Entertainment

Maureen O'Hara, Hollywood film star, dead at 95

Maureen O'Hara, the flame-haired Irish movie star who appeared in classics ranging from the grim How Green Was My Valley to the holiday classic Miracle on 34th Street, has died at age 95.

Vivid hair, pale complexion and a fiery nature drove Irish-born actress's appeal

Veteran actress Maureen O'Hara poses on set in May 2000. She was called the "Queen of Technicolor" in her heyday and, unusually, John Wayne spoke highly of her. (Chris Pizzello/Associated Press)

Maureen O'Hara, the flame-haired Irish movie star who appeared in classics ranging from the grim How Green Was My Valley to the holiday classic Miracle on 34th Street, has died at age 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 favourite 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," 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 the studio 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.

The movie went on to win five Oscars including best picture and best director for John Ford, beating out Orson Welles and Citizen Kane among others.

Hollywood stardom

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).

With Ford's Rio Grande in 1950, O'Hara became John Wayne's favourite leading lady. The most successful of their five films was 1952's 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."

Returned to screen in The Parent Trap

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 classic 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).

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.

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.

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