Maureen O’ Hara

Every star has that certain something that stands out and compels us to notice them. -As for me I have always believed my most compelling quality to be my inner strength, something I am easily able to share with an audience. I’m very comfortable in my own skin. I never thought my looks would have anything to do with becoming a star. Yet it seems that in some ways they did – Maureen O’Hara

On Saturday, October 24, 2015, Irish-American beauty Maureen O’ Hara died in her sleep at the age of 95 from natural causes.  The four films she starred in which I believe were among her best are The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Quiet Man, How Green Was My Valley and Miracle on 34th Street.  Maureen was known for playing proud, strong-willed and temperamental Irish lasses.  It was a treat to see her and longtime friend John Wayne work together.  She was tall and held her own against the Duke in their on-screen scenes.

Maureen FitzSimmons was the second oldest of six children of Charles Stewart Parnell and Marguerite (nee Lilburn) FitzSimons.  Her father was in the clothing business and her mother, a former operatic contralto, was a successful women’s clothier.  Maureen’s sister Peggy dedicated her life to a religious order by becoming a Sister of Charity.  The younger children trained at the Abbey Theatre and the Ena May Burke School of Drama and Elocution in Dublin.

From an early age, Maureen knew that she wanted to be an actress and took lessons.  She got her first screen test in London but it turned out to be unsatisfactory.  The studio dressed her in a “gold lame dress with flapping sleeves like wings” and heavy makeup.  The experience led Maureen to think, “If this is the movies, I want nothing to do with them!”  Thankfully, actor Charles Laughton saw the test sometime later and in spite of the heavy makeup and costume, was intrigued by her, particularly her large and expressive eyes.  He asked his business partner, Erich Pommer to watch the film clip and Pommer agreed with Laughton’s assessment of her and Maureen was offered an initial seven-year contract with their new company.  It was Laughton who gave her the name “O’Hara” although she insisted in keeping her name because he believed that , “nobody would ever get FitzSimmons straight.”  A name really does make a difference when it comes to show business.  He arranged to have her co-star with him in the British film, Jamaica Inn.  The Hunchback of Notre Dame was her first Hollywood film and it was released in 1939, the same year as Jamaica Inn.

After Hunchback was completed, World War II began.  When Laughton realized that his company could no longer film in London, he sold Maureen’s contract to RKO.  However, the studio cast her in low-budget films until John Ford rescued her.  He cast her in How Green is My Valley which won the Academy Award for Best Picture.  She later starred as Natalie Wood’s mother in Miracle on 34th Street one of the most beloved Christmas Classics that airs every year during the holiday season.

In 1946 Maureen became a naturalized citizen of the United States, holding dual citizenship with the US and her native Ireland.  She was considered an icon of Hollywood’s Golden Age and one of the world’s most beautiful women.  She was remembered for her onscreen chemistry with John Wayne.  They made five movies together between 1948 and 1972.  She was the Duke’s favorite actress and considered a real friend.  She’s the only woman he thought of in that way.  As he lay dying on his hospital bed, he watched on television as she petitioned Congress to give him a Congressional Gold Medal and they voted unanimously to do so.

Acting was not Maureen’s only talent.  She had a soprano voice.  Singing was her first love.  She was also very athletic.  She did her own stunts in movies.  I remember seeing her sword-fencing with skill and agility that was astounding.  She held her own in the swashbuckling movies like The Black Swan opposite Tyrone Power and Sinbad the Sailor with Douglas Fairbanks.  No doubt this had to do with her love for playing rough athletic games as a child.  She excelled in sports.  She had the pleasure of starring with leading men such as John Payne, Rex Harrison, James Stewart, Henry Fonda, Brian Keith and Sir Alec Guiness and working with directors like Alfred Hitchcock, Jean Renoir, Walter Lang, to mention a few.

On a personal note, in 1939, when she was 19 years old, Maureen secretly married Englishman George H. Brown whom she met on the set of Jamaica Inn.  Brown was a film producer, production assistant and occasional scriptwriter.  The marriage was annulled in 1941.  She married American film director William Houston Price but the marriage ended in 1953 because of his abuse of alcohol.  They had one child–a daughter, Bronwyn Bridget Price.  From 1953-1967 Maureen had a relationship with Enrique Parra, a Mexican politician and banker.  In her biography, she wrote that Enrique “saved me from the darkness of an abusive marriage and brought me back into the warm light of life again. Leaving him was one of the most painful things I have ever had to do.”  Parra died in June 2015–four months before her death.

In 1968 Maureen married her third husband, Charles F. Blair, a pioneer of transatlantic aviation, a former brigadier general of the US Air Force, a former chief pilot of Pan Am and founder and head of the U.S. Virgin Islands Antilles Air Boats.  A few years after they married, Maureen retired from acting. Blair died in 1978 while flying from St. Croix to St. Thomas due to engine failure.  Maureen was elected CEO and president of the airline, earning her the distinction of becoming the first woman president of a scheduled airline in the U.S.  Her marriage to Blair were ten of the happiest years of her life.  It devastated her that she had lost him and her friend John Wayne within months of each other.

Maureen came out of retirement in 1991 when she starred as John Candy’s domineering mother in Only the Lonely.  After that she starred in several made for TV movies.  Her last film, The Last Dance, was released in 2000.  On November 4, 2014 she received the honorary award from Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences at the annual Governor’s Awards.  She is the second actress to receive an Honorary Oscar without having been nominated for an Oscar in a competitive category. Myrna Loy was the first.

Notes to Women celebrates Maureen O’Hara, the actress who lit up the screen with her luminous red hair, big, expressive eyes.  She was one of the last surviving stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood.  She leaves behind a legacy of films in which she portrayed strong, brave and intelligent women.

I was tough.  I was tall.  I was strong.  I didn’t take any nonsense from anybody.  He was tough, he was tall, he was strong and he didn’t take any nonsense from anybody.  As a man and a human being, I adored him.

Speaking as an actress, I wish all actors would be more like Duke (John Wayne)–and speaking as a person, it would be nice if all people could be honest and as genuine as he is.  This is a real man.

To the people throughout the world, John Wayne is not just an actor, and a very fine actor – John Wayne is the United States of America.

Above all else, deep in my soul, I’m a tough Irishwoman.

I have never lost my faith in God.

maureen-ohara (1)

Sources:  Wikipedia; IMDB; Brainy Quotes

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Audrey Hepburn

“For Attractive lips, speak words of kindness.
 For lovely eyes, seek out the good in people.
 For a slim figure, share your food with the hungry.
 For beautiful hair, let a child run their fingers through it once a day.
 For poise, walk with the knowledge that you never walk alone.
 People, more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed. Remember, if you ever need a helping hand, you will find one at the end of each of your arms.
 As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands, one for helping yourself and the other for helping others.”
Audrey Hepburn

We adored her as Eliza Doolittle and Sabrina.  She starred opposite some of Hollywood’s top notch leading men–Gregory Peck, Cary Grant, Gary Cooper, Humphrey Bogart, Burt Lancaster, Fred Astaire, Henry Fonda and William Holden.  There was a sweet, endearing quality about her and such grace.   She was a delight to watch.

She had such a lovely British accent.  However, I learned that she was not born in England.  She was born in Ixelles, Belgium.  She was the only child of an English banker of Irish descent and his second wife, a baroness and Dutch aristocrat.

Audrey spent her childhood chiefly in the Netherlands, including German-occupied Arnhem, Netherlands, during the Second World War. Her parents divorced when her father, a Nazi sympathiser, left the family.  Hepburn referred to her father’s abandonment as the most traumatic moment of her life. Years later, she located him in Dublin, Ireland, through the Red Cross. Although he remained emotionally detached, she stayed in contact with him and supported him financially until his death.

In 1939, her mother moved her and her two half-brothers to their grandfather’s home in Arnhem in the Netherlands, believing the Netherlands would be safe from German attack. Hepburn attended the Arnhem Conservatory from 1939 to 1945, where she trained in ballet along with the standard school curriculum.

In 1940, the Germans invaded the Netherlands. During the German occupation, Hepburn adopted the pseudonym Edda van Heemstra, modifying her mother’s documents because an “English sounding” name was considered dangerous, with her mother feeling that “Audrey” might indicate her British roots too strongly. Being English in the occupied Netherlands was not an asset; it could have attracted the attention of the occupying German forces and resulted in confinement or even deportation. Edda was never her legal name, also it was a version of her mother’s name Ella.

Audrey studied ballet in Arnhem and then moved to London in 1948, where she continued to train in ballet and worked as a photographer’s model. She appeared in several European films before starring in the 1951 Broadway play Gigi.

She starred opposite Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday for which she won the Academy Award  That was the first movie I saw her in with her short, sophisticated hairstyle.  I loved the part where Gregory Peck’s character put his hand in the mouth of the statue, La Bocca della Verità (in English, “the Mouth of Truth”) and when he pulled it out, it looked like he had lost it and Audrey’s character screamed.  He then popped his hand out of his sleeve and laughed. It turned that Audrey’s scream was real.Gregory Peck decided to pull a gag he had once seen Red Skelton do, and did not tell Audrey beforehand.  The gag worked and for me it was one of the most memorable moments of the movie.  When my sister and I visited La Bocca, I couldn’t help but think about that scene.

What I admired about Audrey Hepburn was  her work with UNICEF.  Her war-time experiences inspired her passion for humanitarian work and, although she had worked for UNICEF since the 1950s, during her later life she dedicated much of her time and energy to the organization. From 1988 until 1992, she worked in some of the most profoundly disadvantaged communities of Africa, South America and Asia. In 1992, Hepburn was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in recognition of her work as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. 

Audrey was grateful for her own good fortune after enduring the German occupation as a child and for this reason she dedicated the remainder of her life to helping impoverished children in the poorest nations. Hepburn’s travels were made easier by her wide knowledge of languages; besides being naturally bilingual in English and Dutch, Audrey also was fluent in French, Italian, Spanish, and German.

Her first field mission was to Ethiopia in 1988. She visited an orphanage in Mek’ele that housed 500 starving children and had UNICEF send food. Of the trip, she said, “I have a broken heart. I feel desperate. I can’t stand the idea that two million people are in imminent danger of starving to death, many of them children, [and] [sic] not because there isn’t tons of food sitting in the northern port of Shoa. It can’t be distributed. Last spring, Red Cross and UNICEF workers were ordered out of the northern provinces because of two simultaneous civil wars… I went into rebel country and saw mothers and their children who had walked for ten days, even three weeks, looking for food, settling onto the desert floor into makeshift camps where they may die. Horrible. That image is too much for me. The ‘Third World’ is a term I don’t like very much, because we’re all one world. I want people to know that the largest part of humanity is suffering”. (Wikipedia). 

I always have the image of her with African children and the way she was loving and playful with them.  You could see that her heart was in what she was doing and that being there made her happy.

What a classy lady Audrey was.  She was a true leading lady not only on screen but in real life.