Maureen O’Hara, Irish actress and singer, is born Maureen FitzSimons on August 17, 1920, in Ranelagh, County Dublin. The famously red-headed O’Hara is known for her beauty and playing fiercely passionate but sensible heroines, often in westerns and adventure films. She works on numerous occasions with director John Ford and longtime friend John Wayne, and was one of the last surviving stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood.
O’Hara grows up in the Dublin suburb of Ranelagh to an “eccentric” devout Catholic family, and aspires to become an actress from a very young age. She trains with the Rathmines Theatre Company from the age of 10 and at the Abbey Theatre from the age of 14. She is given a screen test, which is deemed unsatisfactory, but Charles Laughton sees potential and arranges for her to co-star with him in Alfred Hitchcock‘s Jamaica Inn in 1939. She moves to Hollywood the same year to appear with him in the production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and is given a contract by RKO Pictures. From there, she goes on to enjoy a long and highly successful career, and acquires the nickname “The Queen of Technicolor,” which she detests, believing that people see her only for her beauty rather than talent.
O’Hara gains a reputation in Hollywood for bossiness and prudishness, avoiding the partying lifestyle. She appears in films such as How Green Was My Valley (1941), her first collaboration with John Ford, The Black Swan (1942) with Tyrone Power, The Spanish Main (1945), Sinbad the Sailor (1947), the Christmas classic Miracle on 34th Street (1947) with John Payne and Natalie Wood and Comanche Territory (1950).
O’Hara appears in her first film with John Wayne, the actor with whom she is most closely associated, with Rio Grande (1950). This is followed by The Quiet Man (1952), her best-known film, and The Wings of Eagles (1957), by which time her relationship with Ford has deteriorated. Such is her strong chemistry with Wayne that many assume they are married or in a relationship. In the 1960s O’Hara increasingly turns to more motherly roles as she ages, appearing in films such as The Deadly Companions (1961), The Parent Trap (1961), and The Rare Breed (1966).
O’Hara retires from the industry in 1971 after starring with Wayne one final time in Big Jake, but returns 20 years later to appear with John Candy in Only the Lonely (1991). In the late 1970s, O’Hara helps run her third husband’s flying business in St. Croix in the American Virgin Islands, and edits a magazine, but later sells them to spend more time in Glengariff in Ireland. She is married three times and has one daughter, Bronwyn, born in 1944 to her second husband.
Her autobiography, ‘Tis Herself, is published in 2004 and becomes a New York Times Bestseller. In November 2014, she is presented with an Honorary Academy Award with the inscription “To Maureen O’Hara, one of Hollywood’s brightest stars, whose inspiring performances glowed with passion, warmth and strength.”
Maureen O’Hara dies of natural causes in her sleep at the age of 95 on October 24, 2015, at her home in Boise, Idaho. O’Hara is buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia next to her late husband Charles Blair.