Maureen O’Hara, ‘The Queen of Technicolor,’ Dies at 95

25 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Celebrities pay tribute to Maureen O’Hara.

Maureen O’Hara, the Irish beauty whose striking red hair, crystal-green eyes and porcelain skin were so dazzling on the silver screen that she was dubbed “The Queen of Technicolor,” has died. A spirited beauty whose film career spanned 60 years, Maureen O’Hara was an Irish red-head whose fiery performances made her a favourite of director John Ford, who admired her zest and ability to hold her own with the toughest leading men.

O’Hara, most famous for her role in The Quiet Man, passed away peacefully aged 95 at her home in Boise, Idaho according to a statement from her family.Maureen O’Hara, who has died aged 95, appeared in more bad films than she cared to remember but nevertheless emerged as a Hollywood star on the strength of her extraordinary flame-haired beauty and a successful screen partnership with John Wayne. 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.” In her memoir, O’Hara recalled Wayne saying: “I’ve had many friends, and I prefer the company of men, except for Maureen O’Hara…

President Michael D Higgins, who is on an official visit to the US, said O’Hara would be remembered as an “outstanding and versatile actress whose work, especially in film, will endure for many years to come”. “I especially remember with affection her recent visit to Áras an Uachtaráin, when we discussed among other things her great love of Ireland and her strong family links to Shamrock Rovers,” said Mr Higgins. She is a great guy.” “It is with a sad heart that we share the news that Maureen O’Hara passed away today in her sleep of natural causes,” they said in a statement cited by The Irish Times newspaper. “Maureen was our loving mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and friend.

She was later to write in her autobiography, “I have acted, punched, swashbuckled and shot through an absurdly masculine profession… As a woman I’m proud to say that I stood toe to toe with the best of them and made my mark on my own terms.’ John Wayne was to become her friend and admirer, and they made five films together. A slew of celebrities, including Jessica Chastain, who paid tribute from “one tough redhead broad to another,” and Mara Wilson, who appeared in the 1994 remake of Miracle on 34th Street, honored O’Hara on Twitter. Tánaiste Joan Bruton paid tribute to the actor, saying she had proudly followed O’Hara whose career spanned many decades and “who brought great talent to the world stage”. She passed peacefully surrounded by her loving family as they celebrated her life listening to music from her favorite movie, ‘The Quiet Man’,” they said. “Her characters were feisty and fearless, just as she was in real life. One of five children born to a clothing merchant and a former actress with the Abbey Theatre, she was born Maureen Fitzsimmons in a village near Dublin and educated at the Dominican Convent School.

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.” Still in her teens, she was brought to Hollywood in 1939 by legendary actor Charles Laughton and her first film was “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” playing Esmerelda to his Quasimodo. The test was seen by Charles Laughton, who had recently formed Mayflower Pictures with Erich Pommer, and they signed the young actress to a contract, casting her in a musical, My Wild Irish Molly, the only film in which she was billed as Maureen Fitzsimmons. On accepting her IFTA, O’Hara said: “All of you in the theatrical profession, television or movies, never forget you represent to the whole world this small, great, fabulous country.

I can’t tell you how much I appreciate this Award; it’s just a wonderful gift from Ireland to an Irish woman.” Born in Ranelagh, Dublin in 1920, O’Hara was the eldest of six children in the Fitzsimons family. In 1944 she signed a contract dividing her commitments equally between 20th Century Fox and RKO, and co-starred with Joel McRea in Buffalo Bill as the hero’s wife.

The lavish movie was a great success, and RKO bought O’Hara’s contract, but cast her in vehicles – including a remake of Bill of Divorcement and Dorothy Arzner’s tepid Dance, Girl, Dance (both 1940) – that did nothing for her career. Initially reluctant to star, Maureen O’Hara relented when she read the script and returned to New York from a trip home to Ireland for location filming. She consolidated her success with her spunky portrayal of the governor’s daughter kidnapped by pirate Tyrone Power in Henry King’s robust The Black Swan. She co-starred for the third and last time with Charles Laughton in Jean Renoir’s This Land is Mine (1943), an intense portrayal of a small European village’s resistance against Nazi invaders, but she pleased her audiences by returning to the pirate genre in The Spanish Main.

Later in life, she became the first woman president of a commercially scheduled airline in the United States. ” “While we mourn the loss of a very wonderful woman, we also celebrate her remarkable life and hope that it serves as an example to young people around the world, especially in Ireland, to work hard to make their dreams come true and to always have the courage to stand up for themselves. O’Hara will not be buried in her native Ireland but at Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, DC, next to her husband, the US Navy pilot General Charles Blair who died in a plane crash in 1978. Although during the war she had complained that directors considered her to be “a cold potato without sex appeal” , in March 1957 an American scandal sheet called Confidential ran a story about her indulging in a steamy “necking session” with a mystery South American man in the back row at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, the famous Hollywood cinema: “It Was The Hottest Show In Town When Maureen O’Hara Cuddled in Row 35”.

Winning numerous awards and local attention, she earned a screen test in London and had one line in the British musical comedy Kicking the Moon Around (1938). But Confidential produced no fewer than three witnesses, including Grauman’s former assistant manager who said he had flashed a torch in the darkened auditorium to discover Maureen O’Hara, blouse undone and hair in disarray, sprawled across her companion’s lap. The case ended in a mistrial and she was awarded only $5,000 damages (she had claimed $5 million); the question of just what happened on Row 35 was never incontrovertibly settled.

Although one of her three sisters became a nun, her four other siblings all went into showbusiness; as a child Maureen acted in plays she made up herself and later took elocution lessons. During her school days she acted in local amateur productions, studied music and dance, and took small roles with the Dublin Operatic Society as well as “spear-carrying” parts with the famous Abbey Theatre. The film, about a struggling Welsh family in a mining town trying to hold onto their way of life in the face of the Industrial Revolution, won the Oscar for best picture as Ford was given his third Academy Award. When she was 14 she enrolled at the Abbey’s theatre school and within a year was playing Shakespearean roles, winning the All-Ireland Cup for her portrayal of Portia in The Merchant Of Venice.

The story of an Irish lady who journeys to India to meet her deceased daughter’s husband and falls in love with him, it suffered in comparison to the similar The King and I and ran for only two weeks. (Daryl F Zanuck had wanted O’Hara for the film version of The King and I but Rodgers and Hammerstein had vetoed the idea, stating, “Our Anna played by a Pirate Queen? She was the youngest student to complete the drama course at the Guildhall School of Music, and at 16 had been awarded a degree and an associateship by the London College of Music. On screen she starred with Hayley Mills in the comedy The Parent Trap, with twins (both played by Mills) plotting to get their estranged parents (O’Hara and Brian Keith) back together again. It was Laughton (acting as co-producer) who changed her name to Maureen O’Hara – it was a better fit on cinema marquees – and offered her a seven-year film contract, on which her signature was witnessed by her parish priest. In 1979 O’Hara went to Washington to make an impassioned plea that a suggestion that Wayne be awarded the Congressional Gold Medal should be approved.

Tears ran down her cheeks as she said, “I feel that the medal should say just one thing: ‘John Wayne, American.” In 1990 O’Hara started her final film, as John Candy’s mother in Only the Lonely. She showcased her soprano voice on the albums Love Letters From Maureen O’Hara and Maureen O’Hara Sings Her Favorite Irish Songs and as the star of the 1960 Broadway musical Christine.

Maureen FitzSimons, actress: born Ranelagh, County Dublin 17 August 1920; married 1939 George Brown (marriage annulled 1941), 1941 Will Price (divorced 1953; one daughter), 1968 Charles Blair, Jnr (died 1978); died Boise, Idaho 24 October 2015. Earlier, she was married to producer George Brown from 1939-41 (that union was annulled) and director Will Price, who she said was an abusive alcoholic, from 1941 until their divorce in 1953. Ronald Colman once told her that if you’re proud of one in 15 films you’ve made you can consider yourself lucky. “Well,” said Maureen O’Hara, “I’m proud of more than that and I know that I’ve been in some movies that’ll be played long after I’m dead and gone.” Maureen O’Hara married, in 1939, George Hanley Brown, a British film director whom she met while making Jamaica Inn, and who subsequently, in another marriage, became the father of the journalist and editor Tina Brown.

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