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TCM: The Sublime Maureen O'Hara

Our new contributor Diana D Drumm reporting on the TCM Festival which recently concluded

Maureen O'Hara introducing "How Green Was My Valley" at TCM 2014

Even at 93, Maureen O’Hara is still sublime, crossing the threshold of everyday stunning into moment-stopping magnificence. Peering at you, you can’t help but feel wonder. Whether she’s speaking on the beauty of a life well-lived or correcting someone’s Spanglish pronunciation of “Rio Grande” (the actress is fluent in Spanish), she transcends her surroundings, even on the red carpet in front of Grauman’s or in front of a brimmingly packed house at El Capitan Theatre. She may not be as full-bodied as her Wayne-pairing prime (that was over 60 years ago, people), but she continues to exemplify a certain Old Hollywood quality unmatched by any contemporary equivalents and envied by her compatriots at the time (including close friend and fellow famous redhead Lucille Ball).   

Considering O’Hara’s filmography (The Hunchback of Notre Dame, How Green Was My Valley, and The Quiet Man, to name just a few), it’s confounding that the Academy has yet to present her with an Honorary Oscar. As one of the last of a staggeringly bygone era, it was a true honor and privilege for TCM Classic Film Festival crowds to appreciate her live, though not nearly as much as she and her body of work deserves (yes, The Film Experience will keep nudging until the Academy announces something of import. She's 93! What are they waiting for?). [More...]

O'Hara in The Parent Trap (1961)

At the 2014 festival this past weekend, Miss O’Hara was onhand to introduce How Green Was My Valley with the ever-gracious Robert Osborne. They also had a public conversation at the Roosevelt Hotel. Prior to the movie, TCM screened an appreciative overview of O’Hara’s career. The series of clips and stills ranged from her discovery at the tender age of 18 (by none other than Charles Laughton) and first big Hollywood role in the iconic 1939 classic The Hunchback of Notre Dame to her “Queen of Technicolor”/“Pirate Queen” years (which supposedly lead Richard Rodgers to refusing to cast her as Anna in The King & I) to her onscreen pairings with the likes of John Wayne and Tyrone Power to her fan-favorite screen mother roles in Miracle on 34th Street and The Parent Trap. Her fiery wit, and hair to match, kept her co-stars and directors on their toes. With those black cherry eyes, she melted the hearts of millions.

Coming out on stage, O’Hara had tears in her eyes and was clearly touched deeply, not only by the tribute but by the sight of a full house at the El Capitan. Next to Osborne (who himself looked rather moved), she reflected on how meaningful life is and how we must cherish each and every moment. As an Irish Catholic lass to her core, she emphasized that God is looking down on us and we’d better watch ourselves under His gaze.

Don’t worry, in spite of this show of sentimentality, her sharp tongue hasn’t dulled much with the years. When Osborne asked her about working with the legendary director John Ford, she incredulously threw back “I thought we were going to talk about me.” As the film began to roll and the crowds began to roar with applause at the opening credits, you know it must have brought that glint to her eye and that soft all-telling smile generations of fans have come to love (you know the one, think Miracle on 34th Street when Natalie Wood admits to finally believing in Santa Claus).  

O'Hara in Hitchcock's Jamaica Inn (1939)In her discussion later that weekend with Osborne, O’Hara got to talk more about herself. She spoke about soccer, one of her favorite topics, and yes, she did say soccer rather than football (being the dual Irish-American citizen that she is). Prior to her Hollywood career, her father owned the Shamrock Rovers and she has remained a lifelong fan. She touched a bit on how Charles Laughton signed her to his production company and brought her over to the U.S. after shooting the little known My Irish Molly (which acted more-or-less as a screen test) and co-starring with him in Alfred Hitchcock’s Jamaica Inn. When asked about her favorite leading men, she answered, “John Wayne, John Payne and Tyrone Power.” (For Power, his first name is apparently meant to be pronounced like County Tyrone in Ireland rather than the Americanized “Tie-rone.”) She assured the crowd that you could not have found a better, nicer man than John Wayne. After the official discussion with Osborne ended, she welcomed questions from the audience (which mostly consisted of well-wishes) and for photographs to be taken (which can be found on more than a few instagram, facebook and twitter accounts of attendees).   

After a few days in the dazzling lights of her former stomping grounds, she will have returned by now to her current home on the outskirts of Boise, Idaho. We can see her, drinking Irish tea and listening to her record of “Do You Love Me” (the Harry James song from the 1946 film of the same name in which she starred), and smiling from knowing the answer. That's thanks to the legions of fans who came out in droves to meet her. Take a pointer from TCM, AMPAS - it's well past time for that Honorary Oscar.

Top Ten Women Who Deserve an Honorary Oscar
Nathaniel on one of O'Hara's best "Black Swan" 

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Reader Comments (9)

at 93 she is absolutely gorgeous!

April 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDavid

Hunchback of notre dame is my favorite of hers but that is a childhood favorite of mine. Me and my dad used to watch it all the time. Such a great movie and Charles Laughton is so good. In more ways than one cause he is arguably the best actor turned director but its a shame he made only one film but that one film is so so so so good!!!!

April 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJosh

Parent Trap and How Green Was my Valley for me.

April 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterHenry

I truly appreciate your lauding this legendary Irsih-American lady. I, too, was so pleased to see TCM invite her to its annual festival. We shall never see the likes again of professionals such as this lady. The non-diva-esque work ethic and the confident modesty she possesses are unfortunately out-of-style in today's Hollywood. I say that's too bad, as her memorable work with fellow luminaries will continue to be appreciated for decades to come. If the Academy is too short sighted to see this, I don't know what the problem is. Also, she seems an appropriate choice for a Kennedy Center honor as well. God bless Maureen O'Hara...forever young!

April 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJennMc

Nice overview of the event and it's good to know that she's still hale enough to travel about. So if those fools in the academy were to get off their duffs and give her the Honorary which is rightfully hers she would be able to pick it up in person. I read her bio several years ago and she is quite candid and while modest to a point she understands her worth and it's so self effacing as to sound phony.

My favorites of her work: Miracle on 34th St. of course, The Fallen Sparrow, Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation and The Parent Trap.

April 17, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation. Makes my heart swim with joy.

April 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBeau

She is sublime and one of the truly wonderful remaining reminders of John Ford. The moment her vail shifts in the wind (it was really a machine off-screen) in How Green Was My Valley at her wedding while she shares a moment with her true love, Walter Pidgeon, at a distance is one of the most striking images captured on celluloid.

Her not having an Honorary is perplexing.

April 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCMG

This is a remarkable actress who left her mark on every movie she has ever been a part of. She deserves an honorary award for outstanding entertainment through the years for these films and her talent. She is and always will be beautiful, proud of her career and very humble.
What is the academy waiting for. Honor someone who truly deserves it for a lifetime of achievement. God Bless Maureen and thank you for so many happy memories watching you at your best.

April 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKarin

Maureen O Hara is now retired, but she was one of the best actresses I have ever seen. I am for what other posters have said about her, The Academyh should honour her with an Oscar for her lifetime achevments in acting in pictures. I have seen her in "The Humpback of Notre Dame" with Charles Laughton, "How Green Was My Valley" with Walter Pidgeon, "The Quien Man" "The Wings of Eagle" "McClintock" and " Big Jake" with John Wayne, "The Parent Trap" with Brian Keith and Hayley Mills,"The Black Swan" with Tyrone Power, and many others, this readhead lady was pure light in the screen she will always be one of my favourite actresses. God bless her always.

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