August 17, 1920 – October 24, 2015
Maureen O'Hara (above) born Maureen FitzSimons on August 17, 1920, in Ranelagh, Dublin, Ireland. She studied for a career as a professional stage actress from a young age and had no ambition toward film (despite two previous small roles) when she was invited by Charles Laughton to appear in Hitchcock's British production of Jamaica Inn in 1938.
Soon under contract to Mayflower Pictures,the production company owned by Laughton and producer Erich Pommer, her name was changed to 'O'Hara' because 'FitzSimons' would not as easily fit upon a marquee. She was then required to travel to Hollywood to be in the Laughton version of Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939). Despite her protests, O'Hara's contract bound her to performing as part of the transfer of ownership from Mayflower to RKO of the Mayflower performer contracts.
Mayflower was sold to RKO because Laughton and Pommer's company was on the verge of bankruptcy. O'Hara stayed in Hollywood for several film projects and then international travel became nearly impossible because of the war in Europe, so O'Hara settled into a long string of RKO movies, few of which she felt capitalized upon her theatre training but relied instead upon her beauty.
A favorite actress of director John Ford, and frequent co-star with John Wayne with whom she had a long-term friendship until his death in 1979, O'Hara was at the center of the Irish community in Hollywood.
O'Hara is probably best known for two films especially, one being Ford's The Quiet Man (1951) for whom she also acted as an unofficial script editor and transcriptionist for six years prior to it being filmed, meeting Ford on weekends to work out the adaptation of the original short story, as Ford's ideas about the property changed from year to year as he fought to get Republic Pictures behind a production effort (incidentally, O'Hara waved her usual acting fee in order to get Republic Pictures to back the movie, something John Ford and John Wayne also did).
The other perennial favorite O'Hara film is the Christmas-themed Miracle on 34th Street (1947), which is repeatedly shown on television during the holiday season and aside from It's A Wonderful Life might be the second-best known Hollywood Christmas film from the 'golden era.'
O'Hara was also featured in seven pirate/swashbuckler films made during the 1940s and 50s. For such genre movies (along with westerns) O'Hara frequently performed her own stunts and utilized her training as a fencing artist.
She wrote the somewhat controversial autobiography 'Tis Herself in 2004 for the Simon and Shuster book publisher. [Amazon: 'Tis Herself: An Autobiography] The book recounts her three marriages, her battles with Hollywood hierarchy, an intimate analysis of John Wayne and John Ford, among others, and her legal fight to be recognized as both an Irish and American citizen.
Original Page 2009 | Updated Oct 2015
From former screen legends who have faded into obscurity to new revelations about the biggest movie stars, Valderrama unearths the most fascinating little-known tales from the birth of Hollywood through its Golden Age.
Winner of the 2020 Peter C. Rollins Book Award
Longlisted for the 2020 Moving Image Book Award by the Kraszna-Krausz Foundation
Named a 2019 Richard Wall Memorial Award Finalist by the Theatre Library Association