Maureen O’Hara, Fiery Star of Hollywood’s Golden Age, Dies at 95

25 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Maureen O’Hara, actress known for Miracle on 34th Street, dies at age 95.

Maureen O’Hara, the flame-haired Irish-American actress known for playing feisty women in classics like How Green Was My Valley and Miracle on 34th Street, as well as her on-screen chemistry with John Wayne, has died of natural causes at the age of 95.Maureen O’Hara, the Irish actress who starred in a slew of American films including “Miracle on 34th Street,” “The Quiet Man” and “The Parent Trap” and one of the last surviving stars of Hollywood’s golden age, died on Saturday at 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,’ her family said in a statement. The actress, who was born in Dublin, had moved back to the States in 2012 to be closer to her grandson after living for several years in her native Ireland . After she returned to acting, her best-known film was 1991’s “Only The Lonely,” written and directed by Chris Columbus, produced by John Hughes and also starring John Candy. Famous for her striking red hair and green eyes, O’Hara found fame at 19 when she was cast as the gypsy Esmeralda opposite Charles Laughton in the 1939 movie The Hunchback Of Notre Dame.

But when that happens, I say, ‘Find another hill to climb.’” In her heyday, O’Hara was known as the Queen of Technicolor because of the camera’s love affair with her vivid hair, bright green eyes and pale complexion. “I proved there was a bloody good actress in me,” she told the British newspaper The Telegraph last year. “It wasn’t just my face. O’Hara received an honorary Oscar just last year, presented to her by Clint Eastwood, who appeared with O’Hara in the 1955 film “Lady Godiva of Coventry,” and Irish-born actor Liam Neeson. As Doris Walker, the Macy’s store employee in charge of the Thanksgiving Day Parade, she unwittingly persuades Kris Kringle, who insists he is the real Santa Claus, to star in the parade.

In the statement announcing O’Hara’s death, it said that composer Victor Young’s music for this film, her favorite, was playing at her bedside when she died. Whether playing a rancher’s wife, a pirate queen, or a mother, her characters were strong-willed women — a characteristic she practiced in real life as well and attributed to her Irish roots. A scenic, sweeping romantic drama, the film follows an Irish-born American (Wayne) returning to his birthplace to reclaim his family’s farm and falling in love with the feisty sister (O’Hara) of the difficult landowner. “We made ‘Rio Grande’ [1951] to raise the money to make ‘The Quiet Man.’ We had a handshake agreement with John Ford in 1944 to make it, and it took from ’44 to ’51 to get the money.

The highlight of the film is O’Hara silencing a boorish audience of men at a burlesque show, in which she says, basically, go ahead and smirk because we performers are smirking right back at you. She largely retired from the movies after the 1971 big-screen western, Big Jake, with Wayne and the 1973 television movie, The Red Pony, with Fonda, but returned to the big screen to play John Candy’s overbearing mother in Only the Lonely in 1991. O’Hara, looking frail in her wheelchair, read a statement of thanks, but when her onstage escort started to take the microphone, it was clear she had not lost her “fiery” streak: She held onto the mike and continued talking with the unspoken subtext, “This is my moment, and I don’t care about time constraints.” O’Hara was born Maureen FitzSimons in Ranelagh, a suburb of Dublin. Aside from Wayne, she was paired on-screen with Tyrone Power, James Stewart, Henry Fonda, Jeff Chandler and Anthony Quinn, to mention just a few of her co-stars. She performed many of her own stunts in movies and, in addition to Ford, worked with such famous directors as Alfred Hitchcock, Carol Reed, Henry Hathaway and Jean Renoir.

Her movie career began thanks to Charles Laughton: While she was still a teen, he viewed a screen test she had made, and he and partner Erich Pommer signed her to a seven-year contract with their company, Mayflower Films. She had small roles in a couple of English films made in 1938 but made her first significant bigscreen appearance was in Hitchcock’s Gothic actioner “Jamaica Inn,” starring Laughton.

The Times’ 1941 review noted: “In a singularly intimate way the film tells of the toll taken by the passing of time and the effect on human beings of a changing social order. … When WWII began and he realized lensing would no longer be possible in London, Laughton sold O’Hara’s contract to RKO, which cast her in a trio of B pictures. Red-haired actress Jessica Chastain posed for a photo with the screen legend at the event and on Saturday she posted that photo on social media along with a tribute to the iconic star.

She still seemed somewhat uncertain of herself in a remake of the Katharine Hepburn vehicle “Bill of Divorcement” but made a big impression in “Dance, Girl, Dance,” while “They Met in Argentina” was a musical trifle. She performed in radio plays at 13 and a year later joined Ireland’s famed Abbey Theatre, where she swept floors and painted sets before moving on to speaking roles. O’Hara long delighted in telling the story of how she would frequently be stopped by children who would ask, “Are you the lady who knows Santa Claus?” — to which she would respond, “Yes I am. Trained in fencing and fond of doing her own stunt work, she held her own in swashbucklers opposite Errol Flynn (“Against All Flags,” 1952) and Tyrone Power (“The Black Swan,” 1942). Studio contracts, marriage and childbirth intervened before she saw Ireland again seven years later. “Whether I liked it or not, I was now a property of the powerful Hollywood studio system,” she wrote in her memoir.

Keith both show a nice flair for light comedy; and Miss O’Hara is still an almost unbelievably handsome woman — she’s never looked better than she does in this Technicolor film.” In her final theatrical feature — she would go on to make a few more movies for television — O’Hara played Rose Muldoon, the opinionated mother of John Candy’s single Chicago police officer. O’Hara and Wayne, however, would work together again in 1963 Western comedy “McLintock!” and 1971 Western “Big Jake.” Films had not provided an outlet for her love of singing, and in the late 1950s and early ’60s she guested on TV variety shows. Hobbs Takes a Vacation” in 1962 and with Henry Fonda in “Spencer’s Mountain” in 1963 (a precursor of the TV series “The Waltons,” both autobiographical works by Earl Hamner Jr.). Her mother, the former Marguerite Lilburn, was a trained opera singer and had been a theater actress. “My parents gave us all the confidence I would need,” O’Hara told the London Independent in 2004. “We were an Irish Von Trapp family, a little eccentric but wonderful.

In 1966 she starred with Stewart again in “The Rare Breed.” O’Hara retired from acting after making a TV version of “The Red Pony” with Fonda in 1973, a few years after her third marriage, to Charles F. She followed in anti-fascist wartime dramas that included Jean Renoir’s “This Land Is Mine” opposite Laughton and “The Fallen Sparrow” with John Garfield. After appearing in a number of tributes to fellow actors and Hollywood-focused documentaries over the years (including projects devoted to Wayne and to Ford), O’Hara made her last screen appearance in the 2010 Irish docu “Dreaming the Quiet Man.” O’Hara’s autobiography, “’Tis Herself,” was published in 2004. O’Hara, who became a U.S. citizen in 1946, also had a long reign in Technicolor action films such as “The Spanish Main” (1945) with Paul Henreid, “Sinbad the Sailor” (1947) with Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and “At Sword’s Point” (1952) with Cornel Wilde.

She played a “handler” sent to pre-revolution Cuba to check on a vacuum cleaner salesman moonlighting as a British secret agent, portrayed by Alec Guinness. That film also marked one of her first returns to cinema after her triumph over a scandal sheet that had accused her of having all but sex with her “south of the border sweetie” in the back of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.

Confidential magazine, which had millions of readers, ran a story in 1957 titled “It Was the Hottest Show in Town When Maureen O’Hara Cuddled in Row 35.” She sued for $5 million and settled out of court after producing a date-stamped passport to prove she was not in the country at the time of the alleged tryst. Her advice to those younger performers was flinty and direct. “If you really want it, go after it,” she told an interviewer in 2010, “and learn how to speak properly, for God’s sake!”

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