Back in the day when such a trait was considered uncommon, Maureen O’Hara was the woman who could stand up to John Wayne. Or any other big galoot who got in her way.
He once called her “a great guy,” and meant it as a high compliment. She and the Duke made five films together, some with the notoriously irascible John Ford, with whom she feuded and who might have been secretly in love with her.
That would not be hard to believe. O’Hara was not only wildly talented but impossibly beautiful. And her fearlessness was doubtless an aphrodisiac for powerful men accustomed to gentler, more submissive women.
She was well aware of her own strength. Once when asked to name her defining attributes, she replied: “The hell and fire in me. They came as a set.”
Though many will remember her as Natalie Wood’s no-nonsense mother in the Christmas classic “Miracle on 34th Street” (1947), her signature role came in 1952, when she played a temperamental lass named Mary Kate Danaher opposite Duke Wayne in “The Quiet Man,” Ford’s valentine to the “old country.”
She was born Maureen FitzSimons in 1920, the second of sixth children, and grew up in a suburb of Dublin called Ranelagh. Her father was a businessman, her mother a former contralto and famous local beauty.
Young Maureen was a tomboy who excelled at sports — and most everything else. Early on, she discovered that performing was a way to overcome her shyness. Having won countless awards as an amateur player, she was admitted to the prestigious Abbey Theatre at the age of 14.
Five years later in London, the actor Charles Laughton and his producing partner Erich Pommer saw a screen test of her, and they quickly put her under personal contract. Laughton then persuaded her to change her last name to O’Hara, reasoning that it would fit better on a marquee.
Soon after, Maureen would break through in Hollywood as a stunning Esmerelda in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (1939), with her mentor Laughton in the title role. With the onset of the Second War, the actor was forced to sell her contract to RKO. This hardly hampered her career, as sixty more films would follow in as many years.
As with most female film stars, fewer good parts came her way as she approached middle age. Starting in the late sixties, Maureen segued gracefully to various business pursuits in partnership with her third husband, aviator Charles Blair. (A brief wartime marriage had been quickly annulled, and she had then wed director Will Price, a union that lasted about a decade and produced daughter Bronwyn). Still, she would always go back in front of the cameras for the right role.
Maureen O’Hara received an Honorary Oscar in 2015, and passed away soon after at the age of 95. To the end, she was grateful for her rich, varied life in and out of the movie business. Once, betraying her Catholic origins, she ascribed it all to a higher power: “How could you have had such a wonderful life as me if there wasn't a God directing?”
If you need any more convincing, the following pictures will prove that Maureen O’Hara was indeed heaven sent.