Obituary: Maureen O’Hara, actress and singer

Maureen O'Hara, Irish actress who played passionate heroines in the golden age of Hollywood. Picture: Kobal Collection

Maureen O'Hara, Irish actress who played passionate heroines in the golden age of Hollywood. Picture: Kobal Collection

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Born: 17 August, 1920, in Dublin. Died: 24 October, 2015, in Boise, Idaho, aged 95.

Film star Maureen O’Hara, once regarded as amongst the world’s most beautiful women, has died aged 95.

She was the Irish-born actress who, with John Wayne in the John Ford film The Quiet Man and other box office hits, filled Scotland’s cinemas to capacity in the 1950s.

O’Hara revelled in playing passionate heroines in the golden era of Hollywood.

She was one of the most talented film stars of her generation, a huge box-office draw who scooped up award after award during her long and spectacular career, although she never won an Oscar.

The fact that she was awarded an honorary Oscar at the end of her career, presented by her fellow stars, Liam Neeson and Clint Eastwood, never really made up for that oversight and was one of the very few disappointments in her career.

Her vivid auburn hair, sparkling green eyes, perfect white teeth, generous red lips, perfect features and hour-glass figure made her the queen of newly-introduced technicolour.

Apart from The Quiet Man, in which the chemistry between O’Hara and her co-star Wayne was enough to melt the ice-creams of the patrons in the stalls, she made a total of five movies with the megastar, whom she admired and adored.

She once said: “I was tough. I was tall. I was strong. I didn’t take any nonsense from anybody. He was tough, he was tall, he was strong and he didn’t take any nonsense from anybody. As a man and a human being, I adored him.”

Other films which made her famous included How Green Was My Valley, Jamaica Inn, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Foxes of Harrow and The Black Swan.

O’Hara was as forthright in real life as she was passionate on screen. She trained at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin and was spotted, after a London screen test by Charles Laughton.

Her first film was Jamaica Inn, made in 1938 and directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

Laughton was so pleased with her performance that he cast her opposite him in The Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1939.

She then starred in How Green Was My Valley, which won the 1941 Academy Award for Best Picture. Six years later she made Miracle on 34th Street, which became a Christmas Day classic.

O’Hara’s first love was singing and, for two decades from 1960, she was a guest on musical variety shows with Perry Como, Andy Williams, Betty Grable and others. In 1960, she starred on Broadway in the hit musical Christine, for which she won a host of awards.

In 1939, at the age of 19, O’Hara secretly married Englishman George H Brown, a film producer. The marriage was annulled in 1941. Later that year, she married American film director William Houston Price but that ended in 1953 as a result of his alcohol abuse.

They had one child, a daughter, Bronwyn, who survives her mother.

O’Hara had taken out US citizenship in 1946 and she married her third husband, American Charles F Blair, Jr, on 12 March, 1968. Blair was a pioneer of transatlantic aviation. He died in 1978 in an air accident and she took charge of the company.

For her contributions to the film industry, O’Hara has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

In 1993, she was inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City.

In 2004, O’Hara released her autobiography ’Tis Herself. In the same year, she received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Irish Film and Television Academy in Dublin and the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences voted to present her with an honorary award recognising her lifetime of achievement.

O’Hara loved the Irish and the Irish loved her, especially the Irish at home – and the millions who are part of the diaspora across Europe, the United States and Australia for whom The Quiet Man has become a cult movie.

Her photograph often adorned the walls of the homes of the Irish in Scotland along with their other heroes of the 1960s, 70s, Pope Pius XII and President John F Kennedy,

O’Hara kept a large house in Ireland, where she had made The Quiet Man with Wayne in Connemara, County Galway, and she launched the Maureen O’Hara foundation in Glengarriff, Co Cork, five years ago.

Maureen O’Hara was the eldest of six children. Her sister Peggy became a nun and joined the Sisters of Charity. She worked for a time at the St Margaret of Scotland Hospice which the nuns founded in Clydebank 60 years ago.

The late Sister Margaret Mary, who had her sister Maureen’s stunning good looks, was known as Auntie Peggy to members of the family, some of whom are still in Ireland.

Irish President Michael D Higgins, who is on an official visit to the US, said O’Hara would be remembered as an “outstanding and versatile actress whose work, especially in film, will endure for many years to come”.

Maureen O’Hara, who was awarded an honorary Oscar last year, will not be buried in her native Ireland but at Arlington National Cemetery near Washington DC, next to her husband, the US Navy pilot General Charles Blair.

Her beloved west Cork home was sold just last month for about €1.6 million after she moved permanently to the US to be close to her family.

The Quiet Man Bridge, located at Maam Cross in Connemara, which featured in the film, was at the centre of a planning row earlier this year when plans were revealed to demolish it.

It was saved, however, after a worldwide internet petition to Galway County Council, which designated it a protected structure.

It will now stand as a permanent memorial to Maureen O’Hara and the other stars who made The Quiet Man the most popular film ever to have been made in Ireland.

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