Irish actress Maureen O’Hara dies at 95

25 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Quiet Man’ actress Maureen O’Hara dies aged 95.

Dublin suburb-born Maureen O’Hara, whose green eyes, porcelain skin and flaming red hair made her the reigning queen of the Technicolor costume dramas of Hollywood’s Golden Age, has died at age 95. Maureen O’Hara, the flame-haired star of “How Green Was My Valley” and “Miracle on 34th Street” who was one of Ireland’s most successful acting exports, has died aged 95, her family and the Irish president said Saturday. The Abbey Theatre-trained ingenue was discovered by English actor Charles Laughton with whom she starred in the 1939 version of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” a memorable adaptation of the Victor Hugo classic, featuring Laughton in disfiguring makeup as Quasimodo and the striking O’Hara as the beautiful gypsy girl Esmeralda. O’Hara, an iconic figure in Hollywood’s Golden Age of the 1940s and 1950s who was once considered one of the world’s most beautiful women, also played a string of feisty women opposite John Wayne, including in “The Quiet Man”.

Her longtime manager Johnny Nicoletti has confirmed that she died in her sleep at her home in Boise, Idaho. “She passed peacefully surrounded by her loving family as they celebrated her life listening to music from her favorite movie, ‘The Quiet Man,’” said a statement from her family. The film was in regular circulation on 1950s television when I was a child, and while Laughton’s pitiable Quasimodo made a more lasting impression, O’Hara’s beauty and kindness also left their mark as the girl Quasimodo loves and rescues. O’Hara was legendary for holding her own alongside some of the most formidable male stars of all time, including Errol Flynn, John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart and Henry Fonda.

She was also proudly Irish and spent her entire lifetime sharing her heritage and the wonderful culture of the Emerald Isle with the world,” said a family biography. Wayne once quipped that he preferred to act with men “except for Maureen O’Hara; she’s a great guy.” She has been most acclaimed for her work with legendary director John Ford. “She is equivalent to the male hero in a Ford film,” film historian Jeanine Basinger told the Washington Post. “She exudes a kind of pioneering strength of the sort that fits in his movies.” She was born in Dublin and relocated to Hollywood in 1939.

During her movie heyday, she became known as the Queen of Technicolour because of the camera’s love affair with her vivid hair, pale complexion and fiery nature. In 2014, however, she was given an honorary Oscar for career achievement and showed she still had her fiery temperament at age 94 by protesting when her acceptance speech was cut short and she was rolled offstage in her wheelchair. The film secured O’Hara regular roles in such films, most notably perhaps the 1947 Technicolor Arabian Nights extravaganza “Sinbad the Sailor,” in which O’Hara plays mysterious harem girl Shireen opposite a dashing Douglas Fairbanks Jr. in the title role.

O’Hara was dubbed the “Queen of Technicolor” because of her striking complexion, fiery red hair and distinct on-screen persona. “As an actress, Maureen O’Hara brought unyielding strength and sudden sensitivity to every role she played. Irish Arts Minister Heather Humphreys added: “Maureen O’Hara left Ireland to carve a successful life in America but in the hearts and minds of every Irish person, Maureen was the quintessential Irish success story.” “I’ve always been a tough Irish lass,” O’Hara told the Daily Telegraph newspaper in a 2004 interview.

It was the first of several films she made under the direction of Ford, whose grouchy nature seemed to melt in her presence – although he once punched her hard in the jaw at a party. O’Hara, who was cast by Carol Reed (“The Third Man”) opposite future screen Obi-Wan Kenobi, Alec Guinness, in “Our Man in Havana” (1959), was the opposite of the screen’s many beautiful bad girls and femme fatales.

They included Miracle on 34th Street, the classic 1947 Christmas story in which O’Hara was little Natalie Wood’s skeptical mother and among those charmed by Edmund Gwenn as a man who believed he was Santa Claus. US studio 20th Century Fox remembered the actress “who made generations of us believe.” American actress Jessica Chastain, mostly recently seen in the blockbuster “The Martian”, praised the screen legend. Other films included the costume drama The Foxes of Harrow (Rex Harrison, 1947); the comedy Sitting Pretty (Clifton Webb, 1948); and the sports comedy Father Was a Fullback (Fred MacMurray, 1949).

The most successful of their five films was 1952’s “The Quiet Man,” also directed by Ford, in which she matched Wayne blow for blow in a classic donnybrook. She played the mother of twins, both played by Hayley Mills, who conspire to reunite their divorced parents in the 1961 Disney comedy The Parent Trap.

After his death in a 1978 plane crash, she ran the company for several years before selling it, making her the first woman president of a scheduled airline in the United States. “Being married to Charlie Blair and traveling all over the world with him, believe me, was enough for any woman,” she said in a 1995 Associated Press interview. “It was the best time of my life.” She returned to movies in 1991 for a role that writer-director Chris Columbus had written especially for her, as John Candy’s feisty mother in a sentimental drama, “Only the Lonely.” It was not a box-office success. Over the following decade, she did three TV movies: The Christmas Box, based on a best-selling book, a perennial holiday attraction; Cab to Canada, a road picture; and The Last Dance. Through her father, she learned to love sports; through her mother, she and her five siblings were exposed to the theater. “My first ambition was to be the No. 1 actress in the world,” she recalled in 1999. “And when the whole world bowed at my feet, I would retire in glory and never do anything again.” In her 2004 autobiography, “‘Tis Herself,’” O’Hara recalled that a Gypsy told her at the age of 5 that “You will leave Ireland one day and become a very famous woman known all around the world.’” Maureen was admitted to the training program at Dublin’s famed Abbey Theater, where she was a prize student.

Her first husband was director George Hanley Brown, whom she met while making “Jamaica Inn.” When she moved to Hollywood, he remained in England and the marriage was annulled. O’Hara’s career was threatened by a manufactured scandal in 1957, when Confidential magazine claimed she and a lover engaged in “the hottest show in town” in a back row in Hollywood’s Grauman’s Chinese Theater.

But at the time, she told AP, “I was making a movie in Spain, and I had the passport to prove it.” She testified against the magazine in a criminal libel trial and brought a lawsuit that was settled out of court. But when that happens, I say, ‘Find another hill to climb.'” Maureen O’Hara is survived by her daughter, Bronwyn FitzSimons of Glengarriff, Co Cork; her grandson, Conor FitzSimons of Boise; and two great-grandchildren. Comments that are judged to be defamatory, abusive or in bad taste are not acceptable and contributors who consistently fall below certain criteria will be permanently blacklisted.

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