Maureen O’Hara, once regarded as among the most beautiful women on earth, was a red-haired Irish-born actress who revelled in playing passionate heroines in the golden era of Hollywood.
She was one of the most talented film stars of her generation, a huge box-office draw who scooped up award after award during her long and spectacular career.
O’Hara was famed for her on-screen chemistry with John Wayne with whom she co-starred in five movies.
Among the films which made her famous were How Green Was My Valley, Jamaica Inn, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Foxes of Harrow, The Quiet Man and The Black Swan.
O’Hara was as forthright in real life as she was passionate on screen. Of Rex Harrison she said “we 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”. George Montgomery was “positively loathsome”, and starring with Jeff Chandler was like “acting with a broomstick”.
Maureen O’Hara was born Maureen FitzSimons in Dublin on August 17, 1920. She trained at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin and was spotted, after a London screen test by Charles Laughton. Her first film was Jamaica Inn (1938), directed by Alfred Hitchcock.
Laughton was so pleased with her performance that he cast her opposite him in The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939). She then starred in How Green Was My Valley, which won the 1941 Academy Award for Best Picture. Six years later she made her best-remembered film, Miracle on 34th Street, which became a perennial Christmas classic.
With John Wayne she starred in 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 a classic image preserved on film.
In 1946, she became a naturalised citizen of the United States.
O’Hara also possessed a fine soprano voice and she described singing as her first love. She channelled that through TV rather than films. In the 1950s and 1960s, she was a guest on musical variety shows with Perry Como, Andy Williams, Betty Grable and others. In 1960, she starred on Broadway in the hit musical Christine, for which she won a host of awards.
In 1939, at the age of 19, O’Hara secretly married Englishman George H. Brown, a film producer. The marriage was annulled in 1941. Later that year, she married American film director William Houston Price but that ended in 1953 as a result of his alcohol abuse. They had one child, a daughter.
From 1953 until 1967 O’Hara had a relationship with Enrique Parra, a Mexican politician. She wrote in her autobiography: “Enrique saved me from the darkness of an abusive marriage.”
She married her third husband, Charles F Blair, Jr, on March 12, 1968. Blair was a pioneer of transatlantic aviation. He died in 1978 in an air accident.
O’Hara was named Irish America magazine’s “Irish American of the Year” in 2005. She was given the Heritage Award by the Ireland-American Fund in 1991.
For her contributions to the film industry, O’Hara has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. 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.
In 2004, O’Hara released her autobiography ‘Tis Herself. In the same year, she received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Irish Film and Television Academy in Dublin.
Last year the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences voted to present O’Hara with an honorary award recognising her lifetime of achievement.