Nationality: American. Born: Maureen Fitzsimmons in Milltown, Ireland, 17 August 1921; became U.S. citizen, 1946. Education: Attended Burke's School of Elocution; Abbey Theatre School, Dublin; Guildhall School of Music, London; London College of Music. Family: Married 1) the director George Hanley Brown, 1939 (divorced 1941); 2) the director Will Price, 1941 (divorced 1952), one daughter: Bronwyn; 3) Charles F. Blair 1968 (died 1978). Career: Radio performer from age 12; 1938—film debut in Kicking the Moon Around ; 1939—leading role in Jamaica Inn ; Hollywood contract with 20th Century-Fox/RKO; 1951—Co-Founder, Price Merman Productions; 1953—contract with Columbia; television work from 1960.
Kicking the Moon Around ( The Playboy ; Millionaire Merry-Go-Round ) (Forde) (as secretary)
My Irish Molly (Bryce) (as Eileen O'Shea); Jamaica Inn (Hitchcock) (as Mary); The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Dieterle) (as Esmeralda)
A Bill of Divorcement (Farrow) (as Sydney Fairfield); Dance, Girl, Dance (Arzner) (as Judy)
They Met in Argentina (Goodwins and Hively) (as Lolita); How Green Was My Valley (Ford) (as Angharad Morgan)
To the Shores of Tripoli (Humberstone) (as Mary Carter); Ten Gentlemen from West Point (Hathaway) (as Carolyn Bainbridge); The Black Swan (King) (as Margaret Denby)
The Immortal Sergeant (Stahl) (as Valentine); This Land Is Mine (Renoir) (as Louise Martin); The Fallen Sparrow (Wallace) (as Toni Donne)
Buffalo Bill (Wellman) (as Louis Cody)
The Spanish Main (Borzage) (as Francisca)
Sentimental Journey (Walter Lang) (as Julie); Do You Love Me? (Ratoff) (as Katherine Hilliard)
Sinbad the Sailor (Wallace) (as Shireen); The Homestretch (Humberstone) (as Leslie Hale); Miracle on 34th Street (Seaton) (as Doris Walker); The Foxes of Harrow (Stahl) (as Odalie)
Sitting Pretty (Walter Lang) (as Tracey)
The Forbidden Street ( Britannia Mews ) (Negulesco) (as Adelaide Culver); A Woman's Secret (Ray) (as Marian Washburn); Father Was a Fullback (Stahl) (as Elizabeth Cooper); Bagdad (Lamont) (as Princess Marjan)
Comanche Territory (Sherman) (as Katie); Tripoli (Price) (as Countess D'Arneau); Rio Grande (Ford) (as Kathleen Yorke)
Flame of Araby (Lamont) (as Princess Tanya)
At Sword's Point (Allen) (as Claire); Kangaroo (Milestone) (as Dell McGuire); The Quiet Man (Ford) (as Mary Kate Danaher); Against All Flags (Sherman) (as Spitfire Stevens)
The Redhead from Wyoming (Sholem) (as Kate Maxwell)
War Arrow (Sherman) (as Elaine Corwin); Malaga ( Fire over Africa ) (Benedek) (as Joanna Dane)
The Long Gray Line (Ford) (as Mary O'Donnell); The Magnificent Matador (Boetticher) (as Karen Harrison); Lady Godiva (Lubin) (title role)
Lisbon (Milland) (as Sylvia Merrill); Everything but the Truth (Hopper) (as Joan Madison)
The Wings of Eagles (Ford) (as Minnie Wead)
Our Man in Havana (Reed) (as Beatrice Severn)
The Parent Trap (Swift) (as Maggie McKendrick); The Deadly Companions ( Trigger Happy ) (Peckinpah) (as Kit Tilden)
Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation (Koster) (as Peggy Hobbs)
Spencer's Mountain (Daves) (as Olivia Spencer); McLintock! (McLaglen) (as Katherine McLintock)
The Battle of the Villa Fiorita (Daves) (as Moira)
The Rare Breed (McLaglen) (as Martha Price)
How Do I Love Thee? (Gordon) (as Elsie Waltz)
Big Jake (Sherman) (as Martha McCandles)
The Red Pony (Totten—for TV) (as Ruth Tiflin)
Only the Lonely (Columbus) (as Rose Muldoon)
The Christmas Box (for TV)
Cab to Canada (Leitch) (as Katherine Eure)
"Sitting Pretty: After a Twenty-Year Absence, Actress Maureen O'Hara Returns to the Silver Screen," interview by Roddy McDowall, in Premiere , July 1991.
Parish, James Robert, The RKO Gals , London, 1974.
Current Biography 1953 , New York, 1953.
Fox, J., "Maureen O'Hara: The Fighting Lady," in Films and Filming (London), December 1972.
Pickard, Roy, in Radio Times (London), 21–27 January 1984.
Lewis, K., "Maureen O'Hara," in Films in Review (New York), April and May 1990.
Ferguson, K., "The Screen Return of Maureen O'Hara," in Film Monthly , September 1991.
Brock, P., "These I Have Known: Maureen O'Hara," in Classic Images , December 1992.
Film Dope (Nottingham), June 1993.
Roberts, J., "Maureen O'Hara," in Films of the Golden Age (Muscatine), Winter 1996/97.
Stars (Mariembourg), no. 27, 1996.
* * *
The essential screen persona of Maureen O'Hara found its famous, if truncated, embodiment in the films of John Ford. Her persona usually follows the same pattern: she is an explosive Irish lass who rebels against an essentially patriarchally structured society, yet
But those critics who say there is nothing behind this strong, if only temporarily so, facade are wrong. In Rio Grande , for example, her acting during those scenes where she resists Wayne contain far more effective acting than those where she finally capitulates. In The Quiet Man she again plays the volatile woman who puts up a good fight, but, in the finale, is brought to heel—but it is her intransigence over her dowry that sticks in one's mind. Only in The Wings of Eagles , with Wayne, and in The Long Gray Line , without him, does Ford allow the Maureen O'Hara personality a certain dignity in something like an adult relationship—perhaps because in both films Ford was bound by the biographical bases of the narratives.
Is it heresy to suggest the most compelling reason to watch a John Ford movie today is the chance to glory in Maureen O'Hara? Much heralded by a hierarchy of male critics, Ford's cinema boasts undisputed masterpieces such as The Searchers , along with sentimental blarney and wearying sexism that would be unbearable without O'Hara.
Long dismissed as the Queen of Technicolor, O'Hara has been undervalued by critics who cannot see the forest for the Titian tresses. A bewitching Esmeralda in Hunchback of Notre Dame , O'Hara displayed a haunted duality as the tragically pragmatic Angharad in How Green Was My Valley , and gave a delicate performance as an artistically inclined ballerina in Dance, Girl, Dance . In O'Hara's canon of work, however, such showcase dramas took a backseat to rip-roaring escapism.
However much one laments the curve-hugging aesthetic straitjacket O'Hara was forced to model in male-dominated film after film, it is her vitality that outshines all studio era constraints. Whereas other Hollywood wenches were simply mannequins with cleavage, O'Hara heaved her bosom and hitched up her skirts in order to swashbuckle with the best of them (Power, Fairbanks Jr., Cornell Wilde). Nowhere in the action genre arena was she more suitably cast than as D'Artagnan's daughter in At Sword's Point , because she got to dress up like a man and raise hell. The essential O'Hara is a free spirit who refuses to behave like a lady. A force of nature born in a shamrock patch, she is a joy to behold even in escapist claptrap; what prevents exotic adventures such as Sinbad the Sailor and Flame of Araby from aging painfully is the tongue-in-cheek relish with which O'Hara attacked these roles.
Maturing gracefully, she played mothers who did not sacrifice their sexuality at the birthing stool in such films as Parent Trap and Battle of the Villa Florita . And then, after years of retirement, O'Hara delivered a deliciously unsympathetic turn in Only the Lonely which should have netted her critics' prizes and an Oscar. Perhaps it is her fate to be underrated for acting that is naturally graceful and aligned with an ageless beauty. As the controlling matriarch manipulating the apron strings wound around her adult son in Only the Lonely , O'Hara gets a cinematic revenge for all the occasions when male co-stars underestimated her and filmmakers misused her gifts.
—Rodney Farnsworth, updated by Robert Pardi