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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 1,432

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This is the grave of Maureen O’Hara.

Born in 1920 in Dublin, Maureen Fitzsimmons grew up in a wealthy family. Her father was in this clothing business and was the part owner of Irish sports team, while her mother was a former model. She was interested in acting as a child and the family supported it, which proved a good call. By the time she was 14, she was nationally known and soon winning prizes for her work on the stage. She also became one of the world’s most beautiful women (by reputation anyway) and constantly had to deal with the attention of men in the theater, which could not have been fun.

O’Hara was on the rise when Charles Laughton saw a screen test of hers and was highly intrigued by her talent. He and his partners quickly gave her a contract for the movies. She did a couple of minor films, took her stage name under Laughton’s suggestion, and made her first major appearance in Alfred Hitchcock’s Jamaica Inn, in 1939 and with Laughton, although she and Hitchcock fought the whole time. Worth noting here that for a very young actress, O’Hara soon developed a reputation of standing up for herself and having a clear sense of what she was good at and what was not in her own interests. This would serve her well, even if I am sure the men who dominated the industry complained and demeaned her all the time. But her real breakthrough came when Laughton took her to Hollywood to costar in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which also came out in 1939.

O’Hara was pretty much going to stay in Hollywood, at first because Laughton realized that with the outbreak of World War II, his production company couldn’t shoot in England, he had no money, and so he sold her contract to RKO. It took her a little while to really get accepted in Hollywood, she was in some bad movies, and she was desperate. Luckily, she got a good, if small role, in John Ford’s How Green Was My Valley, from 1941, and they would soon work together frequently, or at least whenever Ford got around to writing a decent role for a woman. The film was a huge success and she was now a star.

Now, for the rest of the war, it was something of a struggle for first rate actresses to find suitable roles because so many of the best actors were at war. Well, not John Wayne or Ronald Reagan of course. Anyway, O’Hara worked in a bunch of movies that really are more minor than memorable. But films such as This Land Is Mine, The Fallen Sparrow, and Buffalo Bill were at least considered respectable and with good performances by her.

I do have to say though that for all that O’Hara is beloved, I haven’t seen that many of her films from her peak period as the so-called “Queen of Technicolor.” She was the mother in Miracle on 34th Street, which of course I have seen as a holiday film, not because it is really that good. It really wasn’t until she reunited with Ford for Comanche Autumn, where she played a very tough frontier woman, that the quality of films rose again. I personally despise The Quiet Man for its horrible gender politics and embrace of Irish stereotypes, but other than perhaps Miracle on 54th Street it is probably her most famous movie and many people do love it. Moreover, her and John Wayne developed a very good chemistry and so they worked together frequently for the rest of their careers. She also became a standard person to have in Hollywood’s big adventure films during the 50s. Most of this stuff is midrange Hollywood pablum, not exactly unwatchable, but the kind of thing that you might see on Turner Classic Movies and watch for 20 minutes before realizing that this really isn’t all that great.

By 1960, with a back problem making the adventure films impossible for her, O’Hara began to step back from her constant work schedule. She did occasionally appear in films, such as Our Man in Havana with Alec Guinness and then of course The Parent Trap, which at least when I was a kid, was a film kids still watched, though I doubt it today. As the post-67 changes in Hollywood revolutionized the industry and created more honest filmmaking that revolved more around sex and violence, O’Hara, like many old politically conservative actors, despised it. So she left the film industry in a huff in the early 70s, accusing Hollywood of making dirty pictures. She did not act on the big screen again until 1991, when she appeared in Only the Lonely, with John Candy.

The thing about O’Hara that got commented on all the time, other than her beauty and her acting, was her willingness to stand up to the men who dominated in the industry. She and John Ford fought all the time. Bernard Tavernier hated her. John Wayne said she was “the greatest guy I ever met,” which was a backhanded compliment though they were good friends. She was a good Irish Catholic all the way down, which meant nothing in her roles that screamed of sex, no shots in bathing suits for the magazines, and in fact she did not smoke or drink. She would also sue Hollywood tabloids when they created stories of her engaging in what she considered immoral behavior. She had very right-wing politics and after she became a U.S. citizen in the late 40s, was a big supporter of the Republican Party.

Unlike a good Catholic though, she married three times. The last of them was to Charles Blair, also buried here. He was born in 1909 in Buffalo and became a leading aviation pioneer, particularly working out the mechanics of long-distance flying. He might be worth a post of his own someday, but we should keep this on O’Hara. They met on a flight to Ireland in 1947, but did not marry until 1968. He died in 1978 when the plane he flew crashed.

O’Hara mostly retired after this. She had cancer at the time that she beat, but when Wayne died of cancer the next year, everything in her life led to a deep depression and that capped it. Her later life was filled with health problems, discussions of elder abuse of her by aides, and eventually, she moved in with her son, who lived in Idaho. She died in Boise in 2015, at the age of 95.

Maureen O’Hara is buried on the confiscated lands of the traitor Lee, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia.

If you would like this series to visit other people who worked on How Green Was My Valley, you can donate the required expenses here. John Ford is in Culver City, California and Anna Lee is in Westwood, California. Previous posts in this series are archived here and here.

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