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Maureen O'Hara

Maureen O'Hara: The Biography

Aubrey Malone
Series: Screen Classics
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Maureen O'Hara
    Book Description:

    From her first appearances on the stage and screen, Maureen O'Hara (b. 1920) commanded attention with her striking beauty, radiant red hair, and impassioned portrayals of spirited heroines. Whether she was being rescued from the gallows by Charles Laughton (The Hunchback of Notre Dame, 1939), falling in love with Walter Pidgeon against a coal-blackened sky (How Green Was My Valley, 1941), learning to believe in miracles with Natalie Wood (Miracle on 34th Street, 1947), or matching wits with John Wayne (The Quiet Man, 1952), she charmed audiences with her powerful presence and easy confidence.

    Maureen O'Hara is the first book-length biography of the screen legend hailed as the "Queen of Technicolor." Following the star from her childhood in Dublin to the height of fame in Hollywood, film critic Aubrey Malone draws on new information from the Irish Film Institute, production notes from films, and details from historical film journals, newspapers, and fan magazines. Malone also examines the actress's friendship with frequent costar John Wayne and her relationship with director John Ford, and he addresses the hotly debated question of whether the screen siren was a feminist or antifeminist figure.

    Though she was an icon of cinema's golden age, O'Hara's penchant for privacy and habit of making public statements that contradicted her personal choices have made her an enigma. This breakthrough biography offers the first look at the woman behind the larger-than-life persona, sorting through the myths to present a balanced assessment of one of the greatest stars of the silver screen.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4240-1
    Subjects: History, Film Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[vi])
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    They’ve built a statue to her in Kells. Her website receives 250,000 hits a day. Every Christmas Day somebody in the world is watching Miracle on 34th Street, and every St. Patrick’s Day somebody is watching The Quiet Man.

    Maureen O’Hara (née FitzSimons) occupies an unusual place in the film pantheon, in that she was never nominated for an Oscar, yet she’s the only Irish actress to have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. She also worked with all the greats, both in front of the camera (Charles Laughton, Tyrone Power, Henry Fonda, James Stewart, among others) and...

  4. 1 Young Girl in a Hurry
    (pp. 7-20)

    Dublin, 1920—a city caught between insurrection and civil war. On the cusp of independence from the yoke of British tyranny, Ireland was divided within itself as it sought to come to terms with the death of its martyrs and the birth of its new identity. In a few years, brother would fight brother over the shape that new identity would take.

    Such thoughts weren’t foremost in the minds of Marguerita Lilburn and Charles Stewart Parnell FitzSimons as they cradled their second child in the fashionable suburb of Ranelagh on August 17, 1920. An argument broke out about what the...

  5. 2 Maiden Voyage
    (pp. 21-28)

    When O’Hara arrived in New York with Laughton in June 1939, the brave new world of the USA was a culture shock to her. She was suffering from what would later come to be called the Irish diaspora. As they passed the Statue of Liberty, Laughton nudged at her capacity for wonder: “Look, Maureen, how magnificent!” But she couldn’t take it in. “I was 17 and so terribly homesick. I just wanted to go home.”¹ That was impossible. There was already a media frenzy surrounding her, and she had to fight her way through a blizzard of photographers. The American...

  6. 3 The Old Son of a Bitch
    (pp. 29-44)

    Now established in Hollywood—albeit tentatively—O’Hara threw herself into the social scene. After sampling the dubious delights of Romanoff’s and Chasen’s, she decided to take up badminton to avoid the grinding boredom that assailed most stars between movies.

    Between games she began shooting They Met in Argentina, a musical in which she plays Lolita O’Shea, a Latin heiress caught between two men: an engineer and a sportsman. She looks more colleen than senorita in this conflation of song and dance routines. Lolita plays hard to get while selling a racehorse to hard-boiled Texan James Ellison, but she eventually gives...

  7. 4 Saluting Uncle Sam
    (pp. 45-70)

    Tyrone Power enlisted in the Marine Corps after The Black Swan wrapped. Henry Fonda, who would become O’Hara’s next costar, also signed up. He became an apprentice seaman in downtown Los Angeles and then headed off to boot camp in San Diego. When he arrived, though, he was sent back to Hollywood, where he discovered that Darryl F. Zanuck had figured out a way to “squeeze one more movie out of him, by convincing Washington that a potboiler called The Immortal Sergeant would help the mobilization.” ¹

    Fonda doesn’t play the title character; that refers to his commander, Sergeant Kelly...

  8. 5 Civvy Street
    (pp. 71-94)

    Postwar Hollywood underwent many of the same cultural shifts as the nation at large. A new conservatism assailed it, combined with what Jesse Lasky Jr. called “dislocation”: “We felt unable to pick up the pieces of our old life, unready to plant seeds for the new. We were like emotional tumbleweed. Some younger GI s who had been wild and loose before the war rushed back to seize the stability of children, marriage, mortgages to be paid off.” Solid life patterns ensued, and a vote for “Daddy-loves-you” Eisenhower.¹

    For O’Hara and Price, however, things went on as before. He continued...

  9. 6 Sojourn in Cong
    (pp. 95-110)

    The Quiet Man isn’t so much a film as a brand. Call it shamroguery or paddywhackery if you wish, but it put Ireland on the world’s stage—for better or worse. John Ford sent up his homeland in his unashamedly stage-Irish vignettes. He was well aware that he was making an amiable farce. What he couldn’t have predicted was its immortality.

    Ford had already been forced to make Rio Grande to persuade the cash-strapped Herb Yates to green-light his Irish venture. To sweeten The Quiet Man pill, Ford brought Yates to the most picturesque part of Connemara in Galway and...

  10. 7 Back to Bread and Butter
    (pp. 111-134)

    By 1950, people were snapping up TV sets, buying more than 7 million that year alone. Movie attendance sank to 50 million a year, almost half the previous tally. Many people moved to the suburbs, where geography also became a problem, along with mortgages and the cost of raising children. Some theaters raised prices to cut their losses, but this created a different kind of barrier.

    Billy Wilder professed to be delighted with the so-called one-eyed monster of television. “It used to be that films were the lowest form of art,” he said. “Now we’ve got something to look down...

  11. 8 Keeping Things Confidential
    (pp. 135-144)

    O’Hara’s brush with Confidential magazine in 1957 was one of the weirdest experiences of her life, but not because the story it printed about her was true (it wasn’t) or even shocking (in fact, it was rather mild). What made the incident unusual was her excessive reaction to it, and then how that reaction seemed to mobilize others who’d been smeared by the scandal sheet in worse ways over the years, eventually resulting in its demise.

    In many ways, Confidential was the National Enquirer of its day—not that this was necessarily a bad thing. Today we know much more...

  12. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  13. 9 Reality Bites
    (pp. 145-158)

    There are no second acts, they say, in American lives. Are there in Irish American ones? The penchant for escapism that had gripped Hollywood immediately after World War II had more or less abated. This meant that O’Hara’s decorative, exotic roles were largely a thing of the past. Angry young men—and women—were fashionable now, along with gritty urban dramas dealing with issues of the day. You couldn’t really “do” neorealism in a flouncy skirt and a bonnet.

    The Confidential imbroglio didn’t help. Sometimes it seemed that even winning a legal case had undesirable undertones, or even overtones. It...

  14. 10 Love in the Air
    (pp. 159-174)

    After the box-office success of The Parent Trap and Mr. Hobbs, O’Hara felt she was back on the winning trail, but then she received the worst news possible: her mother had cancer, and the doctors didn’t hold out much hope. She contacted Father Aloysius, a Spanish priest living in Los Angeles who’d been credited with giving sight to a little boy who’d been blind from birth. After her mother went to the priest, her tumor shrank to the size of a pea. O’Hara saw this as nothing short of a miracle. Her spirits buoyed, she returned to work, appearing on...

  15. 11 A Streetcar Named Retire
    (pp. 175-184)

    O’Hara’s father died in 1972. He and her mother were now together in heaven, which was a consolation to her.¹ But she felt as if her past was being eroded; the last links to her childhood were disappearing one by one—a counterpoint to her waning film career.

    She decided to concentrate on television. Shortly after her father died, she made a TV movie to get her mind off herself.² It was called The Red Pony, based on John Steinbeck’s novella of the same name. It was a gentle film that wasn’t seen by too many people but was true...

  16. 12 Ready for Her Close-ups
    (pp. 185-202)

    With Blair and Wayne both gone, life was especially lonely for O’Hara. But she was, in her own estimation, a tough Irishwoman. She also had Bronwyn and a steel-strong network of siblings and friends. She spent nine months of the year in the Virgin Islands and the rest split between Ireland and the United States. “The weather is excellent in St. Croix,” she enthused. “Sure we get the hurricanes and the storms in September, October and the beginning of November but when they come you go down into your storm cellar. Otherwise it’s beautiful—a gorgeous sky and aquamarine sea...

  17. 13 Grande Dame
    (pp. 203-210)

    When O’Hara was in her late eighties, a journalist asked her the secret of her longevity. She replied, “Say your ‘Hail Mary’ every night when you go to bed.”¹ Such a devotion seems to sum her up. No matter who she kissed or killed onscreen, no matter how many convolutions attended her lengthy life, she hung on to the simple “Ave Maria” for direction. Once a Catholic, always a Catholic. She often made statements that affirmed her faith. “How could you have had such a wonderful life as me,” she asked, “if there wasn’t a God directing?”² Even in matters...

  18. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 211-212)
  19. Filmography
    (pp. 213-214)
  20. Notes
    (pp. 215-234)
  21. Bibliography
    (pp. 235-248)
  22. Index
    (pp. 249-264)
  23. Back Matter
    (pp. 265-266)