Maureen O'Hara (born August 17, 1920) is an Irish film actress and singer. The famously red-headed O'Hara has been noted for playing fiercely passionate heroines with a highly sensible attitude. She often worked with director John Ford and longtime friend John Wayne.
Early life and career
O'Hara was born Maureen FitzSimons on the Lower Churchtown Rd in the Dublin suburb of Churchtown, Dublin 14, Ireland. She was the second oldest of six children by Charles Stewart Parnell FitzSimons and Marguerita Lilburn FitzSimons. Her father was a Dublin businessman and part owner of Shamrock Rovers Football Club. Her mother, a former operatic contralto, was a successful womans' clothier. Her siblings were Peggy, the oldest, and younger Charles, Florrie, Margot and Jimmy. Peggy dedicated her life to a religious order, Sisters of Charity, and the younger children all went on to receive training at the Abbey Theater and the Ena Mary Burke School of Drama and Elocution in Dublin. O'Hara's dream at that time was to be an opera singer like her mother.
O'Hara's father was a very practical man and did not entirely support her theatrical aspirations. He insisted she learn a skill so that she would have something to fall back on to earn a living in case her experience in the performing arts was not successful. She enrolled in a business school and became a proficient bookkeeper and typist. Those skills proved helpful many years later when she was able to take and transcribe production notes dictated by John Ford for the screen adaptation of Maurice Walsh's short story The Quiet Man.
She did well in her Abbey training and was given an opportunity for a screen test in London. The studio adorned her in a "gold lame dress with flapping sleeves like wings" and heavy make-up with an ornate hair style. Reportedly, her thoughts concerning the incident were, "If this is the movies, I want nothing to do with them!" The screen test was deemed to be far from satisfactory; however, actor Charles Laughton later saw the test and, despite the overdone makeup and costume, was intrigued, paying particular notice to her large and expressive eyes.
Laughton subsequently asked his business partner Eric Pommer to see the film clip. Pommer agreed with Laughton and O'Hara was offered an initial seven-year contract with their new company Mayflower Pictures. Her first major film was Jamaica Inn by Alfred Hitchcock. Laughton was so pleased with O'Hara's performance that he cast her in the role of Esmeralda opposite him in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which was to be filmed at RKO Studios in Hollywood that same year. After the successful completion of Hunchback, World War II began, and Laughton, realizing their studio could no longer film in London, sold O'Hara's contract to RKO. That studio cast her in low-budget films until she was rescued by director John Ford, who cast her as Angharad in How Green Was My Valley.
In 1946, she became a naturalized citizen of the United States.
In addition to her acting skills, O'Hara had a soprano voice and described singing as her first love. The studio heads never capitalized on her musical talent, as she was already big box office in other genres of film. However, she was able to channel her love of singing through television. In the late '50s and early '60s, she was a guest on musical variety shows with Perry Como, Andy Williams, Betty Grable and Tennessee Ernie Ford. In 1960, she starred on Broadway in the musical Christine and released two successful recordings, Love Letters from Maureen O'Hara and Maureen O'Hara Sings her Favorite Irish Songs. Love Letters from Maureen O'Hara has been released on CD in Japan and is now out of print; Maureen O'Hara Sings Her Favorite Irish Songs has yet to be released on CD.
An icon of Hollywood's Golden Age, at the height of her career O'Hara was considered one of the world's most beautiful women. She is often remembered for her on-screen chemistry with John Wayne. They made five films together: Rio Grande, The Quiet Man, The Wings of Eagles, McLintock! and Big Jake. A clip of O'Hara's radiant face as she waves from a gate in John Ford's Academy Award-winning How Green Was My Valley, remains one of the most classic images preserved on film, and is often featured as a clip in montages and promotions.
Marriage, retirement and comeback
In 1939, at the age of 19, O'Hara secretly married Englishman George H. Brown, a film producer, production assistant and occasional scriptwriter whose best known work is the first of Margaret Rutherford's 1960s Miss Marple mysteries, Murder She Said. The marriage was annulled in 1941. Later that year, O'Hara married American film director Will Price (dialog director in The Hunchback of Notre Dame), but the union ended in 1953, reportedly as a result of his alcohol abuse. They had one child in 1944, a daughter named Bronwyn FitzSimons Price.
She married her third husband, Charles F. Blair, Jr., in 1968. Blair was a pioneer of transatlantic aviation, a former Brigadier General of the U.S. Air Force, and a former Chief Pilot at Pan Am. A few years after her marriage to Blair, O'Hara for the most part retired from acting. Blair died in 1978 when the engine of a Grumman Goose he was flying from St. Croix to St. Thomas exploded. She was elected CEO and President of Antilles Airboats with the added distinction of being the first woman president of a scheduled airline in the U.S. Later she sold the airline with the permission of the shareholders.
O'Hara remained retired from acting until 1991, when she starred in the film Only the Lonely. She played Rose Muldoon, the domineering mother of a Chicago cop played by John Candy. Now officially retired, she divides her time among homes in Glengarriff, County Cork, Ireland, Arizona and the Virgin Islands.
Photograph Hand Oil Tinted by artist Margaret A. Rogers