America lost an icon yesterday with the passing of legendary actress Maureen O’Hara. Many will remember her as the mom in the 1960s Disney Classic “The Parent Trap” or her role in “Miracle on 34th Street” but I loved her roles in many Westerns and Adventure movies. A star among stars, she always held a special place in my heart.
Like many boys who grew up when I did, I watched all of the big western classics, particularly the John Wayne movies. John Wayne had many costars but none could match Maureen O’Hara. With her blazing red hair and fiery spirit, she was never second string in a scene. Even when sharing a scene with an overwhelming personality like John Wayne, her beauty and personality would make her shine.
She often played the role of a noble lady and it was a role to which she was perfectly suited. She spoke with precision, occasionally allowing a light Irish trill to come out if the role called for it. Born into an upper-middle-class family in Dublin Ireland in 1920, she was raised by her opera singing mother to be a lady and her soccer team owning father to be a lover of sports and outdoor activities. John Wayne once said of her ” She’s a great guy”. The two never had a relationship but they were very close throughout their entire lives. John Wayne passed away in 1979.
One of my favorite movies of hers was with John Wayne in “The Quiet Man”. It was a story about an Irish boxer who left America to go back to the island he left as a baby to try to find some peace in his ancestral homeland. Instead, he meets a red haired beauty in the neighboring farm and finds love. Maureen O’Hara is incredible in the movie, as she plays woman torn between her love and the proprieties of her times. It’s a beautiful movie.
Another of my favorite rolls of hers was in the western comedy McClintock in which she played John Wayne’s estranged wife. It’s an unusual Western in that it truly is a comedy. There’s an awesome fight scene that must involve at least 50 people in a mud pit including various cowboys, Indians and a lot of women, making probably one of the most unusual fight scenes in any Western movie.
She starred in many movies with many famous actors and actresses, including Tyrone Powers, Errol Flynn, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Jimmy Stewart, Henry Fonda, Walter Pidgeon, Natalie Wood and many others. She was a class act and one of the last from a Golden Age of Movies that required true acting talent. The world just lost a beautiful person that lived an amazing life.