Broke the head off his 'Best Supporting Actor' Oscar (Going My Way (1944)) practicing his golf swing.
Brother of actor Arthur Shields, with whom he performed in several films, most notably John Ford's The Quiet Man (1952).
Despite his penchant for portraying priests, Fitzgerald (born William Shields) was a Protestant (and a nationalist), whose brother Arthur Shields was a republican during the upheaval of the early 20th century in Ireland.
Fitzgerald was the only player ever nominated for the Academy Award for both Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor in the same year for the same role. The recognition was for Going My Way (1944). After he received this double nomination, the Academy immediately changed their rules to prevent this from happening again, rules which have remained unchanged to this day.
He is one of the elite ten thespians to have been nominated for both a Supporting and Lead Acting Academy Award in the same year. The other nine are Fay Bainter, Teresa Wright, Jessica Lange, Sigourney Weaver, Al Pacino, Cate Blanchett, Emma Thompson, Holly Hunter, Julianne Moore and Jamie Foxx. Fitzgerald is the only of the actors to be nominated in both categories for the same role in the same movie.
One of the very few character actors ever to achieve star status.
The slight, small Fitzgerald was frequently cast alongside huge hulks like John Wayne or Victor McLaglen (most notably in John Ford films), making for a good sight gag as he behaved fearlessly.