Film legend Maureen O’Hara — the Irish-American actress whose cascading red hair and sea-green eyes helped make her the “Queen of Technicolor” — has died in her sleep at her home in Boise, Idaho. She was 95.
O’Hara’s career spanned more than 60 films, including How Green Was My Valley and the The Quiet Man, the classic 1952 romance directed by John Ford and set in Ireland. Just last year, O’Hara received a Lifetime Honorary Oscar.
Born Maureen FitzSimons in Dublin on August 17, 1920, she loved singing Irish songs and even helped write the lyrics to “The Isle of Innisfree,” the theme song from The Quiet Man, the film she was best known for.
She had a way with Irish sayings, as well as a way with John Wayne, her most celebrated co-star.
In one of their most famous scenes from The Quiet Man, O’Hara plays village lass Mary Kate Danaher. John Wayne plays the hero, Sean Thornton, a retired boxer who returns to his family’s ancestral home. It’s love at first sight when he spies Mary Kate in the fields, but they don’t speak. When they finally meet, he yanks her into his arms. They kiss — then she tries to hit him.
“It’s a bold one you are, and who gave you leave to be kissing me?” she says.
“So you can talk,” Wayne’s Thornton replies
“Yes, I can, I will, and I do.”
In 2000, she told NPR’s Scott Simon that behind the scenes, she “hauled off and socked him in the jaw … broke a bone in my own wrist.”
O’Hara and Wayne made five successful movies together, including the Westerns McLintock! and Rio Grande. They were an electrifying cinematic pair, and O’Hara said that she “always stood toe-to-toe with Duke.”
And in fact, she says she stood toe-to-toe with all of the leading men she worked with, including Jimmy Stewart, Tyrone Power and Walter Pidgeon. A tall, athletic woman, O’Hara did almost all of her own stunts, including fencing.
O’Hara had to be tough to endure decades of physical and emotional abuse from director John Ford. She detailed this in her best-selling autobiography, ‘Tis Herself. In The Quiet Man, John Wayne memorably drags O’Hara down a hill, a hill Ford had covered with sheep dung. Tough as always, she endured it.
O’Hara began acting as a child. Charles Laughton discovered her when she was just 17, and soon cast her as Esmeralda in 1939’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame. That same year, Alfred Hitchcock directed her in Jamaica Inn. By the 1960s, she was doing family comedies and TV dramas.
If there was anything she loved more than acting, it was Ireland itself. And her Irish countrymen were equally proud of her career.
“The idea of an Irish actress being out there in Hollywood was so glamorous to people,” said Sé Merry Doyle, an Irish filmmaker who interviewed O’Hara several times for his documentary Dreaming The Quiet Man. “So knowing that this was one of our own doing really well in America — she’s always been very special and always caring about Ireland and coming back and interested in what was going on here.”
When she received her Honorary Oscar in 2014, Maureen O’Hara accepted the award and left the audience and those watching from home her own Irish blessing.
“May the road rise to meet you, may the wind be at your back and may the sun shine warmly upon your face.”