Maureen O’Hara, Miracle on 34th Street and Parent Trap Star, Dies at 95

24 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Actress Maureen O’Hara of ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ Dies at 95.

It may seem odd to describe a middle-class lady from Ranelagh in the following terms, but, with the death of Maureen O’Hara at 95, cinema has lost a one of its great exotics.The actress’ manager Johnny Nicoletti confirmed that O’Hara, who was famous for her red hair and green eyes, passed away in her sleep at her home in Boise, Idaho, on Saturday.

LOS ANGELES — Maureen O’Hara, the flame-haired Irish movie 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, has died. From 1939, when she appeared opposite her mentor Charles Laughton in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, to the late 1950s, when the business began to leave the old stars behind, O’Hara dealt in a Celtic fury that was every bit as foreign as Greta Garbo’s Swedish cool or Marlene Dietrich’s German insouciance. She passed peacefully surrounded by her loving family as they celebrated her life listening to music from her favorite movie, The Quiet Man,” the family said in its statement.

She took a break from acting after marrying her third husband, airline boss Brigadier General Charles Blair – and later took over the running of the airline after he was killed in a plane crash in 1978 – but returned in 1991 playing John Candy’s mother in Only The Lonely. Later in life she also took on other giant roles: CEO of Antilles Air Boats, which flew tourists around the Caribbean islands, and owner and columnist of the Virgin Islander, a monthly tourist magazine that was sold in the U.S. and British Virgin Islands.

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. The second of six children born to Charles (a high-fashion clothier) and Marguerita (an actress and operatic contralto) FitzSimons, O’Hara began acting at age 6 and joined the renowned Abbey Theatre at 14. During her movie heyday, she became known as the Queen of Technicolor because of the camera’s love affair with her vivid hair, pale complexion and fiery nature. Two years later she was unsuccessfully screen-tested in London (“I was mad as hell and disappointed by the hole unprofessional event,” she wrote in her 2004 memoir ‘Tis Herself, though by chance it was seen by actor Charles Laughton. Intrigued by her looks but not by the name FitzSimons, Laughton suggested she change it, possibly to O’Mara – just as he suggested she be cast opposite him as the orphaned Mary Yelland in director Alfred Hitchcock’s British-made 1939 Jamaica Inn.

Though action roles, in which she generally played the love interest of some swashbuckler, were to follow, in 1947 she was fitted for a business suit as a Macy’s executive and indelibly cast as the overly protective mother who – at first – didn’t want her daughter (Natalie Wood) to believe in 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). Off-screen, though she and Wayne were never romantically involved, he was clearly her ideal man, family members told PEOPLE, and in a Turner Classic Movies interview with Robert Osborne aired in 2014, the star herself said, “Who would prefer anybody to John Wayne?” O’Hara’s first marriage, to director George Hanley Brown, was annulled; her second, to director William Price (father of her only child, daughter Bronwyn Bridget), ended in divorce in 1952.

Then came true love: In 1956, on her first flight back to Ireland since the end of World War II, O’Hara met the debonair pilot-in-command, Charles Blair, an Air Force hero who held a transatlantic flight record. It is said that her dad, a successful businessman, was not all that happy about her drifting into this insecure life, but she ploughed ahead and eventually secured a screen test in London.

Within five years, after making TV’s 1973 The Red Pony, “Maureen gave up everything just to be a good wife,” her brother Charles FitzSimons told PEOPLE. Marriage and partnership ended tragically in 1978, however, when the amphibious aircraft Blair was flying developed engine trouble and crashed in the sea, killing him. “I didn’t have time to sit in a corner and cry,” O’Hara told PEOPLE. “I was left with an airline to be run and 165 employees to be paid every week and 125 scheduled flights a day, which had to be flown.” Having become the first woman to run a U.S. airline, O’Hara sold controlling stock the next year to Resorts International, though she remained as company president until 1981. 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.” While making “The Christmas Box” in 1995, she admitted that roles for someone her age (75), were scarce: “The older a man gets, the younger the parts that he plays. 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.”

What would you like me to tell him?’ ” Jessica Chastain, a fellow “tough redhead broad,” on Saturday shared her condolences at O’Hara’s passing: “RIP #MaureenOHara from one tough redhead broad to another. The film writer David Thomson (not an unqualified fan) noted that in such films she was: “inclined to thrust her hands on her hips, speak her mind and be told: ‘You’re pretty when you’re angry.’” It is impossible to understand O’Hara’s appeal in these years without taking into account the rise of Technicolor. Her autobiography Tis Herself, published in 2004, displayed a stirring honesty about the industry’s cynical mechanics. “Cast as a Tunisian princess – I wasn’t up to making another lousy picture,” she said of Flame of Araby from 1951. “But Universal made their intentions known right away: Make the movie or be suspended. I had no choice but to make it.” The good parts became harder to find as she attained middle age, and she moved away from acting following her marriage to Charles F. It’s not a great film, but the relationship between O’Hara and Candy is genuinely touching. “John Candy was one of my all-time favourite leading men.

She was frail, but she still looked rather fabulous. “What’s this?” she commented. “I only hope it’s silver or gold and not like a spoon out of the kitchen.” Her Dublin accent remained almost entirely unaltered.

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