Fitzgerald Meets Fame — and He Frowns
By FRED STANLEY
HOLLYWOOD — In Hollywood these days everyone, it seems, is excited about Barry Fitzgerald - except Barry Fitzgerald. On the basis of his performance as the whimsical, petulant old parish priest in Paramount's ''Going My Way,'' the New York critics have just given him their award for the best film acting of the year.
Today Barry Fitzgerald is in greater demand by the studios than any character has ever been in the history of the film city. One conservative estimate, by people who figure such things out, has it that if the 56-year-old Irish actor accepted all of the parts that have been offered to him in the past four months he would be working in front of the cameras, night and day, for the next two years. Film producers calculate that Fitzgerald's name in the cast of one of their products now means increased returns at the box office. That fact explains an increase in his ''per picture'' pay to $75,000 more than three times his pre-''Going My Way'' rate.
To all of which Barry Fitzgerald says: ''I am now just another Hollywood celebrity and that's downright boring.'' He doesn't understand why being a successful actor should mean that he can, per se, set the general public an example by smoking so and so's cigarettes or wearing this or that brand of underwear.
Gone are the days, he will regretfully tell you, when he could walk down the street unrecognized and just watch people go by. Now the people watch Barry Fitzgerald go by. In Hollywood he is too easily recognized, pointed out, stared at and besieged by that curious American phenomenon, the autograph seeker.
He finds it all rather bewildering. He resents the disruption of his previously inconspicuous private life. He can't even browse in Los Angeles book shops or join in a discussion with strangers at some out-of-the-way barroom or drug store without being tagged as Father Fitzgibbon. His old clothes and cloth cap, which once kept him inconspicuous, now make him a marked man.
And along with fame have come obligations - obligations which are particularly distressing to Mr. Fitzgerald, who cheerfully admits to being a ''very lazy man.'' Fame has brought sacks full of fan mail to be answered. It has resulted in invitations to parties and social events - for he is now being recognized, even by some of the town's so-called ''greats.''