“Above all else, deep in my soul, I’m a tough Irishwoman.”
The Queen of Technicolor
There are some movie stars who strike a universal chord of empathy with audiences. It may be because they play their heroic characters so well. When they reveal their human vulnerabilities for all to see, we believe as we watch them up on that big screen that maybe we can be more like them.
Or maybe they just have that special something called “star quality” that translates so eloquently to film.
Most likely, it’s a special combination of both. Whatever it is, it’s more than a pretty face. These performers work their way into our hearts over many years—Jimmy Stewart, Audrey Hepburn, and, to name a modern example, Robin Williams. When it’s time to say goodbye, it feels like we’ve lost an old friend.
Maureen O’Hara was like that.
“I’m terrified about the day that I enter the gates of heaven and God says to me, just a minute.” —Maureen O’Hara
I can’t recall for certain the first Maureen O’Hara movie I saw, but I suspect it may have been a TV showing of The Parent Trap. I was a kid, so I identified with the Hayley Mills twin characters. In fact, I think that movie inspired one of my first attempts to write fiction—a story about summer camp. But I knew even then which character I wanted to be when I grew up—O’Hara’s Maggie McKendrick.
Gorgeous? They didn’t call her the “Queen of Technicolor” for nothing. With that flaming red hair and those flashing green eyes, O’Hara was one of the most beautiful actresses to ever grace the screen.
More important than beauty, though, was the role. O’Hara was always a woman’s woman, not just stunning but smart and sassy. The role of Maggie in The Parent Trap was a perfect fit after she’d grown out of those fiery lass roles of her youth.
Like Kate Hepburn, O’Hara could play strong women at any age who could go toe-to-toe with their equally strong men and make us laugh every step of the way.
She once said, “I think I’ll just stick around until I’m 102.” By damn, she was feisty enough to almost do it.
What are your favorite Maureen O’Hara films?
Here are some of mine.
The Parent Trap (1961) Family Comedy/ Romance. Twins separated by divorce meet at summer camp where they hatch an audacious scheme to switch places and reunite their parents. Hayley Mills, Maureen O’Hara, Brian Keith.
Why? Set aside the outlandish separated-at-birth premise and settle in for the original of one of Disney’s best-loved family comedies. Hayley Mills shines in her dual role as matchmaking teenage twins, and Maureen O’Hara and Brian Keith are pitch perfect as lively reunited ex-spouses set to prove that, though there may be snow on the roof, there’s still fire in the furnace. Uncomplicated fun.
“Bette Davis was right—bitches are fun to play.”
From ‘Tis Herself: An Autobiography, Maureen O’Hara, John Nicoletti, 2004
McLintock! (1963) Western Comedy. A cattle baron’s comfortable bachelor life is turned upside down when his estranged wife returns to get a divorce. John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara.
Why? I’m not a fan of pie-in-the-face comedy, but if a film has other attributes, I can be won over. McLintock! has two: Maureen O’Hara and John Wayne.
O’Hara takes no guff in this film. Her character—Kate McLintock—is a royal you-know-what from the get-go, and she keeps it up throughout this western version of The Taming of the Shrew.
The thing is, we sort of like her. In fact, the first time I watched this movie, I thought it had to be my imagination that I liked her. Then—in an instant—with a look, smile or a quip, O’Hara would reveal a glimpse of Kate’s humor, strength, or vulnerability.
Not my imagination.
Wayne wasn’t best known as a romantic leading man, but when paired with O’Hara, their chemistry shot through the roof. In McLintock!, G.W. and Kate aren’t youngsters. They’re in the later years of a marriage between two strong personalities that’s gone adrift. Theirs is a mature romantic chemistry that not only sparks with sexual tension but tugs at the heartstrings.
Recommended with the caveat that all is not 21st century politically correct in this film.
“Of all my films, The Quiet Man is my favorite, and John Wayne, who became a dear friend, was my favorite leading man,” – Maureen O’Hara
The Quiet Man (1952) Romance/ Drama/ Comedy. An Irish-born American ex-boxer falls in love with the sister of a man who despises him when he returns to his birthplace to escape his past. John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara.
Why? O’Hara’s wonderfully nuanced performance as spitfire Mary Kate Danaher is her signature role, one for which she should have won an Oscar. John Wayne’s layered portrayal of Sean Thornton, an ex-boxer with a dark past, will surprise viewers who may only be familiar with his westerns.
Set in the magnificent Irish countryside, the legendary chemistry that sparks between these two Hollywood greats lights up the screen.
Caveat: Not all is 21st century politically correct in this 1952 film set in 1920s Ireland. That said, this Oscar-winning Best Picture is a classic love story that shouldn’t be missed.
Miracle on 34th Street (1947) Holiday Fantasy/ Comedy. When a department store Santa claims to be the real thing, a skeptical little girl asks him for her seemingly impossible heart’s desire. Maureen O’Hara, John Payne, Edmund Gwenn, Natalie Wood.
Natalie Wood was just eight when she won her career-making role of O’Hara’s precocious daughter. Edmund Gwenn’s heartwarming performance won him an Academy Award and a special place in movie-goers’ hearts as the “real” Kris Kringle that lives on to this day.
This film enjoys repeated screenings on television each holiday season and can be streamed any day of the year. This year, though, there’s a special treat. It will be re-released on December 20 and 23, 2015 in select cinemas nationwide as part of the “TCM Presents” series. Interested? Check for participating theaters HERE.
There’s a beautiful romantic line in How Green Was My Valley, spoken by Walter Pidgeon’s character to O’Hara’s character. “You will be queen wherever you walk.”
Céad slán, Maureen. Farewell.
Maureen O’Hara 1942 – Trailer screenshot (The Black Swan trailer) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The Parent Trap – Reynold Brown [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Wayne & O’Hara – By Trailer screenshot (Wake o y DVD (Batjac-Paramount Pictures) (McLintock! film screenshot) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Wayne & O’Hara – The Quiet Man – Copyright held by the film company or the artist.
Fair use to provide critical commentary on the film.
By trailer screenshot (RKO Pictures) (Sinbad the Sailor trailer) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Miracle on 34th Street – Copyright held by the film company or the artist.
Fair use to provide critical commentary on the film.
Maureen O’Hara circa 1942 – By Office for Emergency Management. Office of War Information. (06/13/1942 – 09/15/1945), Photographer (NARA record: 1138532) (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons