With gorgeous coloring that won her the title "Queen of Technicolor," Maureen O'Hara ranks with the screen's great beauties. The flaming red hair, peaches-and-cream complexion and green eyes were so perfectly suited to the medium that Herbert T. Kalmus, the inventor of the Technicolor process, was said to have used O'Hara's image in promoting his invention. In addition, O'Hara proved herself as an actress in performances of sensitivity and fire -- and displayed an athletic ability and prowess with a sword that made her the movies' only genuine female swashbuckling star. Another distinction of the O'Hara screen roles is that, without losing her femininity, she proves herself the match of any man, including frequent costar John Wayne.
O'Hara was born Maureen FitzSimons on August 17, 1920, in Ranelagh, Ireland, a suburb of Dublin. Trained at Dublin's Abbey School, she acted with the Abbey players before entering films at age 18 with two British films Kicking the Moon Around and My Irish Molly (both 1938). During a visit to London she came to the attention of Charles Laughton, who offered her a seven-year contract with his company, Mayflower Productions, and a costarring role opposite him in Jamaica Inn (1939). The success of her appearance in that film led to her even more arresting appearance as Esmeralda to Laughton's Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939). O'Hara's Hollywood career was now off and running.
In Dance, Girl, Dance (1940), directed by pioneering director Dorothy Arzner, O'Hara plays a would-be classical dancer reduced to working alongside stripper Lucille Ball. In an early example of feminism in films, O'Hara delivers a blistering speech to the chauvinistic male patrons of the burlesque hall. How Green Was My Valley (1941) introduced O'Hara to director John Ford, who cast her as Angharad in this story of a Welsh mining family and later used her in four more films: Rio Grande (1950), The Quiet Man (1952), The Long Gray Line (1957) and The Wings of Eagles (1955). They remained friends until the death of Ford, who called O'Hara "the best bloody actress in Hollywood."
The 1940s were a busy decade for O'Hara, who appeared in almost two dozen films during that decade, including the musical comedy They Met in Argentina (1941), the WWII espionage drama The Fallen Sparrow (1943), the Laughton/Jean Renoir wartime drama This Land Is Mine (1943), the pirate adventure The Spanish Main (1945), the heartwarming Christmas perennial Miracle on 34th Street (1947), the swashbuckler Sinbad the Sailor (1947), the Clifton Webb comedy Sitting Pretty (1948) and the intriguing detective drama A Woman's Secret (1949), written by Herman J. Mankiewicz and directed by Nicholas Ray.
O'Hara's proficiency at fencing gets a good showcase in At Sword's Point (1952), in which she plays an offspring of one of the "Three Musketeers" and, when not brandishing a sword, romances Cornel Wilde as the son of D'Artagnan.
Her partnership with John Wayne began with Rio Grande and really caught fire in The Quiet Man, in which the couple's sensuality caused many to see "The Duke" with new eyes as a sexy leading man. The pair costarred in three more movies: The Wings of Eagles, McLintock! (1963) and Big Jake (1971). Another leading man with whom O'Hara shared a special rapport was James Stewart, her costar in Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation (1962) and The Rare Breed (1966).
O'Hara's other outstanding film appearances during the 1960s included those in The Parent Trap (1961), Spencer's Mountain (1963) and The Battle of the Villa Fiorita (1965). She delighted her fans by returning to the big screen after a 20-year absence to play John Candy's irrepressible mom in Only the Lonely (1991). Since then she has appeared in three network television movies.
During the 1950s, '60s and '70s, O'Hara, who had once considered a career as an opera singer, showed off her lyric soprano in numerous television variety shows. She also starred on Broadway in Christine. After the death of her third husband, aviator Charles Blair, O'Hara settled into retirement at her home in St. Croix in the Virgin Islands. She also spends time regularly in New York, Los Angeles and Ireland. In 2004 she published her autobiography, 'Tis Herself, through Simon and Schuster.