Maureen O'Hara, spirited movie star, dies at 95

'Queen of Technicolor' Maureen O'Hara Dies at 95

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Maureen O'Hara, the flame-haired Irish movie star who appeared in classics ranging from the grim "How Green Was My Valley" to the uplifting "Miracle on 34th Street" and bantered unforgettably with John Wayne in several films, has died. She was 95.

O'Hara died in her sleep at her home in Boise, Idaho, said Johnny Nicoletti, her longtime manager.

"She passed peacefully surrounded by her loving family as they celebrated her life listening to music from her favorite movie, 'The Quiet Man,'" said a statement from her family.

"As an actress, Maureen O'Hara brought unyielding strength and sudden sensitivity to every role she played. Her characters were feisty and fearless, just as she was in real life. She was also proudly Irish and spent her entire lifetime sharing her heritage and the wonderful culture of the Emerald Isle with the world," said a family biography.

O'Hara came to Hollywood to star in the 1939 "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" and went on to a long career.

During her movie heyday, she became known as the Queen of Technicolor because of the camera's love affair with her vivid hair, pale complexion and fiery nature.

After her start in Hollywood with "Hunchback" and some minor films at RKO, she was borrowed by 20th Century Fox to play the beautiful young daughter in the 1941 saga of a coal-mining family, "How Green Was My Valley."

See Maureen O'Hara through the years:

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Maureen O'Hara, spirited movie star, dies at 95
Maureen O'Hara, Irish actress, wearing a print pattern top over a blouse, tied with a bow at the neck, in a studio portrait, circa 1945. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)
Irish actress Maureen O'Hara as she appears in the 20th Century Fox swashbuckler 'The Black Swan', 10th April 1943. The headline beneath reads 'The Life and Background of Gen. Montgomery'. Picture Post Cover - pub. 1943. (Photo by IPC Magazines/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
'How Green was my Valley' starring Walter Pidgeon and Maureen O'Hara, a 1941 drama film. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty images)
Maureen O'Hara and Tyrone Power in movie art for the film 'The Black Swan', 1942. (Photo by 20th Century-Fox/Getty Images)
US actor Robert Young and Irish actress Maureen O'Hara embracing in a scene from the movie Sitting pretty, directed by Walter Lang. USA, 1948. (Photo by Mondadori Portfolio by Getty Images)
Irish actress Maureen O'Hara looks through the window of a stagecoach in a scene from 'The Redhead from Wyoming', directed by Lee Sholem, 1953. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)
Irish actress Maureen O'Hara posing in a one-piece swimsuit on a jetty by the sea, circa 1950. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)
Maureen O'Hara, Irish actress, wearing a low-cut top in a studio portrait, against a white background, circa 1945. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)
A poster for 'Miracle on 34th Street', directed by George Seaton and starring Maureen O'Hara and John Payne, 1947. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)
Maureen O'Hara, Irish actress, wearing a pale blue, gold brocade jacket, with a blue skirt, sitting barefot on a rock, circa 1950. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)
American actor John Wayne (Marion Mitchell Morrison) and Irish-born American actress Maureen O'Hara looking after a child in The Wing of Eagles. 1957 (Photo by Mondadori Portfolio by Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - OCTOBER 29: Maureen O'Hara stars in THE LAST DANCE, a television movie about a retired high school teacher who is unexpectedly reunited with a former student and winds up teaching him the value of living every day to the fullest. This touching drama was broadcast as the 'CBS Sunday Movie,' Sunday, Oct. 29, 2000 on the CBS Television Network. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)
Maureen O'Hara presents Outstanding Male Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries (Photo by Steve Grayson/WireImage)
NEW YORK CITY - APRIL 23: Actress Maureen O'Hara attends Film Society Of Lincoln Center Gala Honoring Jimmy Stewart on April 23, 1990 at Lincoln Center in New York City. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)

"How Green Was My Valley" went on to win five Oscars including best picture and best director for John Ford, beating out Orson Welles and "Citizen Kane" among others. It was the first of several films she made under the direction of Ford, who grouchy nature seemed to melt in her presence.

The popularity of "How Green Was My Valley" confirmed O'Hara's status as a Hollywood star. RKO and Fox shared her contract, and her most successful films were made at Fox.

They included "Miracle on 34th Street," the classic 1947 Christmas story in which O'Hara was little Natalie Wood's skeptical mother and among those charmed by Edmund Gwenn as a man who believed he was Santa Claus.

Other films included the costume drama "The Foxes of Harrow" (Rex Harrison, 1947); the comedy "Sitting Pretty" (Clifton Webb, 1948); and the sports comedy "Father Was a Fullback" (Fred MacMurray, 1949).

Often she sailed the high seas in colorful pirate adventures such as "The Black Swan" with Tyrone Power, "The Spanish Main" with Paul Henreid, "Sinbad the Sailor" with Douglas Fairbanks Jr., and "Against All Flags" with Errol Flynn.

With Ford's "Rio Grande" in 1950, O'Hara became Wayne's favorite leading lady. The most successful of their five films was the 1952 "The Quiet Man," also directed by Ford, in which she matched Wayne blow for blow in a classic donnybrook.

With her Irish spunk, she could stand up to the rugged Duke, both on and off screen. She was proud when he remarked in an interview that he preferred to work with men — "except for Maureen O'Hara; she's a great guy."

"We met through Ford, and we hit it right off," she remarked in 1991. "I adored him, and he loved me. But we were never sweethearts. Never, ever."

O'Hara's other movies with Wayne were "The Wings of Eagles" (1957), "McClintock!" (1963) and "Big Jake" (1971).

After her studio contracts ended, she remained busy. She played the mother of twins, both played by Hayley Mills, who conspire to reunite their divorced parents in the 1961 Disney comedy "The Parent Trap."

She was also in "Spencer's Mountain" with Henry Fonda (1963), a precursor to TV's "The Waltons"; and a Western, "The Rare Breed," with James Stewart (1966).

In 1968, she married her third husband, Brig. Gen. Charles Blair. After "Big Jake," she quit movies to live with him in the Virgin Islands, where he operated an airline. He died in a plane crash in 1978.

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

She returned to movies in 1991 for a role that writer-director Chris Columbus had written especially for her, as John Candy's feisty mother in a sentimental drama, "Only the Lonely." It was not a box-office success.

Over the following decade, she did three TV movies: "The Christmas Box," based on a best-selling book, a perennial holiday attraction; "Cab to Canada," a road picture; and "The Last Dance."

While making "The Christmas Box" in 1995, she admitted that roles for someone her age (75), were scarce: "The older a man gets, the younger the parts that he plays. The older a woman gets, you've got to find parts that are believable. Since I'm not a frail character, it's not that easy."

Maureen FitzSimons (pronounced Fitz-SYM-ons) was born in 1920 near Dublin, Ireland. Her mother was a well-known opera singer, and her father owned a string of soccer teams. Through her father, she learned to love sports; through her mother, she and her five siblings were exposed to the theater.

"My first ambition was to be the No. 1 actress in the world," she recalled in 1999. "And when the whole world bowed at my feet, I would retire in glory and never do anything again."

Maureen was admitted to the training program at Dublin's famed Abbey Theater, where she was a prize student. When word of the beautiful Irish teen reached London, she was offered a screen test, and a friend convinced her reluctant parents to allow it.

Maureen considered the test a failure, but it led to a few small roles in English films. The great actor Charles Laughton, who was producing and starring in films made in England, saw the test and was intrigued by her dancing eyes. At 17 she co-starred opposite him in a pirate yarn, "Jamaica Inn," directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Laughton gave her a more manageable name: O'Hara.

With the onslaught of World War II, filmmaking virtually halted in England. Laughton moved to RKO in Hollywood and starred as Quasimodo in "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," with O'Hara as the beautiful gypsy girl, Esmeralda.

Her first husband was director George Hanley Brown, whom she met while making "Jamaica Inn." When she moved to Hollywood, he remained in England and the marriage was annulled.

In 1941, she married a tall, handsome director, Will Price, and they had a daughter, Bronwyn, in 1944. "The marriage was a terrible mistake, and we divorced in 1952," she said. She remained unmarried until the wedding to Blair in 1968.

After his death, she continued living for many years in St. Croix, Virgin Islands, spending summers in Ireland. More recently, she lived much of the time with a grandson in Scottsdale, Ariz., though she kept a condo in St. Croix.

O'Hara's career was threatened by a manufactured scandal in 1957, when Confidential magazine claimed she and a lover engaged in "the hottest show in town" in a back row in Hollywood's Grauman's Chinese Theater.

But at the time, she told AP, "I 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.

On the screen, O'Hara always played strong, willful women. In a 1991 interview, she was asked if she was the same woman she appeared in movies.

"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.'"

She is survived by her daughter, Bronwyn FitzSimons of Glengarriff, Ireland; her grandson, Conor FitzSimons of Boise and two great-grandchildren.


This story includes biographical information compiled by the late AP Entertainment Writer Bob Thomas.

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