herald

Tuesday 22 August 2017

I SERVED LAUREL AND HARDY - AND GOT A KISS FROM KRIS

legend: Maureen Grant has pulled pints at the Olympia for 65 years. She tells Alan O'Keeffe about the stars... and her dog Bono

SHE has served drinks to Laurel and Hardy and met modern stars including Liam Neeson and Samuel L Jackson, but it's Maureen Grant's six-decades-long career that's truly stellar.

Maureen still loves going to work at Dublin's Olympia Theatre - at the age of 89.

And after pulling pints there for 65 years, she's very much the queen of the theatre bar.

Photos of performers who have appeared there over the past eight decades adorn the walls.

Maureen has met most of them, and she cherishes the memories.

"I've enjoyed every minute in the Olympia, and I can still pull a few pints if they're busy," said the mother of eight.

Maureen has bantered with stars that most people only remember from old black and white movies.

funny

"Laurel and Hardy performed comedy shows in the theatre. They'd have a drink behind the big aspidistra plant in the bar and they were very funny," she said.

"WC Fields was fond of a jar and would tell me I had beautiful hair. It was jet black then."

Hollywood heart-throb Tyrone Power was "a beautiful man", said Maureen, adding: "I've said it before, but he had a pair of eyes you could powder your nose in."

One of her favourite photos is of the kiss she got from Kris Kristofferson. She was delighted at his response when she asked for an autograph. He said "I'll give you something better" and planted a smacker on her.

"It was like a Hollywood kiss. We were like Rhett Butler and Scarlett O'Hara in 'Gone With The Wind'," said Maureen.

There have also been happy encounters with Liam Neeson and Samuel L Jackson as well as Pierce Brosnan, Gabriel Byrne and Billy Connolly.

And she loves Bono: "So much so I even named my dog after him".

Comedian Jack Cruise was the Olympia Christmas panto stalwart and would stage the Holiday Hayride summer shows. The Dubliners were regular performers on the Olympia stage too.

Maureen has many memories of life in Dublin from the 1920s to the 1950s, when large numbers of people lived at a level of poverty that modern Dubliners would find hard to imagine.

She was born in 1925 when her parents lived in the city's tenement buildings along with tens of thousands of others in the inner city.

Old Georgian houses were divided up so that 10 families or more could live in a single building.

Maureen was the eldest of a large brood. When she was born, her parents lived in a single room at the back of a tenement house in Queen Street. The family later moved to Downpatrick Road in Crumlin.

Her father was an injured veteran of World War One. He lost part of his hip, which forced him to use sticks or crutches. He worked in the cattle market and money was always scarce.

Maureen remembers being among large numbers of children taken to Frances Street where they would stand in baths while a white substance was painted on them as a treatment for rashes.

She said: "They were very poor times, very tough. Everyone used the pawnbrokers. Jewellery, everything would be pawned. People had to do it to live.

"A frying pan was worth a shilling. It could be pawned on Monday and got out on Friday after paying the interest and used to cook for the weekend.

"I made my First Holy Communion in a white dress bought for sixpence. People with money paid to sit at the front in the church and those of us with no money had to stay at the back."

delighted

Maureen remembers being sent to live with her English grandmother at the top of a building in Dame Street, just down the road from the Olympia.

At the age of 12 she collapsed with meningitis and spent six months in Richmond Hospital.

Although times were hard for so many Dublin families, Maureen likes to recall the "innocence" of those days long before the scourge of drugs hit the streets.

Her first job as a young teenager was as an usherette in The Phoenix cinema on the quays.

When she married her husband, James Grant, they moved into a basement in a tenement in North King Street.

Maureen said: "It was one small room with no electricity. We used candles. We had an orange box for a table. There was a small grate for a fire. The toilet was out in the yard."

In 1949, aged 24, she got a job as a barmaid at the Olympia and has been there since.

In the early years, as her babies were born, she would often sneak them into work with her as she couldn't afford a minder.

When her first child, Jimmy, was an infant, he would be put to sleep wrapped in a blanket hanging on a hook at the back of a door in the theatre. Jimmy is now 65 and is the manager of the Olympia.

A non-drinker and non-smoker, Maureen said her happiest times have been working at the theatre.

She sells fundraising greetings cards to help in the fight against cancer and to support sick performers and artistes, and recently handed over a cheque for €15,000.

She has also received a Gold Heart Award for her contribution to the entertainment industry.

"It's great to see the younger crowds coming to the theatre now," said Maureen.

"Brendan Gleeson and his sons Domhnall and Brian will be in a comedy in January and it's almost booked out.

"The theatre is very much alive and I'm delighted to be part of it."

aokeeffe@herald.ie

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