MAUREEN FITZSIMONS was born the second of six children to Charles
and Marguerite FitzSimons on August 17, 1920 near Dublin, Ireland. Though
tomboyish as a youngster, she eventually developed an interest in acting
and as a teenager auditioned for the Abbey Theatre School. After Alfred
Hitchcock gave her a role in JAMAICA INN (1939) with Charles
Laughton, the English actor claimed to "discover" her. Laughton
had gone to America in 1931 and signed a movie contract with RKO
Pictures where he was about to star as Quasimodo in THE HUNCHBACK OF
NOTRE DAME (1939). He brought Maureen back to the states with him to play
his Esmeralda in the film and changed her name to O'Hara. HUNCHBACK became
her American film debut, RKO signed
her, and she never looked back.
After a few unremarkable films, in 1941 she was cast in John
Ford's film adaptation of the Richard Llewellyn novel HOW
GREEN WAS MY VALLEY about a Welsh family in a 19th century mining town
struggling to hold onto their way of life in the face of labor unrest and
the Industrial Revolution. The picture, also starring Walter
Pidgeon, Donald Crisp, Sara
Allgood, Roddy McDowall
and Anna Lee, won the Oscar for Best
Picture of the year, and anyone who had failed to notice her in HUNCHBACK
could not have been so oblivious to her remarkable beauty and screen persona
HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY was
followed by a number of 1940s adventure films and swashbucklers like THE
BLACK SWAN (1942) and THE SPANISH MAIN (1945), many of which were shot
in Technicolor and magnificently highlighted O'Hara's red hair and green
eyes to such an extent she was dubbed the "Queen of Technicolor."
Another notable film of the ‘40s was the now-classic Christmas film MIRACLE
ON 34TH STREET (1947) featuring O'Hara as a successful business woman
who is bowled over when she hires a department store Santa who really believes
he's Kris Kringle.
In 1950, John Ford first
paired O'Hara with a co-star for his film RIO GRANDE who would change the
direction of her career-- John Wayne.
The two became fast friends and went on to make four more films together,
the most notable being Ford's
THE QUIET MAN (1952) as
well as the western comedy MCLINTOCK! (1963), and O'Hara became known as
the leading lady who gave Wayne
his sex appeal. Her characters were frequently cantankerous to say the
least, and whether she won Wayne
or he won her in the end, it was always a good show.
In the 1960s, O'Hara began to take on more mature roles-- at least
as far as the age of her characters was concerned. She played a divorced
mother reconciled to her ex-husband by the plotting of her two twin daughters
(played by Hayley Mills) in Disney's
THE PARENT TRAP (1961) and wife to Jimmy
Stewart as he tried to spend a relaxing summer at the beach in MR.
HOBBS TAKES A VACATION (1962).
In real life, O'Hara was married twice and had a daughter named Bronwyn
(after Anna Lee's character in HOW
GREEN WAS MY VALLEY) before she met and married aviator Charles Blair
in 1968. After two more films, O'Hara retired from the big screen in 1971
to be a full-time wife and mother, and after Blair was killed in a plane
crash in 1978, she continued to manage his commuter airline business, Antilles
Air Boats, in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
In 1991, O'Hara made a brief return to the screen as John Candy's
mother in ONLY THE LONELY and starred in a TV movie called "The Christmas
Box" in 1995 as well as another TV movie, "Cab to Canada,"
which aired on CBS in 1998. Aside from these occasional roles, she is currently
living out her retirement between homes in St. Croix, New York, Los Angeles
and her native Ireland.
Biographical information from Cinemania '95, The
Internet Movie Database, and "Hail to Maureen Technicolor queen"
by Brian Linehan The Toronto Star (May 30, 1991, page C1).