Maureen O’Hara (1920-2015)

She was truly born and bred in Ireland.  Her given name was Maureen FitzSimmons.  If she could have, she would have stayed with that name.  But her fellow actor and mentor Charles Laughton said that no one would get the last name right and said she should change it to O’Mara or O’Hara.  She balked, saying she wanted to stay FitzSimmons.  Laughton replied, “Very well, you’re Maureen O’Hara.”

After a couple of small parts in films, O’Hara moved on to a leading role in Alfred Hitchcock’s Jamaica Inn and as Esmeralda in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, both also starring Laughton.  There was no doubting her talent or her beauty, and soon O’Hara was playing a variety of roles, from innocent girl to wife and mother to swashbuckler.  (One thing I do find odd.  Maureen O’Hara was a natural beauty, with dark red hair and incredible green eyes – yet most of her early movies are in black & white.  What were studios thinking?  Seems it would have been worth the extra cost of color to capture that on film – although she was amazingly beautiful in either black & white or color.)

In 1941, O’Hara caught the attention of director John Ford.  He cast her as Angharad in How Green Was My Valley, a drama about a coal mining village in Wales.  It was to be the first of five films she would make with Ford.  And three of those movies would be with the leading actor with whom we most associate O’Hara – John Wayne.
 
The pairing of O’Hara and Wayne was perfect.  Both strong personalities, they never cancelled each other out.  Instead, as co-stars, they brought out the best in each other.  Want to see how absolutely amazing a romantic comedy can be?  The Quiet Man gives us the kind of fiery romance that’s often missing in today’s rom-com.  It’s no wonder that any list of the best movies of O’Hara, Wayne, or director John Ford ranks this one at the top.

Maureen O’Hara made four other films with John Wayne (Rio Grande, The Wings of Eagles, McLintock!, Big Jake).  But she also worked with other top actors of the day, such as James Stewart (Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation, The Rare Breed), Henry Fonda (Immortal Sergeant, Spencer’s Mountain), Tyrone Power (The Black Swan, The Long Gray Line).

While The Quiet Man remains a favorite of O’Hara’s films, we probably remember her best in two comedies watched countless times by families, generation after generation.  One is Miracle on 34th Street features O’Hara as a single mother determined to keep her young daughter from wasting time on fairy tales and daydreaming – until a man named Kris Kringle comes along at Christmastime and opens the hearts and minds of both mother and daughter.  The other is The Parent Trap, the classic Disney film about identical twin teenaged girls determined to get their divorced parents back together again.
 
In the 1970s, O’Hara decided to retire from making movies, though she was lured back in the early 90s with the romantic comedy Only the Lonely, playing the mother of John Candy.  A few TV movies followed before she retired for good in 2000.  In 2004, she released an autobiography ‘Tis Herself.   Although she never received an Oscar nomination, Maureen O’Hara was awarded an Honorary Oscar in 2014.  It was a greatly deserved recognition to her work in motion pictures.
 
Last week, we lost this fine actress.  Maureen O’Hara passed away at the age of 95.  In her career, she took on almost every kind of movie, from comedy and musical to romance and melodrama to action-adventure and western.  And always with grace and charm and passion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flickr:  CC          : Year -- 2000          Photo by signerlaraine