Blessed with fiery red hair and flashing green eyes, Maureen O’Hara’s stunning looks led Hollywood to dub her the “Queen of Technicolor.” However, her onscreen roles often mirrored her true persona: tough, courageous women trying to survive in, as she put it, an "absurdly masculine" world. In fact, her friend and frequent co-star John Wayne called her the "greatest guy he ever knew."
The legendary screen star died today of natural causes at her home in Boise, Idaho. Her family said in a statement: "Maureen was our loving mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and friend. She passed peacefully surrounded by her loving family as they celebrated her life listening to music from her favorite movie, The Quiet Man.”
Born Maureen FitzSimons on August 17, 1920 in Dublin, Ireland, the second oldest child of Marguerite and Charles displayed an early gift for dramatics. When she graduated from the famed Abbey Theatre in 1937, her dream was to become an opera singer and stage actress like her mother until actor Charles Laughton convinced her to try film acting and to take the stage name O’Hara.
Laughton recommended her for a part in Alfred Hitchcock's British-made film, Jamaica Inn (1939). Later that year, she made her American film debut as the gypsy Esmeralda (opposite Laughton's Quasimodo) in RKO Pictures’ lavish production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939).
In 1941, O'Hara gave a haunting performance as the Welsh daughter of a mining family in the Oscar-winning drama How Green Was My Valley, which marked her first collaboration with legendary director John Ford.
O’Hara soon became a fixture in a series of swashbuckling features where she held her own alongside Hollywood's top leading men, notably, The Black Swan with Tyrone Power (1942), Sinbad the Sailor with Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. (1947), and Bagdad with Vincent Price (1949). One her biggest hits proved to be the holiday classic Miracle on 34th Street (1947), in which she played a single working mother (to a precocious Natalie Wood) whose strong rational beliefs are challenged by Santa Claus.
She became an American citizen on January 25, 1946, while also retaining her Irish citizenship. It was the first time in history that the United States government recognized an Irish citizen as Irish. O’Hara challenged the judge who had wanted her to swear her allegiance to England. This led to a change in process for all Irish immigrants.
O'Hara reteamed with John Ford for the western Rio Grande, starring alongside John Wayne as his estranged wife. The two stars shared great screen chemistry, and would star in several more films together, including the Ford-directed drama The Quiet Man (1952). In total, she did five films with the famous director, but his obsession with her created an especially tempestuous relationship. He even punched her in the jaw at a party—but she didn’t hit him back. She said she wanted to show him she could take a punch.
O’Hara always described herself as a “tough Irish lass” and stuck to her principles even when it may have hindered her career. She paid a price for standing up to the men who ran the studios – in particular, those who expected to sleep with their prettiest stars. "I wouldn't throw myself on the casting couch, and I know that cost me parts. I wasn't going to play the whore. That wasn't me."
In the early 1960s, O'Hara lent her attractive singing voice to a series of television appearances, record albums, and the Broadway musical Christine (1960). Later that year, she was featured opposite Alec Guinness in the offbeat film adaptation of Graham Greene's novel Our Man In Havana. A number of lighter roles in family comedies followed, including the 1961’s big hit The Parent Trap with Hayley Mills, 1962's Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation with James Stewart, and 1970's How Do I Love Thee? with Jackie Gleason.
O'Hara reunited with long-time friend and costar John Wayne in the comedies McLintock! (1963) and Big Jake (1971). Soon after she retired to St. Croix, Virgin Islands with her third husband, aviator Charles F. Blair, whom she married in 1968 and called “the love of my life.” "I was happier with Charlie than I'd ever been in Hollywood. We had a great life."
O'Hara was briefly married to George Hanley Brown in 1938 (their marriage was annulled in 1941). Later that year, she wed director William Price and they had a daughter, Bronwyn; they divorced in 1953.
When Blair tragically died in a plane crash in 1978, O'Hara briefly assumed her late husband's position as president of Antilles Airboats (a Caribbean commuter airline). She also wrote a general interest column for The Virgin Insider, a tourist magazine.
Following a 20-year hiatus, O'Hara returned to film acting with a role in the bittersweet comedy Only the Lonely (1991) as John Candy’s mother. She also performed in a several television movies, notably The Christmas Box (1995) and The Last Dance (2000).
She published her unapologetically frank autobiography, Tis Herself, in 2005 and in 2014, a 94-year-old O'Hara received an honorary Academy Award for her impressive body of work, which included more than 60 films. Noting that she was a pioneer among actresses in doing her own stunts on screen, presenter called her "one of the most adventurous women who ever lived." Naysayers would disagree at their own risk.