O.Z. “Zebby” Whitehead Remembered by John Kelleher

23rd November 2020 by admin

Some fifty years ago, when my brother Terry and I were students at UCD, our bijou flat near Leeson Street Bridge played host to many a lively Dramsoc party. Our parents, knowing how much of our living allowance we’d be likely to leave in the tills of Hartigans, Kirwan House and O’Dwyers, prudently arranged with the management of the nearby Grey Door restaurant/guesthouse on Upper Pembroke Street for us to eat there twice daily during term-time.

This came with a welcome bonus – at that time, Zebbie Whitehead was resident at the Grey Door. Terry and I became regular and avid listeners as he shared memories of Broadway, Hollywood, Katherine Hepburn – the great love of his life – John Ford, Henry Fonda and many others.

He told us he never once regretted the decision not to invest at an early stage in the Broadway run of Edward Albee’s ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf’. Had he done so, he told us, he would have made pots of money as the original ‘angel’ investors also had a piece of the movie, which went on to win multiple Oscars. However, Zebbie, a devout member of the Bahá’í faith, strongly disapproved of Albee’s subject matter. Though he never said it, I often wondered if he had influenced Katherine Hepburn’s decision to turn down the role of Martha, a part that earned Elizabeth Taylor the Academy Award.

Coincidentally, three years later, when I was a rookie on my trainee producer/director course with RTE, Zebbie kindly accepted my offer to direct him in another play by Edward Albee, ‘The Zoo Story’. Needless to say, he shone.

My memories of Zebbie remain strong: his shy, diffident manner, his intelligence,  his warmth and that gentle charming smile. I am so glad he continues to be remembered through the ZeBBies.

John Kelleher


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