It is with deep sadness that I write about the passing of Maureen O’Hara, the Irish actress with red trademark hair who exhibited her indelible talents and unique mastery in such films that include, “Miracle On 34th Street” ( 1947 ) and “The Quiet Man” ( 1952 ).
Maureen O’Hara had come along way since her childhood years in Ireland. From the moment she stepped foot on Hollywood soil, her status escalated to great heights and before she knew it, Maureen O’Hara was showcasing her indomitable presence and fiercely persona in a diverse range of films that augmented her versatility as an actress.
Maureen O’Hara was born Maureen FitzSimons on August 17th, 1920 in Ranelagh, Ireland to parents, Charles Stewart Parnell FitzSimons and Marguerite FitzSimons. At the time of Maureen’s birth her father was working in the clothing business and was part owner of the Shamrock Rovers Football Club, while her mother who was a former operatic contralto had garnered recognition as a woman’s clothier.
Growing up in a family that consisted of five siblings who each had desideratum’s in all career fields, Maureen started expressing an interest in becoming an actress from an early age, and once she was old enough she enrolled at the Abbey Theatre and the Ena Mary Burke School of Drama and Elocution.
Maureen flourished at her training at the Abbey Theatre, and through her excellence and dedication she was given the opportunity to travel to London for a screen test, where it was observed by Charles Laughton that she was gifted with a creative flair for acting.
Despite the original screen test being a failure, Laughton witnessed the young stars potential and natural beauty which was accompanied by large expressive eyes, and approached his business partner, Erich Pommer to see the film test. Pommer was immediately impressed, and shortly after Maureen O’Hara was signed to a seven year contract with Mayflower Pictures.
In 1938, Maureen O’Hara made her film debut in Kicking The Moon Around, but it wasn’t until 1939 when she starred in the Alfred Hitchcock classic Jamaica Inn that she would be cemented as an established actress. Following the success of Jamaica Inn, she was cast opposite Charles Laughton in The Hunchback Of Notre Dame, which is considered by many to be her breakthrough role.
In 1939 not long after appearing in Jamaica Inn, Maureen O’Hara married George H. Brown, an English film producer, production assistant and scriptwriter. The two met on the film set and were instantly infatuated in each other. However their marriage proved to be a disastrous affair and the couple divorced in 1941. Later that year, O’Hara married William Houston Price, who she met while filming The Hunchback Of Notre Dame. Even though their elopement was not a joyous union due to Price’s alcohol abuse, the couple bore one child, a daughter named Bronwyn, born in 1944.
On March 12th, 1968, she married Charles F. Blair Jr., a pioneer of transatlantic aviation and former brigadier general of the US Air Force. Following their elopement O’Hara retired from acting shortly after. Sadly the marriage ended ten years later in 1978 when Charles Passed away.
By the time filming of The Hunchback Of Notre Dame came to a cessation, England was on the brink of World War II. With the War about to break out, Laughton realized that he could no longer film in London and was forced to sell O’Hara’s contract to RKO, which at first proved erroneous when all she was cast in was low budget productions. However acclamation came to the fore when her close friend John Ford rescued her from financial calamity with the studio and cast her in the role as Angharad in How Green Was My Valley.
On it’s release, How Green Was My Valley was a triumphant success, winning an Academy Award for Best Picture and garnering critical acclaim for Maureen O’Hara which would pave the way for a myriad of other notable productions during the forties, the most eminent being the perennial Christmas classic Miracle On 34th Street, starring O’Hara in the role as Doris Walker, the mother of a young daughter played by Natalie Wood.
Not only was Miracle On 34th Street a box office hit, it also boasted Maureen O’Hara’s career to it’s zenith. By now, O’Hara was at her prime and was crowned one of the world’s most beautiful women. With her growing popularity, O’Hara was cast in five films with her frequent co-star, John Wayne, a legendary collaboration abounded by their undeniable onscreen chemistry that would leave a lasting imprint on cinema history.
Although The Quiet Man is the most famous of the John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara pairing, the other productions were released to effective results, and have since become prominent titles on O’Hara’s resume of films.
Apart from her illustrious career in motion pictures, Maureen O’Hara showcased her inimitable prowess in other aspects of the entertainment industry and succeeded in all mediums. One of her most recognizable traits was her soprano voice which was evidently displayed through her love of singing. Eventually this feature was spotlighted during the 1950’s and 60’s when O’Hara appeared as a guest singing on musical variety shows with Perry Como, Andy Williams, Betty Grable and Tennessee Ernie Ford.
In 1991, Maureen O’Hara returned to acting when she appeared in Only The Lonely, playing Rose Muldoon, the domineering mother of a Chicago cop played by John Candy. During the next few years, O’Hara continued to work and starred in an array of made for TV films.
Once retiring permently, Maureen O’Hara maintained homes in Arizona and the Virgin islands, but since suffering a stroke in 2005, she spent most of her time in Glengarriff, County Cork until flying to the United States in 2011 to live with her grandson Conor.
Sadly Maureen O’Hara passed away peacefully in her sleep on October 24th, 2015 at her home in Idaho. She is survived by her daughter, grandson and great grandchildren. She was 95 years old.
From swashbuckling epics and westerns to family extravaganzas like The Parent Trap and Miracle On 34th Street, Maureen O’Hara remains one of the most versatile actresses to ever grace the silver screen. In a career spanning over sixty years, Maureen O’Hara will be remembered as the grand Irish gal who epitomized beauty with her flaming red hair, sparkling green eyes and her fiercely yet amiable aura that she showcased in a diverse range of roles.
Rest In Peace Maureen O’Hara.