Posts Tagged ‘Stephen Bradley’

O.Z. “Zebby” Whitehead Remembered by Stephen Bradley

25th November 2020

I met wonderful Zebby Whitehead in 1991 and we became unlikely friends. He was in his 80’s and I was in my mid 20’s. I was working with producer Noel Pearson who lived and had his office in a house on Harcourt Terrace and was then at the height of his Oscar-winning powers shortly after productions of My Left Foot and The Field, both directed by Jim Sheridan. The house had previously been lived in by Michael MacLiammoir and Hilton Edwards. Theatrical and Cinematic history was thick in the air in Dublin 2. I had left my student theatre days behind and wanted to make films. Serendipitous times.

I went to visit Zebby for many cups of tea in his ground floor flat on Leeson Street. It was frugal, sparse, clean and welcoming. I became enamoured by Zebby’s tales of old Hollywood in the Roaring Twenties followed by the distant, unimaginable Thirties and Forties. He told me that he had accompanied Katherine Hepburn to a New England cinema to see a public screening of her first film Bill of Divorcement in 1928 because Zebby had gone to Harvard with her brother and he stayed with the Hepburn family on many occasions. Katherine encouraged Zebby to pursue his acting dreams. Perhaps it was she who introduced him to the iconic director John Ford who cast him in several films?

I loved the stories of his cameo parts in some very famous films. I wanted to pay tribute to my generous friend and mentor. But I didn’t want to make a hagiography, a sop, an emotional mess. So I made a film about the grim reaper coming to kill Zebby in the middle of a wild storm.With unexpected results. After many applications and rejections it was selected for competition at the Venice Film Festival 1995. Ed Guiney, my friend and housemate produced the film, and apparently he’s gone on to make some other films since then.

For anyone who wants to watch Reaper there’s a link below. It’s 12 minutes long, filmed by Cian de Buitléar on black and white 35mm negative to match the clips from The Grapes of Wrath. Introducing the premiere in the old Screen Cinema near Trinity College (piggy-backing on the premiere of Paddy Breathnach’s first film Ailsa, written by Joseph O’Connor), Ed Guiney described Reaper as ”out there where the buses don’t run”.

RIP O.Z. ”Zebby” Whitehead.
Good luck to all those nominated for a ZeBBie in his memory during this crazy year of 2020.

Stephen Bradley
Watch Stephen’s short film Reaper here