John Wayne

Maureen O’Hara, Irish-born star of The Quiet Man and more, dles aged 95

The actor Maureen O’Hara has died, her manager said on Saturday. She was 95.

O’Hara, who was born Maureen FitzSimons in Dublin in 1920, starred in John Ford’s 1941 Oscar-winning drama How Green Was My Valley, set in Wales, and The Quiet Man, Ford’s Irish-set 1952 film that starred John Wayne.

She starred with Wayne in a number of films, including the western Rio Grande, also directed by Ford. She also had notable successes working with Charles Laughton (Jamaica Inn, The Hunchback of Notre Dame) and Andrew V McLaglen (McLintock!), and starred in the perennial Christmas hit Miracle on 34th Street, in 1947, and the Disney children’s hit The Parent Trap in 1961.

She was never nominated for an Oscar, instead being given an honorary award in 2014. After accepting her statuette, presented by Liam Neeson and Clint Eastwood, from a wheelchair, the then 94-year-old star protested when her speech of thanks was cut short.

On Saturday the Irish arts minister, Heather Humphreys, said O’Hara was “the quintessential Irish success story”.

Maureen O’Hara left Ireland to carve a successful life in America,” Humphreys said, “but in the hearts and minds of every Irish person Maureen was the quintessential Irish success story. She went on to become one of the icons of Hollywood’s Golden Age at the height of her career.”

Humphreys said O’Hara would be “best remembered for her fiercely passionate roles in classic films and in particular the films she made with her great friend John Wayne”.

Wayne once famously said he preferred to work with men, “except for Maureen O’Hara. She’s a great guy”. In 1991, O’Hara said of Wayne: “We met through Ford, and we hit it right off. I adored him, and he loved me. But we were never sweethearts. Never, ever.”

John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara in The Quiet Man
John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara in The Quiet Man. Photograph: Allstar/Artisan

Humphreys added: “It was in [O’Hara’s] role as Mary Kate Danaher in The Quiet Man, the iconic film made over 60 years ago and still very much celebrated in Ireland and abroad, that we were first alerted to her natural beauty and talent.

“I would like to extend my sympathies to Maureen’s family and many friends on her passing.”

In later life, O’Hara married her third husband, Brigadier General Charles Blair. The couple lived in the US Virgin Islands, where he operated an airline. He died in a plane crash in 1978 and O’Hara took over management of the airline, which she eventually sold.

“Being married to Charlie Blair and traveling all over the world with him, believe me, was enough for any woman,” she said in 1995. “It was the best time of my life.”

Hayley Mills and O’Hara Film the 1961 film The Parent Trap
Hayley Mills and O’Hara Film the 1961 film The Parent Trap. Photograph: Disney/Allstar

O’Hara trained at Dublin’s famous Abbey Theatre before moving into films in London and then Hollywood, where she started work with the RKO studio.

“My first ambition was to be the No1 actress in the world,” she said in 1999. “And when the whole world bowed at my feet, I would retire in glory and never do anything again.”

In 1957 her career was threatened by scandal, when the tabloid Confidential magazine claimed she and a man had engaged in “the hottest show in town” in the back row of Hollywood’s Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. However, as she later told the Associated Press, at the time she “was making a movie in Spain, and I had the passport to prove it”.

She testified against the magazine in a criminal libel trial and brought a lawsuit that was settled out of court. The magazine eventually went out of business.

Maureen O’Hara with Tyrone Power
Maureen O’Hara with Tyrone Power in The Black Swan, from 1942. Photograph: Allstar/20th Century Fox

O’Hara most often played strong and willful women. In 1991, she was asked if she was the same off screen.

“I do like to get my own way,” she said. “But don’t think I’m not acting when I’m up there. And don’t think I always get my own way. There have been crushing disappointments. But when that happens, I say, ‘Find another hill to climb.’”

O’Hara returned to the US from Ireland in 2012. On Saturday her manager, Johnny Nicoletti, said she died in her sleep at home in Boise, Idaho.

“Her characters were feisty and fearless, just as she was in real life,” the O’Hara family said in a statement. “She was also proudly Irish and spent her entire lifetime sharing her heritage and the wonderful culture of the Emerald Isle with the world.”

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