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Just How Welsh Was ‘My Valley’? Not Very

If Oscars were handed out for gall, “How Green Was My Valley,” which landed four Academy Awards 50 years ago, would still win hands down. John Ford’s cinematic confection has raised more hackles in Wales than any other film set in the urban valleys.

Small wonder – most of the Rhondda Welshmen in the film were played by Irish actors. Ford, a regular celebrator of his Irish origins, shot “How Green” in Hollywood. He cast four Irish performers in key roles (Sara Allgood, Maureen O’Hara, Barry Fitzgerald and Fitzgerald’s brother Arthur Shields). He cast a Scotsman (Donald Crisp) as the father of the mining family, and during the wedding celebrations had him sing an Irish rather than a Welsh song.

Give ’em a break, John

In explanation, Ford told screenwriter Philip Dunne that the Welsh were just like the Irish anyway, “Micks and biddies, only Protestant.” The Welsh are mostly Methodist.

Tyrone Power was due to play Huw as an adult until the script was rewritten. Indeed, the only genuine Welshman in sight is Rhys Williams as the combative Dai Bando.

Yanks can’t figure it out

The Welsh have learned to tolerate Hollywood’s vagaries when it comes to putting the principality on screen. Whenever Hollywood films were set in Wales during the balmy studio years, you could bet the writers or moguls betrayed only a dim knowledge of local accents or geography.

In “Frankenstein Meets The Wolfman,” a 1943 toe-curling clinker, a mythical Queens Hospital in Cardiff seems, to the tutored ear, to be entirely staffed by Irishmen and Scotsmen. Lon Chaney Jr.’s bedridden lycanthrope, despite living in a patently Welsh village (Llanwenny), never hears an accent remotely Welsh.

James Whale’s 1932 horror hokum “The Old Dark House” is better… barely. Boris Karloff appears as the “dumb” attendant at the fateful house. His mumbles prompt suave Melvyn Douglas to comment: “Even Welsh ought not to sound like that.”

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