James Augustine "Jimmy" O'Dea (26 April 1899 – 7 January 1965) was an Irish actor and comedian.
Jimmy O'Dea was born in Lower Bridge Street, Dublin, where his mother kept a small toy-shop. He was one of 11 children. His father was an iron-monger and had a shop in Capel Street. He was educated at the Irish Christian Brothers O'Connell School in Richmond Street, Dublin, where a classmate was future Taoiseach Sean Lemass, and by the Jesuits at Blackrock College and Belvedere College. From a young age he was interested in taking to the stage; he co-founded an amateur acting group, the Kilronan Players, in 1917. But his father would not hear of it. O'Dea was apprenticed to an optician in Edinburgh, Scotland, where he qualified as an optician.
He returned to Dublin where, aged 21, he set up his own business which he was, eventually, to give to his sister, Rita. In his spare time he took part in amateur productions of Ibsen and Chekhov. From 1920 he was in the Irish theatre in Hardwicke Street working with actor-producer John McDonagh. After working in plays by Shaw for a few years he rejoined McDonagh in revues, the first of which, Dublin To-Night, was produced at the Queen's Theatre in 1924. In 1927 he took to the stage full-time. In 1928, this company's first production Here We Are won international acclaim, and in December of the same year it produced its first Christmas Pantomime, Sinbad the Sailor.
O'Dea formed a partnership with Harry O'Donovan (died 3 November 1973) whom he first met in a production of You Never Can Tell in 1924. Their first show was Look Who's Here at Queen's. For more than two decades beginning in 1929 the duo produced two shows a year in Dublin, first in the Olympia Theatre, then in the Gaiety. They created O'Dea's most famous character, "Mrs. Biddy Mulligan". The role drew on Jimmy's previous manifestations as "Dames" in Variety performances and pantomimes. Biddy Mulligan was the representation (caricature, parody and stereotype) of a Dublin street-seller, with all the working-class repartee, wisdom and failings implicit. He made a number of recordings of sketches starring Mrs. Mulligan. Biddy Mulligan is referenced in many Dublin music hall songs such as "Biddy Mulligan the Pride of the Coombe", "Daffy the Belle of the Coombe" and "The Charladies' Ball".
O'Dea made some film appearances, such as Darby O'Gill and the Little People (1959) in which he played King Brian of the little people and Johnny Nobody (1961). He also had a successful career in pantomime and toured Ireland and England many times, and is much associated with actress Maureen Potter (1925-2004), with whom he often partnered.
- Cheer Boys Cheer (1939)
- Let's Be Famous (1939)
- The Rising of the Moon (1957)
- Darby O'Gill and the Little People (1959)
With Harry O'Donovan:
- "Mrs. Mulligan nearly wins the Sweep" E.3694 Parlophone
- "Mrs. Mulligan in London" E.3895 Parlophone
- "Mrs. Mulligan at the telephone" E.3663 Parlophone
- "Mrs. Mulligan at the talkies" E.3764 Parlophone
- "Mrs. Mulligan at the racecourse" E.3763 Parlophone
- "Mrs. Mulligan in the tram" E.3764 Parlophone
- "The Irish Schoolmaster" E.3634 Parlophone
- "Sixpence each way" E.3634 Parlophone
- "Biddy Mulligan" E 3817 Parlophone
- "Mrs. Mulligan, Smuggler"
- "The Charladies' Ball"
- The Irish Times, "Jimmy O'Dea dies after 40 years on the Irish stage", 8 January 1965
- Boylan, Henry (1998). A Dictionary of Irish Biography, 3rd Edition. Dublin: Gill and MacMillan. p. 314. ISBN 0-7171-2945-4.
- Irish Times, 5 January 1950
- Irish Times, 6 November 1931
- Report (25 September 1959), "Jimmy O'Dea", The Irish Times: 4