|Maureen O'Hara in Against All Flags (1952)|
Spotted by legendary actor, Charles Laughton, who became a good friend and co-star - and made her change her name to O'Hara, Maureen FitzSimons was a young Irish gal of only 19 years when she got her breakthrough in Alfred Hitchcock's (to some extent overlooked) adaptation of another Daphne de Maurier novel, "Jamaica Inn", in 1939. She would in the same year co-star Laughton again in "The Hunchback of Notre Dame".
|Maureen as Esmeralda in "The Hunchback of Notre Dame", 1939.|
Hollywood and the rest of the world soon fell for the Irish beauty and was later named - after her first of a great succession of Technicolor films, "To the Shores of Tripoli" (1942) - the Queen of Technicolor. No wonder, with her alabaster skin, large green eyes and flame-red hair. And then she could act! She simply blazed, as if being on fire inside and out, so much that you can feel it through the screen when you watch her! And that is more than what you can say about most women starring in the typical adventure films and westerns. It's obvious that they're cast for their beauty, not their acting, and if it was one of those with Cooper, Widmark or Stewart in the lead role, their names should certainly not overshadow their leading men's! Though Maureen wasn't exactly cast in these roles so that she could get an Oscar (which she was very aware of, often later noting the poor quality of the script or plot*), she stood out from the rest of the crowd. Even when it was a rather lousy role she still had inner strength and integrity to let out and give of, though, not all of her leading men were able to return her passion and energy.
She wasn't the only charming (red-haired) beauty in Hollywood, but she did something with that beauty of hers whether it was using it consciously or not, it was somehow always enhanced whenever the camera was on her. She made it unique - not because she was blessed by the Gods or her parents or whatever with good looks - but because of her soul, her mind; what was inside her.
So, perhaps she didn't get the very best of roles throughout her career, but it wasn't exactly all that bad either. Her collaboration with John Ford in "How Green Was My Walley" (1941) and her pairing and long-time friendship with John Wayne in many of his movies, most memorable in Ford's "Rio Grande" (1950) and "The Quiet Man" (1952), were a hit and soon made her a major star. Ford himself called Maureen "the best bloody actress in Hollywood" - and the insertion of 'bloody' sums up pretty well how she cut a dash on the screen.
|John Wayne and Maureen in the famous kissing scene from|
"The Quiet Man" (1952)
She was also a very great comedian, in my opinion, and one of my personal favorites is her performance in "The Parent Trap" from 1961 (forget everything about the remakes!!), starring opposite one of her other favorite leading men, Brian Keith. A role I think she should get more credit for. Besides, she simply looks stunningly amazing, considering she's 41 at the time (but then again she still does)!
|Maureen in "The Parent Trap, 1961.|
Much unlike her fierce and fiery persona on screen, playing independent, sensible and equally passionate, swashbuckling heroines, Maureen claimed to prefer her role of a traditional housewife and mother - where the husband's words were law - than that of an actress, living the high life of Hollywood fame. So goes her major statement in the book "Hollywood in the 1940s" (Ivy Crane Wilson, 1983) that gives an insight in the private - and somehow polished - lives of some of the famous stars.
At that time Maureen was married to director William Houston Price; a marriage that turned out very abusive as Price was an alcoholic* - a stark contrast to the way she paints her idyllic, married life in the book, to say the least. I have yet to read Maureen's autobiography "'Tis Herself" from 2004, but I'm sure she clarifies this more in there.
If one knows a bit to Maureen's filmography, her choice of roles and way of acting, this statement surprises and confirms at the same time. Because of course she is the same as she is on screen, but one cannot help to feel split when one who seems so independent and self-willed on screen, can feel quite the opposite off screen and the need for dependency. One would even like to think that she really would go out and conquer the world; not stay at home washing, cooking and cleaning for husband and kids...*disappointed face*
But I have to say, I don't think I've seen any other female actress at the time (1940s-50s) who could or did pull on pants and big boots and took a sword in the hand to play female pirates, Musketeers and swashbucklers. At least not as well as Maureen did. She could be feisty as well as sensitive and always strong and witty enough to handle the big fellas and shut them up if they got a little bit too confident towards her... Bam! She was more than ready to get beasty, tumble in the dirt and fight off whoever provoked her, whether it was a man or a woman, and even trained 'till her body was sore in order to be skilled with a sword. All this - and still looking drop-dead-gorgeous..!! If anyone doesn't get just a little impressed when they see Maureen O'Hara act on the screen, call me an ol' hag!
|Maureen doing the art of fencing in "At Sword's Point", 1952.|
She described herself as “the first woman swashbuckler ...
I was tough. I was tall. I was strong.
I didn't take any nonsense from anybody.”*
It's perhaps not a surprise that she would get these roles, considering the time, since the steretypical prejudice about women with red hair being feisty and tempered (which still goes strong, apparently) suited her perfectly for typecasting. And since she was more beautiful than one dare to utter, she went well together with an almost as beautiful dress, too, so that she didn't scare the men off entirely. Feminists might be protesting loudly by now, not to say myself, but, alas, such were the times, however much one wish her to be an early voice for women's independency (however, she did show off this 'voice' in "Dance, Girl, Dance", 1940). This was how many actresses - actors as well - were treated by the studios and the public when it came to big blockbusters. Not to mention, it was constantly the same people who played the heroes and the villians when it came to westerns and adventure films. Notice that Anthony Quinn always played the "ethnic" bad guy opposite Maureen. However, if you do some research you'll be able to find some more "controversial" films with some of the stars and directors who dared step a bit outside the norm.
How little Maureen actually fought this stereotypical casting of roles compared to other wilful ladies of the screen as I've mentioned in previous posts, I've yet to discover. Later in life she became rather self-critical and mocking of the way her beauty and talent was propelled, saying she was a "ham" of an actress, though she credited her ferocity to her Irishness*. Yet, though she claimed she was an old-fashioned gal who wanted husband, children and to stay at home to cook and clean, I still think that much of that energy she portrays on the screen; the energy that makes her characters feisty and self-willed, somehow reflects her own mind and spirit. At least I have a hard time trying to imagine her without it! And in that sense, she isn't that much different from e.g. Kate Hepburn or Bette Davis. They're 'merely just' women who weren't timid in life, in confrontation or in show of guts and spirits. They didn't built their lives on the single fact that they had an 'ethereal' or an 'unusual' beauty, but on themselves, their feelings and passions in life. That is why they are all equally beautiful as human beings in my eyes. That is why, I think, they're legends.
|Maureen being adorable, once again in "The Quiet Man", 1952.|
At an age of 92 (as of 2013) Maureen O'Hara is one of last remaining major stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood - and is still active in attending film festivals and different ceremonies and anniversaries in connection to her film career and co-stars, answering fan mail and watching football among other things (lol!)*.
Her impressive beauty, talent and wit, not to mention groundedness, boldness and fiery ambition along with a great understanding of sensitivity, have always been an inspiration for me.
Bless you, mo darlin' cailín rua!