She was John Wayne and John Ford’s favorite leading lady, a star whose fiery Irish beauty earned her the nickname “The Queen of Technicolor.” She married a famous aviator and was the first woman to run a commercial airline company. Her first big film was called “Jamaica Inn” (1939) and she fittingly capped off her long career by retiring to the Virgin Islands. Her name is Maureen O’Hara, and unlike many Hollywood stars whose burnished screen images hide tattered personal lives, Maureen O’Hara the movie star was a lot like Maureen O’Hara the person: smart, strong, and able to give as good as she got.
O’Hara was born Maureen Fitzsimmons on August 17, 1920, in Ranelagh, Ireland. She came from a close-knit family that encouraged her interest in the performing arts. But singing and acting were not O’Hara’s first love; she was a tomboy who loved soccer and playing outdoors with her brothers. From an early age she was assured around men, a self-confidence that allowed her to hold the screen with her male co-stars in the many westerns and swashbucklers she starred in during her film career.
O’Hara received her early theatrical training at Ireland’s prestigious Abbey Theater. The great English actor Charles Laughton discovered her and brought her to London, where she starred in a few films before following Laughton to Hollywood. After changing her name to the shorter (and more marquee friendly) “O’Hara,” they made “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (1939) together and she was on her way to stardom. O’Hara’s ascendance, however was clinched when John Ford cast her in “How Green Was My Valley” (1941). The film was a critical and commercial success, not to mention the beginning of her collaboration with Ford, a team that would produce such great films as “Rio Grande” (1950), “The Quiet Man” (1952), and “The Wings of Eagles” (1957). These three films also paired her with John Wayne. Their chemistry was so great that fans thought they were married (or at least lovers). Maureen, however, denies that anything romantic ever happened between her and the “Duke,” insisting they were just great friends.
Maureen’s talents weren’t limited to Ford films. In the Christmas classic “Miracle on 34th Street” (1947), her red hair and green eyes, were perfect for the Technicolor process that was gaining favor in the 1940’s. Films like “The Redhead from Wyoming” (1953) may not be classics, but they showed off O’Hara’s Irish beauty.
O’Hara married the aviator Charles Blair in 1968. Blair had been a record-breaking pilot, a Brigadier General in the Air Force, and a senior pilot for Pan Am. The two moved to the Virgin Islands and started a commercial airline company, Antilles Airboats, together. After Blair was killed in a plane crash in 1978, O’Hara ran the company on her own. She had retired from films by this time, but made a notable comeback playing John Candy’s mother in 1991’s “Only the Lonely.