Maureen O’Hara, the ravishing film actress of the 1940s and ’50s, was known as “the queen of Technicolor” because of her photogenic green eyes, flaming red hair and peaches-and-cream complexion.
O’Hara started out in Hollywood as a leading lady and remained one in a period when the heroine was always subservient to the hero. A perfect match for legendary film superstar John Wayne, she came to epitomize the dauntless woman who resisted the Duke’s character to beguile him, but then gradually, coquettishly allowed herself to fall in love.
O’Hara made five films with Wayne: “The Quiet Man,” “Rio Grande,” “Wings of Eagles,” “McLintock!” and “Big Jake.” Although the two never had a romantic relationship, O’Hara considered Wayne her favorite leading man and a good friend.
O’Hara also made five films with director John Ford — “How Green Was My Valley,” “Rio Grande,” “The Quiet Man,” “Long Gray Line” and “Wings of Eagles.” O’Hara respected Ford, whom she called “Pappy,” and felt proud of her work with him, but she conceded to The Times in 2004: “At times [we] wanted to punch him in the nose. But Ford was a genius. He was talented, and intolerable.”
Always praised for her beauty, O’Hara constantly fought her “pretty girl” image to get stronger acting roles.
“When my chance comes ... I will surprise a lot of people. They don’t know I can act. But I know it — and as long as I know it, nobody is going to stop me,” she said in 1945.
But her 56 films primarily provided her with decorative roles. In her first 10 years in Hollywood, she made 25 films and valued her parts only in three — “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” “How Green Was My Valley” and “Miracle on 34th Street.”
At 18, after finishing her training at Dublin's Abbey Theatre School, she earned a certificate to teach elocution, a leading role with the Abbey Players and a screen test in London.
That screen test brought her to the attention of actor Charles Laughton and producer Erich Pommer, who cast her as the young female lead in their 1939 film “Jamaica Inn,” directed by Alfred Hitchcock. It was Laughton who, over her protests, gave her the stage name O’Hara, saying FitzSimons was too long.
Next cast as the alluring gypsy Esmeralda opposite Laughton in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” the 18-year-old O’Hara, chaperoned by her mother, came to Hollywood in the summer of 1939. Expecting to stay only three months to film “Hunchback,” she remained in Hollywood when war broke out in Europe.
She followed that with praised performances in “How Green Was My Valley,” “Buffalo Bill,” “Sinbad the Sailor” and several more before “Miracle on 34th Street.”
The films continued, even as O’Hara passed age 40, which could spell doom for actresses cast for their beauty. She segued into movie roles as the still-beautiful, middle-aged ex-wife and mother with Disney’s 1961 “The Parent Trap” opposite Brian Keith and Hayley Mills, and continued with such films as “Spencer’s Mountain” opposite Henry Fonda and more pairings with Wayne, including “McLintock!” and “Big Jake.”
O’Hara married her third husband, Charles F. Blair, on March 12, 1968. A retired Air Force brigadier general and World War II hero, Blair had been the first pilot to fly solo over the North Pole. They met when he was the pilot of the flight that took her to visit Ireland for the first time after World War II.
O’Hara soon walked away from Hollywood.
She died in her sleep of natural causes, at the age of 95. Her longtime manager, Johnny Nicoletti, said family members were with her and they played the music from her favorite film, “The Quiet Man.”
— Myrna Oliver for the Los Angeles Times