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Maureen O'Hara

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Biography:

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 this time.

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).

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Last updated: March 10, 2011.
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