Queen of Technicolor
Irish actress and singer Maureen O'Hara made a name for herself thanks to her partnership with legendary director John Ford and renowned actor John Wayne. Spotted by Oscar winning film star and producer Charles Laughton, the attractive actress enjoyed early success in Laughton's movies “Jamaica Inn” and “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (both 1939) before starting her notable work with Ford in the critically praised “How Green Was My Valley” (1941). O'Hara and Ford worked together in four more films, including “Rio Grande” (1950), “The Quiet Man” (1952) and “The Wings of Eagles” (1957), which all also starred John Wayne. The red-headed performer also starred with Wayne in Andrew V. McLaglen's “McLintock” (1963) and George Sherman's “Big Jake” (1971). Commenting about him, she said, “To the people throughout the world, John Wayne is not just an actor and a very fine actor, John Wayne is the United States of America.”
Nicknamed the “Queen of Technicolor” after continually being cast as the heroine in luxurious Technicolor features during the 1940s and 1950s, O'Hara emerged as a magazine publisher and co-owner and later President of Antilles Airboats, a commuter seaplane service in the Caribbean, following her retirement from acting in the early 1970s. Despite her happy retirement from acting, she made a return in 1991 with the comedy “Only The Lonely,” her first film after twenty years. She later acted in the CBS TV films “The Christmas Box” (1995), “Cab to Canada” (1998) and “The Last Dance” (2000).
O'Hara has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for her motion picture work. She was handed a Golden Boot Award in 1991, a Living Treasure Award from the Seattle Film Critics in 2002 and a Lifetime Achievement Award from Irish Film and Television in 2004. In addition, she received two Golden Laurel nominations, including one for her performance in the 1962 film “Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation.”
O'Hara has been married three times. After her first marriage to film producer George H. Brown was annulled (1939-1941), she was married to director Will Price from 1941 to 1953. The marriage produced one daughter. She was then happily married to pilot Charles F. Blair from 1968 until his death in 1978.
President of Antilles Airboats
Childhood and Family:
Maureen FitzSimons, who later adopted the name O'Hara at the suggestion of actor/producer Charles Laughton, was born on August 17, 1920, in Ranelagh, Ireland, to Charles Stewart Parnell FitzSimons, a businessman who became one of the owners of the Irish soccer team Shamrock Rovers, and Marguerita Lilburn, a skilled stage actress and opera singer. The second oldest of six, sister Margot and brothers James and Charles would also pursue a career in the entertainment industry.
As a young child, Maureen was a bit of a tomboy. She discovered a love for performing at age 6 and by age 14, she had been accepted into the prestigious Abbey Theatre School in Dublin. She completed her music and drama studies in 1937 and then moved to London to start her film career.
At age 19, on June 12, 1939, Maureen was secretly married to movie producer and sporadic scriptwriter George H. Brown, but the marriage was annulled on September 15, 1941. Within four months, on December 29, 1941, she married director Will Price and daughter Bronwyn Brigid Price was born four years later in 1945. The couple split up on August 11, 1953, reportedly due to Price's addiction to alcohol. Maureen then married aviator Charles F. Blair, who was noted for becoming the first pilot to make a solo flight over the Arctic Ocean and the North Pole, on March 11, 1968. She remained with him until his death on September 2, 1978, from a plane crash. After his death, the devastated widow was appointed CEO and President of Antilles Airboats, which made her the first woman president of a scheduled airline in America.
How Green Was My Valley
Daughter of a stage actress and opera singer, Maureen O'Hara knew she wanted to follow in her mother's footsteps at an early age. The graduate of Dublin's esteemed Abbey Theatre School headed to London upon her graduation. Within a year, she had landed small roles in the 1939 British musicals “Kicking the Moon Around,” by director Walter Forde, and “My Irish Molly,” by writer/director Alex Bryce. She soon caught the attention of film star and producer Charles Laughton. In addition to offering O' Hara a seven-year contract with his production company, Mayflower Pictures, the Academy Award winning actor suggested her for the role of young orphan Mary Yellen in the big screen version of novelist Daphne Du Maurier's “Jamaica Inn” (1939), helmed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring Laughton in the role of Sir Humphrey Pengallan. The movie earned poor reviews while O'Hara's credible performance won the newcomer notice. She followed it up with another glowing performance in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (1939), in which she was cast as Laughton's fervent gypsy love interest, Esmeralda.
Despite the success, Laughton sold her contract to RKO Studios because of the outbreak of WWII. Her career suffered a brief setback, but in 1941 O'Hara bounced back thanks to director John Ford who gave her a role in the highly acclaimed drama “How Green Was My Valley” (1941). The film was a success at the Academy Awards and O'Hara was memorable for her performance as the Welsh daughter Angharad.
The leading lady continued to star in movies like 1942's “The Black Swan” (with Tyrone Power), 1943's “This Land Is Mine,” 1944's “Buffalo Bill,” 1945's “The Spanish Main,” 1947's “Sinbad the Sailor” (with Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.), the 1947 holiday hit “Miracle on 34th Street,” 1948's “Sitting Pretty,”1949's “Bagdad” (with Vincent Price),1951's “The Flame of Araby,” the 1952 “The Redhead From Wyoming” and “At Sword’s Point,” 1955's “Lady Godiva of Coventry,” and the based-on-novel “Our Man in Havana” (1959, with Alec Guinness). However, it was her reunion with John Ford that kept O'Hara in the limelight. “Rio Grande,” a 1950 romantic Western that cast the actress opposite John Wayne, was a success and led to the Academy Award winning “The Quiet Man” (1952), which again paired the two stars. Ford again cast the twosome in the biography film “The Wings of Eagles” (1957).
After collecting about 40 movies under her belt, O'Hara switched her career focus in the 1960s. She made her TV movie debut in the memorable role of Mrs. Miniver in a 1960 drama of the same name based on the work of novelist Jan Struther. Also starring in the film were Leo Genn, Cathleen Nesbitt, Paul Roebling and Juliet Mills. Later TV credits included guest spots in “The DuPont Show of the Month” (1960), “The Bell Telephone Hour” (1960), “Hallmark Hall of Fame” (1963) and “The Garry Moore Show” (1966). Still in 1960, she demonstrated her captivating singing ability in the brief-lived Broadway musical “Christine,” adapted from material by Pearl Buck. Later, she launched two well-accepted albums, “Love Letters from Maureen O’Hara” and “Maureen O’Hara Sings Her Favorite Irish Songs.”
O' Hara resumed her film career by appearing in the Western “The Deadly Companions” (1961), scripted by Albert Sidney Fleischman, “The Parent Trap” (1961), which starred Hayley Mills, and “Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation (1962), where she was cast as the wife of James Stewart. She also portrayed Henry Fonda's spouse in the excellent family drama “Spencer's Mountain” (1963), rejoined John Wayne for the 1963 comedy “McLintock!,” directed by Andrew V. McLaglen, starred as a British woman who falls for a visiting Italian pianist (played by Rossano Brazzi) in “The Battle of the Villa Fiorita” (1965), based on the Rumer Godden novel, and was cast as the mother of Juliet Mills in the Western “The Rare Breed” (1966).
After her third marriage in 1968, O'Hara spent some time away from the spotlight to focus on her family. She later starred with Jackie Gleason in the independent comedy “How Do I Love Thee?” (1970), helmed by Michael Gordon, was reunited with John Wayne for their last film, “Big Jake,” (1971) and after co-starring with Henry Fonda in the Emmy winning made-for-TV movie “The Red Pony” (1973), she decided to put acting on the back burner. During her time off, O'Hara and her airman husband, General Charles F. Blair, ran a commuter seaplane service, Antilles Airboats, as well as owned and published “The Virgin Islander,” a magazine in which she also contributed a monthly column named “Maureen O'Hara Says.”
Following Blair's death in 1978, O'Hara became CEO and President of Antilles Airboats and stayed with the company as president until 1981. She returned to acting ten years later with a co-starring role in the Chris Columbus-directed comedy “Only The Lonely” (1991), opposite John Candy. It was her first big screen film since 1971. O'Hara was then seen as Mary Parkin in the TV movie “The Christmas Box” (1995), opposite Richard Thomas, and Katherine Eure in the award-winning television movie “Cab to Canada” (1998), alongside Jason Beghe, Catherine Bell and Haley Joel Osment.
In 2000, O'Hara made her last appearance to date in the TV film “The Last Dance,” a drama directed by Kevin Dowling.
Irish Film and Television: Lifetime Achievement Award, 2004
Seattle Film Critics: Living Treasure Award, 2002
Golden Boot: 1991