Maureen O’Hara was a renowned American actress and singer of Irish descent. The green-eyed beauty with flaming red hair was admired for her fiery and passionate roles in several American films. Her natural beauty and glamorous appearance was much appreciated and she was popularly known as the ‘Queen of Technicolor’ in Hollywood. Her onscreen characters reflected her own strong, courageous spirit who fought for recognition and survival in this male-dominated world. She always called herself the “tough Irish lass” who would never compromise with her respect and reputation to land the roles she deserved through merit. Throughout her career in the film arena, she always stood up against injustice and improper treatment against women actors and for this, she gained a lot of followers. Her autobiography, ‘Tis Herself’, published in 2004, gave a candid and truthful account of her entire life experiences including her struggles while climbing the ladder to success. She was an adventurous woman who was not frightened of carrying out her own stunts. Over the years, she starred in more than 60 films and gained a lot of popularity throughout the world.
Childhood & Early Life
Maureen FitzSimons (later changed to O’Hara) was born on 17 August 1920 in Ranelagh, in the Dublin suburb. Charles FitzSimons, her father, was a businessman in Dublin who also owned a part of ‘The Shamrock Rovers’, a famous Ireland soccer team. Marguerita Lilburn FitzSimons, her mother, was a successful woman’s clothier and an accomplished operatic contralto too. She was renowned all over Ireland for her stunning beauty, which Maureen had undoubtedly inherited along with her incredible singing voice.
Maureen was the second of the FitzSimons children, the others being Peggy, Florrie, Charles, Margot, and James. Maureen was lucky to be born into a beautiful and talented family of rich Irish heritage.
She did her schooling at the John Street West Girls’ School in Dublin’s Liberties Area. She learnt how to dance at the tender age of five and was drawn to performing in front of the public.
As a child, she was quite athletic by nature and took a great interest in sports. She also had a penchant for performing and enrolled in drama and theatre classes at an early age. She has even won many Feis awards in Ireland, as a performing artist.
At the age of 14, she joined the renowned Abbey Theatre where she could live her dream of performing as an opera singer and as an artiste.
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Maureen O’Hara captured the attention of Charles Laughton in a screen test and she was immediately appreciated for her expressive green eyes. In 1938, she debuted on the screen with ‘Kicking the Moon Around’ and later appeared on the low-budget musical called ‘My Irish Molly’ during the same year.
She considered her major breakthrough in filmography to be the role of Mary Yellen in ‘Jamaica Inn’ (1939), which was directed by the famous Alfred Hitchcock and had Charles Laughton as a co-star.
Still working under a contract with Charles Laughton, she also secured a role at the age of 19 in ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’ (1939) by RKO films which turned out to be a major hit.
In 1940, she starred in ‘Dance, Girl, Dance’ putting her dancing skills to good use as an aspiring ballerina.
In 1941, she had appeared in a role in ‘They Met in Argentina’, which turned out to be a great flop, as predicted by O’Hara herself. However in 1941 itself, her next film ‘How Green Was My Valley’ by John Ford turned to be pretty successful at the box office.
In 1942, she agreed to play a rather offbeat role of a timid socialite in ‘Ten Gentlemen from West Point’ directed by Henry Hathaway. The film was based on the fictional story of the United States Military Academy in the early 1900s.
In ‘Sentimental Journey’ by Walter Lang, she aced her part as an actress suffering from a chronic heart condition.
From the 1960s onwards, she was very busy with a number of commercial films like ‘The Parent Trap (1961), ‘Mr.Hobbs Takes a Vacation’ (1962), ‘Spencer’s Mountain (1963), ‘The Battle of the Villa Fiorita’ (1965), ‘The Rare Breed’ (1965), and ‘How Do I Love Thee?’ (1970). Later, she appeared in the following TV movies—‘The Red Pony’ (1973), ‘The Christmas Box’ (1995), ‘Cab to Canada’ (1998) and ‘The Last Dance’(2000).
Maureen O’Hara appeared in ‘A Bill of Divorcement’ in 1940 which was directed by John Farrow (an Australian-American director) and was a remake of the earlier George Cukor film. As a skilled actress, she beautifully portrayed the role of Sydney Fairchild, which was originally played by the legendary Katharine Hepburn in the earlier version.
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In 1942, she was a part of ‘The Black Swan’ by Henry King and she absolutely loved filming it. According to her, it contained the perfect recipe for a lavish pirate film with a magnificent ship, sword fights, cannon balls, etc. Her experience of working with Tyrone Power who was famous for his sense of humour was extremely thrilling.
Maureen starred in her first Technicolor film, a war film called ‘To the Shores of Tripoli’ where she played the part of Lieutenant Mary Carter, an Army nurse. Even though the film was regarded to be a commercial success, it failed to impress her completely as she believed the characters seemed too streamlined.
Later, her roles in Jean Renoir’s ‘This Land is Mine’ and Richard Wallace’s ‘The Fallen Sparrow’ added to her ever-growing success in the film industry and have been counted as two of her major films.
In 1945, she was simply brilliant as Contessa Francesca, the feisty noblewoman in ‘The Spanish Main’. She considers it to be one of her most “decorative” roles.
In the Technicolor western film, ‘Comanche Territory’ released in 1950, she surprised the audience by playing the fiery Katie Howards, who was a saloon owner. She even became an expert at handling the American bullwhip during the course of the film.
She had a string of successful films like ‘Rio Grande’ (1950), ‘The Quite Man’ (1952), ‘The Wings of Eagles’ (1957), ‘McLintock!’ (1963), and ‘Big Jake’ (1971) opposite John Wayne. Their electrifying chemistry resulted in many rumours during her career.
Awards & Achievements
In 1982, Maureen O’Hara became the first actress to win the American Ireland Fund Lifetime Achievement Award in Los Angeles.
In 1988, she received an honorary degree from the National University of Ireland and also the prestigious Heritage Award in 1991 from the Ireland-American Fund.
She was the first woman to receive the John F. Kennedy Memorial Award for being an “outstanding American of Irish descent for Service to God and Country”.
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She has her own star etched on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and she has even received a Golden Boot award.
During the year 2004 in Dublin, she received Lifetime Achievement Award from the reputed Irish Film and Television Academy.
In 2005, O’Hara was termed as the “Irish American of the Year” and in 2014, she went on to receive the Honorary Oscar from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Personal Life & Legacy
*In 1939, Maureen O’Hara married very early at the age of 19 to George H. Brown, after they met on the sets of ‘Jamaica Inn’. Their secret marriage was eventually annulled in 1941.
In 1941, she married William Houston Price, an American film director, and they had a daughter called Bronwyn Bridget (30 June 1944). O’Hara had a very unhappy marriage with Price because of his alcoholism and they parted ways in 1951.
From 1953-1967, she had a passionate relationship with a Mexican politician and banker, Enrique Parra.
Moving on from Parra, she remarried again in 1968 with Charles F. Blair Jr. who was a former brigadier, former chief pilot, and a pioneer of transatlantic aviation, to name a few achievements. A few years into their marriage, O’Hara decided to finally retire. Her happiness was short-lived as Blair died in a tragic plane crash in 1978. She was also diagnosed with uterine cancer in the same year and underwent an immediate surgery. She recovered eventually.
In December 2010, she established the Maureen O’Hara Foundation in Glengariff to train young actors.
In the following years her health deteriorated and she suffered from six heart attacks, short-term memory loss and diabetes mellitus type 2. On 24 October 2015, O’Hara peacefully expired in Boise, Idaho, from natural causes at the age of 95.
In spite of living the Hollywood life, Maureen O’Hara abstained from smoking and alcohol and did not like to party. She was not fond of makeup and kept her look simple throughout her career.
While filming for ‘A Bill of Divorcement’, the director John Farrow stalked her, and irritated by his advances, the brave O’Hara punched him in the jaw. O’Hara was well known for her strict morals and valiant spirit.
When she became the President and CEO of Antilles Airboats, she created history by becoming the first woman president of a scheduled airline in the States.