Michael Sayers

(19/12/1911 - 02/05/2010)

Michael Sayers (19 December 1911 – 2 May 2010) was a prolific Irish poet, playwright, and writer who is buried in Aughavanagh Road Jewish Cemetery. He left an enduring mark on the literary landscape, despite enduring the challenges of McCarthyism in 1950s America. Born in Dublin to Jewish Lithuanian parents, Philip Sayers and Molly Harmel, he developed a keen interest in literature and politics from an early age, influenced by his father’s commitment to Irish Republicanism and his encounters with luminaries like Michael Collins during the war of independence.

Sayers embarked on his literary journey at Trinity College Dublin, where he studied French under the tutelage of none other than Samuel Beckett. His early years saw him contributing theatre reviews for T.S. Eliot’s The Criterion and A.R. Orage’s The New English Weekly. He shared a flat with writers Rayner Heppenstall and Eric Blair, later known as George Orwell. This period of intellectual exchange, tinged with the intensity of youthful debate, left an indelible mark on Sayers’ formative years.

In 1936, Sayers crossed the Atlantic to New York City, where he worked as a dramaturge for Norman Bel Geddes. His journalistic pursuits led him to investigate pro-Nazi activities in the United States, a theme he later explored in collaboration with Albert E. Kahn in their books, including “Sabotage! The Secret War Against America” (1942).

Sayers’ career took a controversial turn in 1944 when he published a series of articles in PM newspaper, alleging Nazi sympathies within the Irish government. This ignited a transatlantic debate, drawing attention to Ireland’s stance during World War II.

Returning to London in the post-war era, Sayers witnessed George Orwell’s rise with “Animal Farm” and became a trailblazer in live television, writing plays for NBC. However, his left-wing sympathies resulted in blacklisting during the McCarthy era. Reclaiming Irish citizenship, he continued his work under the pseudonym “Michael Connor,” crafting plays for BBC television.

The 1960s marked Sayers’ foray into screenplays, notably contributing to the James Bond film “Casino Royale.” He collaborated with Charles K. Feldman on projects like “Zorba the Greek” and “Hair.” In the 1980s, he relocated to New York City, where he spent the remainder of his life teaching screenwriting and creating poems and plays until shortly before his death at age 98 on May 2, 2010.

Sayers’ personal life was marked by two marriages, first to Mentana Galleani and later to Sylvia Thumin. Despite being divorced from Galleani in 1955, Sayers continued to navigate the turbulent waters of political persecution and artistic expression, leaving a legacy as a writer who faced adversity with realism and humour.

The Independent, at the time of Sayers’ death, noted his sharp political intelligence and the price he paid for his convictions, encapsulating his career as one of resilience and creativity against the backdrop of challenging times.

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Connection with area: Writer and journalist who is buried in Aughavanagh Road Jewish Cemetery.