Maureen O’Hara, 95, swashbuckling leading lady

25 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Actress Maureen O’Hara Dies At 95.

THE death of Maureen O’Hara – the flame-haired Irish film star who appeared in classics ranging from the grim How Green Was My Valley to the uplifting Miracle on 34th Street and bantered unforgettably with John Wayne in several films – will make most of us pause to remember her. “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. “As an actress, Maureen brought unyielding strength and sudden sensitivity to every role she played. She starred opposite some of the top leading men of the screen including Jimmy Stewart, Henry Fonda, Tyrone Power, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and notably John Wayne, with whom she had intense on-screen chemistry.

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. Despite being one of the most recognisable leading women in American cinema for decades and delivering numerous memorable performances, she was never nominated for an Oscar. 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. 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.

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. 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 was proud when he remarked in an interview that he preferred to work with men – “except for Maureen O’Hara; she’s a great guy.” After her studio contracts ended, she remained busy. 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.

Laughton moved to RKO in Hollywood and starred as Quasimodo in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” with O’Hara as the beautiful gypsy girl, Esmeralda. 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.

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