Maureen O’Hara passed away on Oct. 24, 2015. She was 95 years old. Her family indicated she died peacefully in her sleep. CNN released the FitzSimons family statement, “Her characters were feisty and fearless, just as she was in real-life. She was also proudly Irish and spent her entire life sharing her heritage and the wonderful culture of the Emerald Isle with the world.” The family added that the best way to honor O’Hara would be to “visit Ireland one day and think of her.” The actress will be fondly remembered by many. She was well-known for many different movies and depending upon one’s age; the favorites will vary.
According to BBC News, the actress was born Maureen FitzSimons on Aug. 17, 1920, in Ranelagh, which is located on the south side of Dublin, Ireland. O’Hara had beautiful red hair, bright green eyes, and a brilliant smile. Not only could she act, but she was also a talented singer and quite an athletic. Her mother was an opera star and her father a co-owner of the Shamrock Rovers, the Dublin soccer team.
As a child, she began studying drama and dance. By the time she was 14, she was accepted at The Abbey Theatre in Dublin. She was on track to pursue her dream of performing on stage. During her tenure at the theater, she had a screen test done in London.
Upon viewing the screen test, Charles Laughton became interested in her acting. According to IMDb, “he was mesmerized by her beautiful eyes.” Meeting Laughton gave O’Hara a new direction. The director was able to move her toward a career in the film industry.
Between 1938 and 2000, O’Hara performed in 65 movies. Laughton decided her last name, FitzSimons, was too long and he handled her name change before he cast her in her third film, Jamacia Inn.
Los Angeles Times declares O’Hara was the “only leading lady big enough and tough enough for John Wayne.” They co-starred in a total of five films together. These movies included Rio Grande in 1950, The Quiet Man in 1952, The Wings of Eagles in 1957, McClintock! in 1963, and in 1971, Big Jake. O’Hara and Wayne became close friends.
With Christmas only two months away, it would be difficult not to remember her fabulous performance in Miracle on 34th Street. She portrayed Doris Walker, the mother of the precocious youngster played by Natalie Wood. The 1947 film has become a holiday tradition on television.
Co-starring with Brian Keith and Hayley Mills, she once again portrayed a mother in Walt Disney’s 1961 classic, The Parent Trap. The movie is a delightful comedy and musical. She also sang, For Now and Always, on the film soundtrack. A memorable scene was the awkward, yet effective punch she delivered to Keith’s eye.
O’Hara retired from performing in films in 1973, after making The Red Pony, a TV movie. However, she emerged from retirement several times. Her first post-retirement foray was in 1991 to co-star with John Candy in the motion picture, Only the Lonely.
The Christmas Box in 1995 was her second venture after retiring, which was another made-for-TV movie. She was interviewed about the movie before it premiered on CBS. According to the archived interview with Los Angeles Times, originally published on Dec. 17, 1995, at the age of 75, O’Hara’s appearance and spirit had not changed since she first became a Hollywood star. Susan King, the interviewer, wrote, “She’s retained her flawless peaches-and-cream complexion. Her dancing Irish green eyes are still smiling. And she continues to exude the determined–yes, fiery–spirit.”
When talking about The Christmas Box, O’Hara prayed it would be a wonderful Christmas story. Then, she made reference to Miracle on 34th Street, pointing out, “You have had the best [Christmas] movie all of these years.”
O’Hara’s determination and spirit are only two traits that cause fans to remember her fondly as a Hollywood icon. As she told The Los Angeles Times, “If you are an actor or an actress, it’s always in your blood.”
The last two made-for-TV movies she completed were also for CBS. They were Cab to Canada in 1998, and in 2000, The Last Dance.
Interesting Facts and Trivia
- Since she was athletic, the actress frequently did her own stunts.
- She was often called the “Queen of Technicolor” because of her red hair and green eyes.
- On Nov. 4, 2014, The Motion Picture Academy presented her with an Oscar Lifetime Achievement Award.
- O’Hara won a Peabody Award for Excellence for her performance in The Red Pony.
- The actress was married three times and gave birth to one child. Her marriages were to George H. Brown (1939-1941), William Price (1941-1953), and Charles F. Blair (1968-1978). Her daughter, Bronwyn Brigid Price (aka Bronwyn FitzSimons), was born on June 30, 1944.
Maureen O’Hara left behind a great legacy in the film industry, as well as many memories. She will be fondly remembered for many things, but her smile, red hair, emerald green eyes, and her strong personality merely top off the list. As her family said, she was proud to be an Irish-American and an accomplished actress.
Opinion by Cathy Milne
Edited by Leigh Haugh
BBC News: Obituary: Maureen O’Hara
Los Angeles Times: From the Archives an Interview With Maureen O’Hara: ‘The Christmas Box,’ Wrapped With Care
IMDb: Maureen O’Hara Filmology and Biography
Featured Image Courtesy of Trent Strohm’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Inset Images Courtesy of WikiMedia Commons – Public Domain License