Maureen O’Hara, the world-famous actress best known for her performance in Miracle on 34th Street (1947), passed away over the weekend. Surrounded by her family, they celebrated her life by listening to music from her favorite movie, The Quiet Man. She was 95.
“Maureen was our loving mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and friend,” her family said in a statement. “Her characters were feisty and fearless, just as she was in real life. She was also proudly Irish and spent her entire lifetime sharing her heritage and the wonderful culture of the Emerald Isle with the world. For those who may ask what they can do to honor Maureen, we have a simple request: visit Ireland one day and think of her.”
O’Hara, who was born in Ireland in 1920, made her debut in 1939 when she played Esmerelda in Hunchback of Notre Dame. However, what really kickstarted her Hollywood career was her role as the young daughter of a cole-mining family in the 1941 drama How Green Was My Valley, which won five Oscars. After that, the golden age icon appeared in dozens of films and was widely known for her vivacious spirit, often playing strong-willed characters in her work.
Known as “The Queen Of Technicolor” for her fiery red locks, vividly green eyes and pale complexion, O’Hara often played in period pieces — as a saloon queen or a ranch wife in westerns like Buffalo Bill (1944), Arabian princesses in films like Sinbad the Sailor (1947), and the love interest of pirates in The Black Swan (1942) and Spanish Main (1945).
Perhaps her most notable and widely known performances was as Doris Walker, a hardworking Macy’s executive and skeptical mother in Miracle on 34th Street; the film has become a Christmas favorite that has become a staple in many households around the holidays.
As an actress, O’Hara was a talent, playing opposite many of the most famous leading men of her day, including John Wayne in both Rio Grande (1950) and The Quiet Man (1955). In the latter, she played Mary Kate Danaher, the object of Wayne’s character’s affection; an on-screen kiss between the two remains one of the most dramatic and well-known scenes to this day.
“She is equivalent to the male hero in a Ford film,” film scholar Jeanine Basinger said in an interview. “She exudes a kind of pioneering strength of the sort that fits in his movies.”
She took a break from movies after marrying her third husband, Charles Blair, in 1968. “Being married to Charlie Blair and traveling all over the world with him, believe me, was enough for any woman,” she said in a 1995 Associated Press interview. “It was the best time of my life.”
After Blair’s death in a plane crash in 1978, O’Hara eventually returned to movies in the ’90s, though finding roles for a woman in her 70s was difficult. “The older a man gets, the younger the parts that he plays,” she said in 1995. “The older a woman gets, you’ve got to find parts that are believable. Since I’m not a frail character, it’s not that easy.”
No one would ever describe Maureen O’Hara as “frail.” She knew she had talent and wasn’t afraid to go after exactly what she wanted. “My first ambition was to be the No. 1 actress in the world,” she said in 1999, according to USA Today. “And when the whole world bowed at my feet, I would retire in glory and never do anything again.”
And when she was asked if she was the same strong, fiery woman she portrays in movies, she said, “I do like to get my own way. But don’t think I’m not acting when I’m up there. And don’t think I always get my own way. There have been crushing disappointments. But when that happens, I say, ‘Find another hill to climb.’”
After all, even as recently as just last year, O’Hara would never be anyone other than herself, she told Vanity Fair: “I’ve had such a great life that I’d come back and do it all over again but bigger and better the second time around.”
We have no doubt about that. Thank you, Maureen, for being an unbelievable inspiration. We are thinking of you.
(Images via Twentieth Century Fox, Republic Pictures)