Irish theater luminary Sara Allgood began her acting career in 1904 as a member of the renowned Abbey Theatre Company of Dublin when she appeared in the company’s production of Lady Augusta Gregory’s Spreading the News. Her triumph in this performance led to other major roles and to work with the Liverpool Repertory Theatre, including appearances in W.B. Yeats’s Cathleen ni Houlihan and J.M. Synge’s Riders to the Sea. Because of the European success of many of these productions, Allgood had the opportunity to perform in a number of well-received tours of the United States, England, Australia, and New Zealand.
While touring Australia with a production of J. Hartly Manner’s Peg o’ My Heart, Allgood married actor Gerald Henson in 1916. Shortly afterward, Allgood suffered two major tragedies: in November 1917 her husband died, a victim of the influenza epidemic, and then, in January of 1918, Allgood gave birth to a daughter who survived for only an hour.
Allgood performed in London for several seasons before returning to Dublin and the Abbey Theatre Company. It was during this time that she delivered some of her most successful performances. The role of Juno in Sean O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock in 1924, for instance, was so influential it has become a legendary part of Irish theater history. When Allgood performed in a revival of the play in New York City in 1940, Brooks Atkinson wrote, “Some day, somewhere, some young people will be thinking enviously of the time when Sean O’Casey was writing mighty plays and Barry Fitzgerald and Sara Allgood were around to act them . . . . [This] will seem like a golden age.”
In 1940, Allgood gave up theatrical work to pursue a film career in Hollywood. She moved to California and, in 1945, became a United States citizen. Unfortunately, Allgood never achieved the success she hoped for in the film industry. In spite of her reputation and talent, she was offered only minor parts in movies, playing stereotypical Irish characters. Allgood died in Hollywood, alone and penniless, in 1950.