Maureen O'Hara

Active - 1938 - 2010  |   Born - Aug 17, 1920 in Ranelagh, County Dublin, Ireland  |   Died - Oct 24, 2015   |   Genres - Drama, Adventure, Western, Comedy, Romance

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Biography by Bruce Eder

Born in Ranelagh, Ireland, near Dublin, Maureen O'Hara was trained at the Abbey Theatre School and appeared on radio as a young girl before making her stage debut with the Abbey Players in the mid-'30s. She went to London in 1938, and made her first important screen appearance that same year in the Charles Laughton/Erich Pommer-produced drama Jamaica Inn, directed by Alfred Hitchcock. She was brought to Hollywood with Laughton's help and co-starred with him in the celebrated costume drama The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which established O'Hara as a major new leading lady. Although she appeared in dramas such as How Green Was My Valley with Walter Pidgeon, The Fallen Sparrow opposite John Garfield, and This Land Is Mine with Laughton, it was in Hollywood's swashbucklers that O'Hara became most popular and familiar. Beginning with The Black Swan opposite Tyrone Power in 1942, she always seemed to be fighting (or romancing) pirates, especially once Technicolor became standard for such films. Her red hair photographed exceptionally well, and, with her extraordinary good looks, she exuded a robust sexuality that made her one of the most popular actresses of the late '40s and early '50s.

O'Hara was also a good sport, willing to play scenes that demanded a lot of her physically, which directors and producers appreciated. The Spanish Main, Sinbad the Sailor, and Against All Flags (the latter starring Errol Flynn) were among her most popular action films of the '40s. During this period, the actress also starred as young Natalie Wood's beautiful, strong-willed mother in the classic holiday fantasy Miracle on 34th Street and as John Wayne's estranged wife in the John Ford cavalry drama Rio Grande. O'Hara became Wayne's most popular leading lady, most notably in Ford's The Quiet Man, but her career was interrupted during the late '50s when she sued the scandal magazine Confidential. It picked up again in 1960, when she did one of her occasional offbeat projects, the satire Our Man in Havana, based on a Graham Greene novel and starring Alec Guinness. O'Hara moved into more distinctly maternal roles during the '60s, playing the mother of Hayley Mills in Disney's popular The Parent Trap. She also starred with Wayne in the comedy Western McLintock!, and with James Stewart in the The Rare Breed, both directed by Andrew V. McLaglen. Following her last film with Wayne, Big Jake, and a 1973 television adaptation of John Steinbeck's The Red Pony, O'Hara went into retirement, although returned to the screen in 1991 to play John Candy's overbearing mother in the comedy Only the Lonely, and later appeared in a handful of TV movies. In 2014, she received an Honorary Academy Award, despite having never been nominated for one previously. O'Hara died the following year, at age 95.

Movie Highlights

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  • At 14, joined Ireland's National Theatre, Abbey Theatre.
  • Was discovered by actor Charles Laughton after a screen test.
  • Acted alongside John Wayne in five movies: Rio Grande (1950), The Quiet Man (1952), The Wings of Eagles (1957), McLintock! (1963) and Big Jake (1971).
  • John Ford directed her in five movies: How Green Was My Valley (1941), Rio Grande (1950), The Quiet Man (1952), The Long Gray Line (1955) and The Wings of Eagles (1957).
  • Successfully sued tabloid magazine Confidential in 1957 over a story that she was seen necking in the back of a theater. She was out of the country at the time the incident supposedly took place, and showed her passport as proof.
  • Her third husband was the first pilot to fly a passenger plane nonstop from Ireland to New York. When he died years later in a plane crash, O'Hara became CEO of his St. Croix-based airline.
  • Published 'Tis Herself: An Autobiography in 2004.