Irish film actress and singer. The famously red-headed O'Hara has been noted for playing fiercely passionate heroines with a highly sensible attitude. She often worked with director John Ford and longtime friend John Wayne. Her autobiography, 'Tis Herself, was published in 2004 and was a New York Times Bestseller.
Early life and careerO'Hara was born as Maureen FitzSimons on Beechwood Avenue in the Dublin suburb of Ranelagh. She was the second oldest of the six children of Charles Stewart Parnell FitzSimons and Marguerita Lilburn FitzSimons. Her father was in the clothing business and also bought into Shamrock Rovers Football Club, a team O'Hara has supported since childhood. Her mother, a former operatic contralto, was a successful women's clothier. O'Hara was raised as, and still is, a Roman Catholic. Her siblings were Peggy, the oldest, and younger Charles, Florrie, Margot and Jimmy. Peggy dedicated her life to a religious order, the Sisters of Charity, and the younger children all went on to receive training at the Abbey Theatre and the Ena Mary Burke School of Drama and Elocution in Dublin. O'Hara's dream at this time was to be a stage actress. She was first educated at the John Street West Girls' School near Thomas Street in Dublin's Liberties Area. From the age of 6–17 she trained in drama, music and dance, and at the age of 10 joined the Rathmines Theatre Company and worked in amateur theatre in the evenings, after her lessons.
O'Hara's father was a very practical man and did not entirely support her theatrical aspirations. He insisted she learn a skill so that she would have something to fall back on to earn a living in case her experience in the performing arts was not successful. She enrolled in a business school and became a proficient bookkeeper and typist. Those skills proved helpful many years later when she was able to take and transcribe production notes dictated by John Ford for the screen adaptation of Maurice Walsh's short story The Quiet Man.
She did well in her Abbey training and was given an opportunity for a screen test in London. The studio adorned her in a "gold lamé dress with flapping sleeves like wings" and heavy make-up with an ornate hair style. Reportedly, her thoughts concerning the incident were, "If this is the movies, I want nothing to do with them!" The screen test was deemed to be far from satisfactory; however, actor Charles Laughton later saw the test and, despite the overdone makeup and costume, was intrigued, paying particular notice to her large and expressive eyes.
Laughton subsequently asked his business partner Erich Pommer to see the film clip. Pommer agreed with Laughton and O'Hara was offered an initial seven-year contract with their new company, Mayflower Pictures. Her first major film was Jamaica Inn (1939) directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Laughton was so pleased with O'Hara's performance that he cast her in the role of Esmeralda opposite him in The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939), which was to be filmed at RKO Studios in Hollywood that same year. After the successful completion of Hunchback, World War II began, and Laughton, realizing their studio could no longer film in London, sold O'Hara's contract to RKO. That studio cast her in low-budget films until she was rescued by director John Ford, who cast her as Angharad in How Green Was My Valley, which won the 1941 Academy Award for Best Picture. Six years later, in 1947, she made what is perhaps her best-remembered film, starring as Doris Walker and the mother of a young Natalie Wood in 20th Century Fox's Miracle on 34th Street, which, despite being released in May, has become a perennial Christmas classic, with a traditional network television airing every Thanksgiving Day on NBC. The film also helped to further establish O'Hara's career after the film garnered several awards, including an Academy Award Nomination for Best Picture.
In 1946, she became a naturalized citizen of the United States.
In addition to her acting skills, O'Hara had a soprano voice and described singing as her first love. The studio heads never capitalized on her musical talent, as she was already big box office in other genres of film. However, she was able to channel her love of singing through television. In the late '50s and early '60s, she was a guest on musical variety shows with Perry Como, Andy Williams, Betty Grable and Tennessee Ernie Ford. In 1960, she starred on Broadway in the musical Christine which ran for 12 performances. That year she released two successful recordings, Love Letters from Maureen O'Hara and Maureen O'Hara Sings her Favorite Irish Songs. Love Letters from Maureen O'Hara has been released on CD in Japan and is now out of print; Maureen O'Hara Sings Her Favorite Irish Songs has yet to be released on CD.
John Wayne. They made five films together between 1948 and 1972: Rio Grande, The Quiet Man, The Wings of Eagles, McLintock! and Big Jake. A clip of O'Hara's radiant face as she waves from a gate in John Ford's Academy Award-winning How Green Was My Valley, remains one of the most classic images preserved on film, and is often featured as a clip in montages and promotions.
Marriage, retirement and comebackIn 1939, at the age of 19, O'Hara secretly married Englishman George H. Brown, a film producer, production assistant and occasional scriptwriter whose best known work is the first of Margaret Rutherford's 1960s Miss Marple mysteries, Murder She Said. The marriage was annulled in 1941. Later that year, O'Hara married American film director William Houston Price (dialog director in The Hunchback of Notre Dame), but the union ended in 1953, reportedly as a result of his alcohol abuse. They had one child in 1944, a daughter named Bronwyn FitzSimons Price. Bronwyn has one son, Conor Beau FitzSimons, who was born on September 8, 1970. From 1953 until 1967 O'Hara had a relationship with Enrique Parra, a Mexican politician and banker. She wrote in her autobiography; "Enrique saved me from the darkness of an abusive marriage and brought me back into the warm light of life again. Leaving him was one of the most painful things I have ever had to do."
She married her third husband, Charles F. Blair, Jr., on March 12, 1968. Blair was a pioneer of transatlantic aviation, a former Brigadier General of the U.S. Air Force, and a former Chief Pilot at Pan Am. A few years after her marriage to Blair, O'Hara for the most part retired from acting. Blair died in 1978 when an engine of a Grumman Goose he was flying from St. Croix to St. Thomas exploded. She was elected CEO and President of Antilles Airboats with the added distinction of being the first woman president of a scheduled airline in the U.S. Later she sold the airline with the permission of the shareholders.
O'Hara remained retired from acting until 1991, when she starred in the film Only the Lonely, playing Rose Muldoon, the domineering mother of a Chicago cop played by John Candy. In the following years, she continued to work, starring in several made-for-TV movies, including The Christmas Box, Cab for Canada and The Last Dance, the latter her last film to date, released in 2000.
Now retired, she has homes in Arizona and the Virgin Islands but lives mainly in Glengarriff, County Cork. In June 2011 she participated at the Maureen O'Hara Film Festival in Glengarriff.
AchievementsO'Hara was named Irish America magazine's "Irish American of the Year" in 2005, with festivities held at the Plaza Hotel in New York.
She was given the Heritage Award by the Ireland-American Fund in 1991.
For her contributions to the motion picture industry, O'Hara has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 7004 Hollywood Blvd. In 1993, she was inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. She was also awarded the Golden Boot Award.
She wrote the foreword for the cookbook At Home in Ireland. In March 1999, O'Hara was selected to be Grand Marshal of New York City's St. Patrick's Day Parade. In 2007, she wrote the foreword for the biography of her dear friend, actress Anna Lee.
In 2004, O'Hara released her autobiography 'Tis Herself, published by Simon & Schuster. In the same year, she was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Irish Film and Television Academy in her native Dublin.
In 2006, O'Hara attended the Grand Reopening and Expansion of the Flying Boats Museum in Foynes, Limerick, Ireland, as a patron of the museum. A significant portion of the museum is dedicated to her late husband Charles.
O'Hara donated her late husband's seaplane (a Sikorsky VS-44A) "The Queen of the Skies" to the New England Air Museum. The restoration of the plane took 8 years and time was donated by former pilots and mechanics in honour of Charles Blair. It is the only surviving example of this type of plane.
In 2011, Maureen O'Hara was formally inducted into the Irish America Hall of Fame at an event in New Ross, County Wexford, receiving letters from Mary McAleese and Bill Clinton. O'Hara was also named president of UFFO, The Universal Film & Festival Organization which promotes a code of conduct for film festivals and the film industry.
Year Film Role Notes
1938 Kicking the Moon Around Secretary "Harry Richman was at Elstree and introduced me to the film's director, Walter Forde. Forde asked me if I would deliver a line in the movie. I was not a cast member and do not consider Kicking the Moon Around part of my official filmography. I only agreed to deliver the line as a favor to Harry Richman for his having helped me with my screen test."
My Irish Molly Eileen O'Shea "Laughton arranged for me to make my first picture, a low budget musical called My Irish Molly. It's the only picture that I made under my real name, Maureen FitzSimons. I was to play a young woman named Eiléen O'Shea who helps rescue a little orphan named Molly. Laughton wanted me to become more comfortable with both being on a movie set and being in front of the camera."
1939 Jamaica Inn Mary Yellen "My character was the innkeeper's niece, the heroine who is torn between the love of her family and her love for a lawman in disguise." Laughton decided that the actress's name had to be changed since it was 'too long for the marquee' and gave her the choice between O'Mara and O'Hara. Since she rejected both he dismissed her protest and himself decided on O'Hara. O'Hara liked Hitchcock and wrote later that she, " never experienced the strange feeling of detachment with Hitchcock that many other actors claimed to have felt while working with him."
The Hunchback of Notre Dame Esmeralda "We began filming out in the San Fernando Valley...unfortunately, Los Angeles was having the hottest summer in its history, and I knew from day one that it was going to be a physically demanding shoot, especially taxing on Laughton because of the heavy makeup and costume requirements for Quasimodo. When I saw Laughton for the first time made up as Quasimodo, I almost fell over. I took one look at him and gasped, "Good God, Charles. Is that really you?" He answered me with a wink and then limped off."
1940 A Bill of Divorcement Sydney Fairfield "A remake of the 1932 film. I was cast as Sydney Fairfield, a role played by Katharine Hepburn in the earlier George Cukor version. The screenplay was mediocre at best, and Farrow was nowhere near the caliber director Cukor was."
Dance, Girl, Dance Judy O'Brien "A comedy...I was cast as an aspiring ballerina who joins a dance troupe. Before filming started, the entire cast went right into dance classes. Pommer hired Ernst and Ginny Matray. My ballet sequences were far more difficult than the dancing I had done in Hunchback, and I struggled to get it right. Lucille had a much easier time of it because she was a former Ziegfeld and Goldwyn girl and a much better dancer than I."
1941 They Met in Argentina Lolita O'Shea "RKO's response to the Betty Grable hit Down Argentine Way. I knew it was going to be a stinker; terrible script,bad director, preposterous plot, forgettable music."
How Green Was My Valley Angharad "An artistic collaboration began ( with John Ford) that would span twenty years and five feature films. My favorite shot in the film takes place outside the church after Angharad gets married. As I make my way down the steps to the carriage waiting below, the wind catches my veil and fans it out in a perfect circle all the way around my face. Then it floats straight up above my head and points to the heavens. It's breathtaking."
1942 To the Shores of Tripoli Mary Carter "The first film I made with John Payne and also the first film I made in Technicolor. Bruce Humberstone [directed], or Lucky Stumblebum to those who couldn't understand why the quality of his pictures never seemed to match their impressive box-office receipts."
Ten Gentlemen from West Point Carolyn Bainbridge O'Hara: "A forgettable film mostly because John Payne dropped out...Zanuck recast the role with George Montgomery. I found him positively loathsome."
The Black Swan Lady Margaret Denby "It had everything you could want in a lavish pirate picture: a magnificent ship with thundering cannons; a dashing hero battling menacing villains ( Tyrone Power, Laird Cregar, and Anthony Quinn); sword fights; fabulous costumes...working with Ty Power was exciting. In those days, he was the biggest romantic swashbuckler in the world. But what I loved most about working with Ty Power was his wicked sense of humor."
1943 Immortal Sergeant Valentine Lee "The studio publicized [the love scene between O'Hara and Henry Fonda] as Hank's last screen kiss before going to war."
This Land Is Mine Louise Martin O'Hara's last film with Charles Laughton.
The Fallen Sparrow Toni Donne O'Hara: "With John Garfield, (my shortest leading man, an outspoken Communist and a real sweetheart)..."
1944 Buffalo Bill Louisa Frederici Cody "I didn't feel Joel McCrea was tough enough to play the lead in a western. He was a very nice man, a good actor, but not rugged like Duke or Brian Keith. Critics mostly panned the film. I think the picture did so well with audiences because of its masterful use of Technicolor."
1945 The Spanish Main Contessa Francesca O'Hara: "Pairing me with Paul Henreid, one of my more decorative roles."
1946 Sentimental Journey Julie Beck / Weatherly "Sentimental Journey was every bit the smash hit that I thought it would be. It was a rip-your-heart-out tearjerker that reduced my agents and the toughest brass at Fox to mush when they saw it."
Do You Love Me Katherine "Kitten" Hilliard "The musical Do You Love Me? was one of the worst pictures I ever made. Neither Dick Haymes nor Harry James could save it."
1947 Sinbad the Sailor Shireen "Playing Shireen, the glamorous adventuress who helps Sinbad (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) find the hidden treasure of Alexander the Great. Ridiculous. The picture made a pot of money for RKO – action-adventures almost always did."
The Homestretch Leslie Hale
Miracle on 34th Street Doris Walker "I have been mother to almost forty children in movies, but I always had a special place in my heart for little Natalie. She always called me Mamma Maureen and I called her Natasha...when Natalie and I shot the scenes in Macy's, we had to do them at night because the store was full of people doing their Christmas shopping during the day. Natalie loved this because it meant she was allowed to stay up late. I really enjoyed this time with Natalie. We loved to walk through the quiet, closed store and look at all the toys and girls' dresses and shoes. The day she died, I cried shamelessly."
The Foxes of Harrow Odalie "Lilli" D'Arceneaux "With Rex Harrison and Victor McLaglen at 20th Century-Fox. Harrison and I disliked each other from the outset. Hollywood might have called him the greatest perfectionist among actors, but I found him to be rude, vulgar, and arrogant."
1948 Sitting Pretty Tacey King "With Robert Young...it made a fortune, even winning the Box Office Award for that year."
1949 A Woman's Secret Marian Washburn "I made no attempt to keep it a secret that I thought the story stank. Dore Schary reminded me that I still had a one-picture-a-year obligation to RKO...I starred opposite Melvyn Douglas as a frustrated talent manager who shoots her star client in a jealous rage. Schary was in love with Gloria Grahame. And to provide more real-life drama, Gloria Grahame was also in a relationship with director Nicholas Ray, and was pregnant."
The Forbidden Street Adelaide "Addie" Culver Alternative title: Britannia Mews (UK). "Shot in London. The only reasons for you to watch this picture today on television are to see Dana Andrews do a nice job in a dual role, or to watch the fine character actress Sybil Thorndike steal the picture."
Father was a Fullback Elizabeth Cooper O'Hara: "A comedy stinkeroo that got more yawns than laughs."
Bagdad Princess Marjan "An escapist adventure and my first picture with Universal. They called these tits and sand pictures. We shot the film on location in the Alabama Hills of Lone Pine, California."
1950 Comanche Territory Katie Howard "The film in which I mastered the American bullwhip. By the time the picture was over, I could snap a cigarette out of someone's mouth."
Tripoli Countess D'Arneau Directed by O'Hara's second husband, William Houston Price. "To be fair, Will did a credible job of directing the picture. He managed to stay sober during the production."
Rio Grande Mrs. Kathleen Yorke "The final instalment of John Ford's cavalry trilogy, based on three short stories by James Warner Bellah that Ford had read in the Saturday Evening Post." "From our very first scenes together, working with John Wayne was comfortable for me."
1951 Flame of Araby Princess Tanya "Cast as a Tunisian princess – I wasn't up to making another lousy picture and wanted to save myself for a great performance in The Quiet Man. But Universal made their intentions known right away: Make the movie or be suspended. I had no choice but to make it."
1952 At Sword's Point Claire "The plot of the movie is a little hard to swallow, but it was fun as hell. The sons of the original Musketeers ride to the rescue, with just one exception. I play Claire, the daughter of Athos. Cornel Wilde was cast as my leading man, (D'Artagnan). I trained rigorously for six weeks with Fred Cavens and his son to perfect my stunt sequences. Fred Cavens was an outstanding Belgian military fencing master and had trained all the great swashbucklers in Hollywood. Physically, I've never worked harder for a role."
Kangaroo Dell McGuire An Irish immigrant, Michael McGuire (Finlay Currie), and his daughter Dell (O'Hara) are Australian cattle ranchers who face poverty and death during the drought of 1900. O'Hara: "The director Lewis Milestone rewrote Martin Berkeley's story. He destroyed a good, straightforward western. Though I hated every minute of the work, I absolutely loved Australia and the Australian people...most of the film was shot in the desert near Port Augusta."
The Quiet Man Mary Kate Danaher O'Hara: "I have often said that The Quiet Man is my personal favourite of all the pictures I have made. It is the one I am most proud of, and I tend to be very protective of it. I loved Mary Kate Danaher. I loved the hell and fire in her. As I readied to begin playing her, I believed that my most important scene in the picture was when Mary Kate is in the field herding the sheep and Sean Thornton sees her for the very first time. It's a moment captured in time, and it's love at first sight. I felt very strongly that if the audience believed it was love at first sight, then we would have lightning in a bottle. But if they didn't, we would have just another lovely romantic comedy on our hands. The scene comes off beautifully."
Against All Flags Prudence "Spitfire" Stevens With Errol Flynn. O'Hara: "I respected him professionally and was quite fond of him personally. Of course there was one glaring inconsistency with his professionalism. Errol also drank on the set, something I greatly disliked. You couldn't stop him; Errol did whatever he liked. If the director prohibited alcohol on the set, then Errol would inject oranges with booze and eat them during breaks."
1953 The Redhead from Wyoming Kate Maxwell "Another western stinkeroo for Universal. It was disappointing to be working on such a lousy picture while I was receiving praise for such a highly regarded piece of filmmaking.(The Quiet Man)"
War Arrow Elaine Corwin "A second picture with Jeff Chandler. Jeff was a real sweetheart, but acting with him was like acting with a broomstick."
1954 Malaga Joanna Dana Alternative title: Fire over Africa.
1955 The Long Gray Line Mary O'Donnell "This was the fourth picture I'd made with John Ford, and it was by far the most difficult."
The Magnificent Matador Karen Harrison With Anthony Quinn. "Critics disliked it, and found it dull."
Lady Godiva of Coventry Lady Godiva "I was not in the nude, as the studio claimed to the press. I wore a full-length body leotard and underwear that was concealed by my long tresses. An unexpected pleasure on the film was watching a promising young actor named Clint Eastwood cut his teeth on it."
1956 Lisbon Sylvia Merrill "A Republic melodrama, full of mystery, international intrigue, and murder. For the first time in my career I got to play the villain, and Bette Davis was right - bitches are fun to play."
Everything But the Truth Joan Madison "A lousy comedy for Universal. John Forsythe was wonderful to work with, though."
1957 The Wings of Eagles Min Wead "The film was the true story of an old friend of John Ford, Frank Spig Wead, a naval aviator who later became a Hollywood screenwriter after breaking his back in a nasty fall...I never worked with John Ford again."
1959 Our Man in Havana Beatrice Severn "When we arrived in Havana on April 15, 1959, Cuba was a country experiencing revolutionary change. Only four months before , Fidel Castro and his supporters had toppled Fulgencio Batista...Che Guevara was often at the Capri Hotel. Che would talk about Ireland and all the guerilla warfare that had taken place there. He knew every battle in Ireland and all of its history. And I finally asked, "Che, you know so much about Ireland and talk constantly about it. How do you know so much?" He said, "Well, my grandmother's name was Lynch and I learned everything I know about Ireland at her knee." He was Che Guevara Lynch! That famous cap he wore was an Irish rebel's cap. I spent a great deal of time with Che Guevara while I was in Havana. Today he is a symbol for freedom fighters wherever they are in the world and I think he is a good one."
1961 The Deadly Companions Kit Tilden "About a drifter running from his past. Sam Peckinpah's feature-film debut...Peckinpah later reached icon status as a great director of westerns, but I thought he was just awful. I found him to be one of the strangest and most objectionable people I had ever worked with."
The Parent Trap Margaret "Maggie" McKendrick "The Parent Trap wouldn't have been as special without the remarkable performances by Hayley Mills. I use the plural here because she really did bring two different girls to life in the movie. Sharon and Susan were so believable that I'd sometimes forget myself and look for the other one when Hayley and I were standing around the set."
1962 Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation Peggy Hobbs O'Hara: "A simple story about a man and his wife who take a family vacation with their children and grandchildren in an old dilapidated house on the beach...I discovered that in a Jimmy Stewart picture, every scene revolves around Jimmy Stewart. I was never allowed to really play out a single scene in the picture. He was a remarkable actor, but not a generous one."
1963 Spencer's Mountain Olivia Spencer "On location in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The picture is loosely based on the novel by Earl Hamner, Jr. about his life growing up in poverty on Spencer's Mountain, under the roof of God-fearing parents.Henry Fonda told me that he didn't know what he wanted to do with his life until Marlon Brando's mother persuaded him to try his hand at acting. Fonda was the gifted, tough, and classy kind of leading man that I most enjoyed working with."
McLintock! Katherine Gilhooley McLintock "There are so many great scenes in the picture. Audiences always rave about the fight sequence that takes place at the mine dump and ends in the mud. A total of forty-two cast members took part in the brawl, and nearly all of us ended up sliding down the bank into the mud pit below. The most dangerous stunt I perform in the picture was the fall from the ladder into the water trough."
1965 The Battle of the Villa Fiorita Moira O'Hara: "Late April 1964, to Italy to make the film with Rossano Brazzi. I began the picture with high hopes, but the picture quickly turned into a disaster. Rossano Brazzi wasn't right for the part."
1966 The Rare Breed Martha Price
1970 How Do I Love Thee? Elsie Waltz "With Jackie Gleason. It was a terrible film. The script was awful, and the director couldn't fix it. I liked Gleason very much. He was a very kind and funny man, but he drank too much."
1971 Big Jake Martha McCandles "We shot the picture in October 1970, in Durango, Mexico. Reuniting Duke (John Wayne) and me in our last picture together."
1991 Only the Lonely Rose Muldoon "John Candy was one of my all-time favorite leading men. He was pleasant and courteous. The depth of John Candy's talent did surprise me. I didn't expect it to be so great. It didn't take long for me to see that he was not only a comedic genius but an actor with an extraordinary dramatic talent. He reminded me a great deal of Charles Laughton."
1994 A Century of Cinema Herself
Year Title Role Notes
1958 The Pat Boone Chevy Showroom As herself ABC variety show guest
1960 Mrs. Miniver Mrs. Miniver Television movie
DuPont Show of the Month Lady Marguerite Blakeney 1 episode
The Bell Telephone Hour Hostess 1 episode
1963 Hallmark Hall of Fame Susanna Cibber 1 episode
1966 The Garry Moore Show Sara Longstreet 1 episode. From the stage play High Button Shoes.
1973 The Red Pony Ruth Tiflin Television movie. With Henry Fonda. O'Hara: "I received a lovely letter from actress Shirley Booth telling me that the scene with my son upstairs was one of the very best she had ever seen on film." O'Hara did not make another film until Only the Lonely.
1995 The Christmas Box Mary Parkin Television movie
1998 Cab to Canada Katherine Eure Television movie
2000 The Last Dance Helen Parker Television movie