s international tour of The Love-Hungry Farmer by John B Keane which went to America, Australia and Edinburgh, as well as all over Ireland.
“I have a feeling this may be my last touring show,” says Keogh. “It’s not that I’m giving up the business. It’s difficult enough doing the one night stands but the touring doesn’t get any easier. I’m certainly slowing down physically. But I suppose like a lot of people in the theatre, I’ll keep going as long as I can. There are no pensions or anything like that for actors. I like to keep working.”
The Offaly-born performer qualified as a barrister but never practised. He spent a couple of years working at the Guinness brewery and says if he had stayed there, he would now have “a fat pension”. But he has no regrets. “I’ve had a good life.”
Shaw was quite a lady’s man and through reading his correspondence, Keogh has put together a show that zones in on his love affairs, some of which were platonic. “Shaw fell madly in love with Mrs Patrick Campbell whose real name was Beatrice Stella Tanner. She was the original Eliza Doolittle in Pygmalion, although she was quite advanced in age — 48 — when she played the young Cockney flower girl. Shaw had an affair with the actress after her first husband died. He was a strange sort of man in that sometimes, there wasn’t any sex involved in his affairs. Even when he finally married an Irish lady, Charlotte Payne-Townshend, it was a celibate marriage. The two of them agreed on that.”
For many years, Keogh’s showbiz sidekick, often mistakenly thought to be his wife, was the comedic actress, Rosaleen Linehan. “We had a great time working together. Our partnership was hugely successful. It certainly saw us through some difficult times because it’s not always easy in this business. We started our comic revue together in 1973 and did shows for 12 years. Then we had a break for 15 years and came back for a while in 2000.”
Keogh’s lengthy career has taken him from the Cork Opera House where he performed and produced an English farce called Charley’s Aunt in 1965, to New York’s Carnegie Hall where he shared the stage with tenor, Frank Patterson, telling Irish stories in seanchaí style.
Chatting to John B Keane in the playwright’s Listowel pub is one of Keogh’s treasured memories. “I first got to know John B when I was filming Ryan’s Daugther in the Dingle area. I used to pop into John B’s pub. It was fascinating to sit there and listen to him because he spoke the way he wrote. He used absolutely natural, wonderful language. I was very sad that he didn’t get to see my show, The Love Hungry Farmer. I asked him for permission to adapt it. I got a lovely note back from him saying ‘You have my total blessing.’ Sadly, he died in 2002 and my show didn’t go on until the year after that.”
Keogh and his violinist wife, Geraldine O’Grady, have one daughter, Oonagh, also a violinist and member of the Irish Chamber Orchestra.
“I was sort of glad that Oonagh didn’t go into acting. She did show signs of wanting to do that early on but I’m pleased she didn’t. It can be a very difficult unpredictable business.”However, for the hard-working Keogh, the show must go on.