Educated in London and Paris, the breathtakingly beautiful Maureen O'Sullivan was discovered for films by director Frank Borzage while both were attending a horse show in Dublin. She made her screen debut in 1930 opposite Irish tenor John McCormick in Song O' My Heart, which earned her a contract with Fox studios. After appearing in such Fox blockbusters as Just Imagine (1930) and A Connecticut Yankee (1931), she moved to MGM, where her first assignment was the role of Jane Parker in Tarzan the Ape Man (1932). She repeated this characterization in Tarzan and His Mate (1934), causing a minor sensation with her bikini-like costume and a nude swimming scene. Somewhat more modestly garbed, she went on to co-star in four more Tarzan pictures over the next eight years. Though MGM kept her busy in a variety of films, ranging from such costume dramas as The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1934) and David Copperfield (1935) to the Marx Brothers' A Day at the Races (1937), she is best remembered for her appearances as Jane, a fact that has been a source of both pride and irritation for the actress (she liked her co-star Johnny Weissmuller but despised Cheeta the chimpanzee, who bit her more than once). She retired from films in 1942 to devote her time to her husband, director John Farrow, and her many children, two of whom grew up to be actresses Mia Farrow and Tisa Farrow. She returned to the screen in 1948, averaging a film every two years until 1958. An early arrival on TV, she hosted a local children's program in New York and the syndicated series Irish Heritage, and in 1964 was hired by NBC to co-anchor The Today Show (her replacement the following year was Barbara Walters). In 1964 she starred with Paul Ford in the Broadway production Never Too Late, playing a fortysomething suburbanite who suddenly finds herself pregnant; the following year she and Ford repeated their roles in the screen version. Widowed in 1963, she remarried 20 years later, sporadically reviving her screen activities in such films as Hannah and Her Sisters (1985), in which she and Lloyd Nolan played the combative parents of her real-life daughter Mia Farrow. As regally beautiful as ever, Maureen O'Sullivan showed up again on TV in the mid-'90s as one of the interviewees in a Tarzan retrospective.
Biography by Hal Erickson
- Was a schoolmate of Vivien Leigh's at London's Convent of the Sacred Heart at Roehampton.
- Was discovered by director Frank Borzage while he was in Dublin, Ireland, shooting Song O' My Heart (1930). Borzage asked her to screen-test and liked what he saw, so he put her in the film.
- Appeared in eight films in 1932, including Tarzan the Ape Man, her first of six lord-of-the-jungle adventures with Johnny Weissmuller.
- Was granted a papal dispensation to marry the divorced John Farrow in 1936.
- Eldest son, Michael, was killed in a 1958 plane crash while taking flying lessons.
- Was a Today Girl on the Today show from 1962 to '64.
- In 1962, made her Broadway debut in Never Too Late, and went on to star in the 1965 big-screen version.
- Operated a bridal-consulting service called Wediquette International.
- Played real-life daughter Mia Farrow's tipsy mother in 1986's Hannah and Her Sisters.