Maureen O'Hara

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Biography

Maureen O'Hara (born Maureen FitzSimons) on August 17, 1920 was an Irish film actress.

Born to Charles Stewart Parnell FitzSimons (a Catholic) and Marguerita Lilburn (a Protestant) in Ranelagh, County Dublin, Ireland not long before partition, the famously red-headed beauty was noted for playing fiercely passionate heroines with a highly sensible attitude. She often worked with director John Ford and longtime friend John Wayne.

Her father was part owner of Ireland's leading football club the Shamrock Rovers.

She was fluent in Irish and used this in her films The Long Gray Line, The Quiet Man and Only the Lonely.

Beginnings

Maureen loved playing rough athletic games as a child and excelled in sports. She combined this interest with an equally natural gift for performing. She came from a theatrical family and was accepted at the age of 14 to the Abbey Theatre in Dublin (Ireland's National Theatre). She attended the Ena Mary Burke School of Elocution and was an honor student at the London School of Music. At her father's insistence, Maureen also studied secretarial and bookkeeping courses, and she has used these considerable skills throughout her life.

At the age of 18, she was briefly married to George Hanley Brown, who would become the father of British journalist Tina Brown. The marriage was annulled on September 15, 1941. On December 29, 1941 she married an Englishman, William "Will" Price, who fathered her only child, Bronwyn Brigid Price, born June 30, 1944. Bronwyn later appeared in the film Spencer's Mountain. Will Price served during World War II, making Maureen a war wife. The marriage to Price, however, ultimately ended in divorce on August 11, 1953 due to his alcoholism and physical abuse of his wife.

In 1939, she was offered a screen test in London. Initially reluctant, she was persuaded to attend. Famed actor Charles Laughton attended the screen test. She performed poorly in the test and returned to Ireland. However, Charles Laughton believed she had "something." Laughton looked at the test again and, while he thought it was awful, he couldn't forget her eyes. He told his business partner Erich Pommer he was signing her and sent him the test film. When Pommer saw the film, he was furious as he believed it was a poor choice. However, Pommer came around when he too found he couldn't forget her eyes. As a result, she was offered an initial seven-year contract. Laughton and Pommer changed her name to "Maureen O'Hara" - a better fit for a marquee. Her first major film was Alfred Hitchcock's Jamaica Inn (1939).

Also in 1939, she and Laughton went to the U.S. to appear in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. This film contains one of her most famous roles, playing Esmeralda alongside Laughton's Quasimodo.

In 1941, O'Hara gave a haunting performance as the Welsh daughter of a mining family in the drama How Green Was My Valley, which marked her first collaboration with legendary director John Ford. The film triumphed at the Oscars, winning top honors in five categories, including Best Picture and Best Director.

While fulfilling contract commitments with both RKO Studios and 20th Century-Fox, O'Hara was billed alongside Hollywood's leading men in a slew of swashbuckling features. Among the most notable were 1942's The Black Swan (with Tyrone Power), 1947's Sinbad the Sailor (with Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.), and 1949's Bagdad (with Vincent Price). In between action films, O'Hara was assigned a role in the 1947 holiday classic Miracle on 34th Street, in which she played a single working mother whose strong rational beliefs are challenged by Santa Claus.

During the 1940s and 1950s, O'Hara was repeatedly cast as the heroine in elaborate Technicolor features. Her strong-willed characters, which were complimented by her fiery red hair, green eyes, and peaches and cream complexion, earned her the nicknames "The Queen of Technicolor" and "The Pirate Queen of the Screen." O'Hara gave saucy performances in adventures like Buffalo Bill (1944), The Spanish Main (1945), The Flame of Araby (1951), and The Redhead From Wyoming (1952).

In 1950, O'Hara entered a new phase of her career when she was cast as John Wayne's estranged wife in John Ford's romantic Western Rio Grande. O'Hara shared great screen chemistry with Wayne and served as his leading lady in a succession of films over the next few years. Also under Ford's direction, Wayne and O'Hara starred in the lyrical drama The Quiet Man (1952) and in the critically panned The Wings of Eagles (1957).

O'Hara's mother was an accomplished contralto, and she aspired to a singing career. She sang briefly in How Green Was My Valley and again in The Quiet Man. She starred on Broadway in the musical Christine and released two successful recordings: Love Letters from Maureen O'Hara and Maureen O'Hara Sings her Favorite Irish Songs. Throughout the 1960s, she was a sought after guest on musical variety shows appearing with Perry Como, Andy Williams, Betty Grable and Ernie Ford. In 1973, she appeared on Tennessee Ernie Ford's "Fabulous Fordies" TV special.

She was one of the most beloved of Hollywood's Golden Age icons, in the company of such screen luminaries as Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland and Elizabeth Taylor. Many of her films are considered all-time classics and are traditionally shown on television during the holidays. Once named one of the world's most beautiful women, O'Hara's beautiful face and thick red hair blowing in the wind as she waves from a gate in the Academy Award-winning film How Green Was My Valley will remain one of the most iconic images ever preserved on film.

Marriage, retirement and comeback

Maureen married her third husband, Charles F. Blair, on March 11, 1968. Blair was a pioneer of transatlantic aviation, a former Brigadier General of the U.S. Air Force and a former Senior Pilot at Pan Am. A few years after her marriage to Blair, O'Hara retired from acting. According to O'Hara, one day she was with Blair and John Wayne when she was asked if she didn't think it was time for her to stop working and stay at home. Instead of getting into the argument she thought Blair and Wayne were expecting, she agreed that it was time to stop. With Blair, Maureen managed Antilles Airboats, a commuter sea plane service in the Caribbean. She not only made trips around the world with her pilot husband, but owned and published a magazine, "The Virgin Islander," writing a monthly column called "Maureen O'Hara Says." Blair later died on September 2, 1978 when the engine of a Grumman Goose he was flying from St. Croix to St. Thomas exploded. Though completely devastated, Maureen, with memories of ten of the happiest years of her life, soldiered on. 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 USA. Later, Maureen sold the airline with the permission of the shareholders.

Fortunately, she was coaxed out of retirement several times: once in 1991 to star with John Candy in Only the Lonely (1991) and again, in 1995, in a made-for-TV movie, The Christmas Box on CBS. In the spring of 1998, Maureen accepted the second of what would be three projects for Polson Productions and CBS: Cab to Canada (1998) and The Last Dance (2000).

Achievements

For her contributions to the motion picture industry, Maureen 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. In March 1999, Maureen was selected to be the Grand Marshal of the New York City St. Patrick's Day Parade after previously being de-selected because she was a divorcée.

In 2004 Maureen O'Hara released her autobiography 'Tis Herself, published by Simon & Schuster. In the same year she was also honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Irish Film and Television Academy in her native Dublin, Ireland.

In 2006, Maureen O' Hara Blair 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 Blair.

She lived in Glengarriff, County Cork and spent her final years with family (grandson C. Beau FitzSimons) in Boise, Idaho. She died in her sleep on October 24, 2015.

Siblings

Maureen was the second of six children. Sister Margaret Mary, James, Florrie, Mrs. Margot Edwards and Charles have passed on.

Charles B. FitzSimons (b. 8 May 1924 in Ranelagh, County Dublin - d. 14 February 2001 in Los Angeles, California from liver failure, aged 76) was an actor in Ireland before immigrating to the USA. He became a Hollywood film actor and later a supervising production executive before becoming a producer himself. He also served as Executive Director of the Producers Guild for almost 20 years (1981-1999).

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Awards

Laurel Awards - 1963 - Nominated for Golden Laurel for Top Female Comedy Performance for: Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation (1962) - 5th place.

Laurel Awards - 1964 - Nominated for Golden Laurel for Top Female Star - 14th place.

1991 - Golden Boot Award

Seattle Film Critics Awards - 2002 - Won Living Treasure Award.

IFTA Awards - 2004 Won Lifetime Achievement Award.

Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame - Motion Picture at 7004 Hollywood Blvd.

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Trivia

Height: 5'8"

Crack typist who typed some of her own scripts/rewrites.

Measurements: 36 1/2C-25-36 (Source: Celebrity Sleuth magazine)

Did many of her own stunts in her films.

Starred with John Wayne in five movies, the majority directed by John Ford.

A favorite of director John Ford.

Was the first choice to play "Anna" in the film version of The King and I (1956) but Richard Rodgers did not want the role played by a "pirate queen."

Was having lunch with actress Lucille Ball the moment Lucy first saw Cuban musician Desi Arnaz.

Is the only credited cast member of Miracle on 34th Street (1947) who is still alive.

Is portrayed by Liane Langland in Lucy & Desi: Before the Laughter (1991) (TV).

She and John Wayne remained friends until his death. In her home on St. Croix, she had a wing she called the "John Wayne wing" because he stayed there when visiting. It was badly damaged by Hurricane Hugo in 1989, some ten years after Wayne's death.

In Italy, most of her films were dubbed by Lidia Simoneschi. She was occasionally dubbed by Dhia Cristiani, most notably in Sitting Pretty (1948); by Rosetta Calavetta and once by Paola Barbara in the multi Oscar-winning How Green Was My Valley (1941).

At a certain point in the filming of The Quiet Man, John Ford's epic Irish comedy (1952), Maureen O'Hara suspected that her movie career might have come precipitately to an end. For the purpose of furthering her courtship with John Wayne, Ford had put her in a cart at a race meeting with the wind-machine behind her, so that her glorious red mane was whipped forwards into her eyes. It was lashing her eyeballs almost to shreds and consequently she kept squinting.

"What the hell do you think you are doing?" Ford yelled, or words to that effect. "Open your damn eyes." Ford had forgotten the first thing we should all remember about redheads, which is that they have one layer of skin less than the rest of humanity and react accordingly - even to the world's most eminent film director. Miss O'Hara leaned forward, her Irish up (as they say in the States), and roared at him: "What would a bald-headed son-of-a-bitch know about hair lashing across his eyeballs?" Ford, after thinking about it for a while, decided to laugh at this impertinence.

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Quotes

"Speaking as an actress, I wish all actors would be more like Duke Wayne. And speaking as a person, it would be nice if all people could be honest and as genuine as he is. This is a real man."

"To the people throughout the world, John Wayne is not just an actor, and a very fine actor, John Wayne is the United States of America".

On John Wayne: "He was a wonderful man, a wonderful person. With us, it wasn't a man and a woman - it was two friends. He knew a lot of my secrets which nobody ever knew and nobody ever will. He might be telling the Good Lord but he's not going to tell anyone else."

Elsa Lanchester on Maureen: "She looks as though butter wouldn't melt in her mouth-or anywhere else."

"She is like the emerald shower which succeeds the initial explosion of a skyrocket."--Film Critic Bosley Crowther about Maureen O'Hara.

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