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An Honorary for O'Hara, At Last!

Actress Maureen O'Hara will be receiving an Honorary this year along with the great actor/singer/activist Harry Belafonte. Neither were ever nominated for competitive Oscars despite rich and enduring showbiz careers and, you know, that's exactly the type of performer that Honorarys should go to. Joining them are two previous Oscar winners because the Academy loves to double up for some reason. Still it's hard to complain about honors for animation genius Hayao Miyazaki and screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere. Jean-Claude, who is most famous for his work with Luis Buñuel has worked in multiple countries and for a very long time and semi-recently he co-wrote the super-brilliant movie Birth (2004) that we like to obsess on here. All four are amazing talents so congratulations to them!

But mostly I couldn't be filled with more joy about O'Hara.  We've been pushing for an Honorary as long as The Film Experience has been around. I'd like to claim credit for the Academy finally waking up and going "duh. no brainer: Maureen O'Hara!" but I suspect it was her recent tribute at the AFI that did it. O'Hara is 94 years old so there's no time like RIGHT NOW.

I gradually fell in love with Maureen O'Hara because of The Parent Trap (1961). When I was a wee bairne, before movies became my grand obsession, that movie was it for me, The Best One Ever. My mom liked Hayley Mills, I gather, whose big peak popularity years were in the early 60s before she had had any children. I assume this is how we came to know and love the various Mills movies as children but in truth I don't remember. I just remember that it was always my favorite. I thought it was hilarious, sang along to "Let's Get Together", wanted desperately to have my own twin and to this day I still find stories about twins irresistible.

As I grew older and the movie gradually became "I loved that as a kid!" nostalgia, I still enjoyed revisiting it from time to time. I even watched this kiddie classic with a high school friend more than once because that is a cool thing for moody teenagers to do (shut up). When I was little the movie was all about Hayley Mills. It was only when I started to get older that I noticed how deftly its two movies at once, a family comedy for kids and a romantic comedy for adults. And Maureen O'Hara couldn't be more vivid in it, and I'm not just talking about The Queen of Technicolor's hair. Some actresses fear playing mothers because it ages them but O'Hara, who was in her early 40s at the time, is proof positive that you don't have to be remotely sexless onscreen once you've acknowledged that you've entered the "onscreen mom" years. She's so lively in the movie in a great comic turn that uses so many of her gifts: terrific sexual chemistry, feisty spirit, solid dramatic chops, and entrancing beauty among them.

I didn't know when I was a kid that Maureen O'Hara had been a big deal since the late 1930s so it was a joy to discover that she had such a rich film history with multiple classics on her resume. There's a couple very important titles that I somehow haven't seen (The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Quiet Man are moving to the top of my queue), but we've talked Black Swan (1942) and How Green Was My Valley (1941) in the past few years right here.

I've always had a thing for redheads (as you know). Maybe it's the Queen of Technicolor's fault?

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Reader Comments (28)

Hallelujah! I'll watch at least a little of any movie that Maureen O'Hara is in because I'm guaranteed some no-nonsense acting and almost always great chemistry with her co-stars. I think her "problem" is she made it look so easy. I wouldn't want to live without The Parent Trap or The Quiet Man. :-)

By the way, I am thrilled for Harry Belafonte as well who is my all time favorite male singer. And talk about easy on the eyes.

August 28, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDave in Alamitos Beach

I'm thrilled! First Angela, now Maureen! Too bad they missed out on Eleanor...

August 28, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMarcos

You haven't seen The Quiet Man? Give back your film fanatic card.

I knew her (i.e.met her a couple of times) back when I lived in county Cork and she was still living outside Glengarriff (West Cork on Bantry Bay). She was total glamour but very approachable and loved to sit in the local hardware store shooting the shit with the owner, a local man whose family roots went back at least 1000 years.

August 28, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterHenry

I hope Steve Martin's honorary Oscar puts career honors for Glenn Close, Sigourney Weaver, and other gems of his generation on a fast track. I'm so pleased that his win meant we've expanded the field to include more than just Golden Agers. It's time for the AMPAS to look hard at the 70's and 80's for indelible contributions. No need to wait til some of these ladies are 94.

August 28, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterHayden W.

That's great, too bad still nothing for Doris Day though. I like O'Hara as opposed to love her but agree that she is long overdo. Besides the obvious Miracle on 34th Street, How Green was My Valley & Parent Trap she been good in many films I've enjoyed...The Fallen Sparrow, Dance, Girl, Dance with Lucille Ball as a dancer named Bubbles!, Sitting Pretty, Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation and all those John Wayne movies with McLintock! giving her best role in them outside The Quiet Man.

I'm with Hayden W.why make performers who have really made a contribution wait until they are in their late 80's or 90's to be acknowledged. Look how many have been cheated out of recognition that way, Eleanor Parker, Jean Simmons, Ida Lupino just to name a few.

August 28, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

joel6 -- i imagine they'd get around to them sooner if they stopped this weird practice of extra oscars for oscar winners (sophia loren recently and the two non-actors this year). I'm reasonably certain that Meryl Streep gets a 4th statue in Honorary form in 20 years. ;)

August 28, 2014 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

This complete's Harry Belafonte's EGOT! Sure it's an honorary Oscar, but to quote Whoopi on this topic (on 30 Rock): "It still counts! Girl's gotta eat!"

August 28, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCharles

now....when will they get some sense and go back to broadcasting these tributes and knock of the boring short subjects awards.

August 28, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterjimmy

I submit Marsha Mason for honorary.

August 28, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

Damn, that's a great honorary lineup!
I'll always be a bit annoyed that we don't get big honorary presentations at the Oscars, but the way they've handled it lately (separate gala + highlight reel) is a fine substitute, and last year it gifted us with the ever-ready "Angela Lansbury, you are the living definition of range."

August 28, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMike in Canada

Yes! I put my hands in the air and cheered when I read this. She was one of my mom's favorites and I was introduced to her through my mom. She recently gave an interview on TCM and she is still spunky. Glad this is finally happening.

August 28, 2014 | Unregistered Commentertom

O'hara deserves it

August 28, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

I too would love to see the presentation of these awards. However, as I understand it, the separate gala, with only these 4 honorees is a much more special event for the recipients than a rushed "Thanks so much, I've got to get off before the music starts!" happening than was the case when part of the larger broadcast.

Would be great to see one of the many, MANY cable stations with schedules to fill pick this up. If they can do the nerd prom (which has seriously lost its luster), they could do this.

August 28, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterHenry

Try The Deadly Companions, Sam Peckinpah's debut. O'Hara has an incredible and fierce leading role and the movie is criminally underrated.

August 28, 2014 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

Cal, I never heard of that one. Sounds pretty good.

August 28, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

with all do respect....I don't quite get the award to Belafonte for his film work. All I know of is the scene in Beatlejuice - DAY-Oh.

August 28, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterjimmy

Yes, I also prefer the way they do it now, in a separate gala where it can be all about these four honorees and they can make the speeches as long as they want. Also, the fact that it's not broadcasted gives them the freedom not to make it into a show for the people watching, but a celebration of the people being recognized. When that's all you have to worry about it, it's much more liberating both for the organizers and the honorees (plues, they do show clips of the gala during the actual broadcast, if I remember correctly)...

August 28, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRichter Scale

nathaniel, the academy most be reading TFE! first angela landsbury last year and maureen o'hara this year! one by one our team list will be fulfilled! so happy for o'hara - completely deserving.

August 28, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterabstew

When you wait a long time to give someone an honorary award, it can feel like a premature funeral. That's what happened with Hitchcock, for instance, and his AFI award. The whole night--recorded as a TV special--comes across as a disaster involving a borderline disoriented octogenarian. Friends and family members, if I'm remembering correctly, have confirmed that that's how the night felt to them as well. It really would be nice if they aimed to give these awards to people in, say, their early 60s. That way they can enjoy the night not thinking it's the last time they'll be in the news before they die. That has to be a sad feeling. On the other hand, there is a tradition of people being offered these awards, only to be offended, saying "what? I"m not on my deathbed yet, thank you very much," like Peter O'Toole.

August 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDaniella Isaacs

The Hunchback of Notre Dame is one for the ages. And I get very shitty it doesn't get brought up more often.

So I'm more than happy for O'Hara (and Belafonte and Miyazaki, while I'm at it), but I'm just ecstatic about Carriere. One of my favourite screenwriters for his Bunuel films alone, but also Birth of course, and his Certified Copy cameo too

August 29, 2014 | Unregistered Commentergoran

I adore Maureen O'Hara; she has magnificent screen presence and great chemistry with John Wayne, and a few others, but really, she's not a great actor. She's lovely, some of her films are enjoyable, and she is a bonafide movie star. But if you compare her acting talent with that of her peers (actresses of the late 1940s through early 1960s), and look at her filmography (mostly B pictures), look at who was nominated in those years, she's just ok, a beautiful, charming, entertaining woman, whom people adore. A great actress? Not really. Does she deserve the honorary Oscar? Probably, if it's for her contribution to American film history. Plus, it's always nice to give this to someone while they're still alive.

Sorry to rain on the fandom, but the Swank-hating put me in a twitchy mood.

August 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPam

I love O'Hara from growing up with The Parent Trap too. Really happy for her. Checked out The Quiet Man about a year ago - she's wonderful there too.

August 29, 2014 | Unregistered Commentereurocheese

Thank you for the wonderful article about Maureen O'Hara. I'm so pleased the Academy is finally recognizing outstanding careers again... after some years of drought! They love it - we love it. It's Hollywood for ... sake - that's what it's all about!? When is it time for Hal Halbrook?

AND I just can't wrap my head around why they constantly ignore Doris Day ??? She's such an icon - one of the last huge living Hollywood stars? Amazing recordings - some great dramatic work (Man Who Know's to Much, Love Me Or Leave Me, Midnight Lace) and an amazing comedy timing that was copied by so many actresses like Aniston, Zellweger, Ryan etc.. and if you look at her 90's bday pictures - she's still kicking !
So why not ???

August 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMartin

I love Maureen O'Hara, this is great news! I first became aware of her in "Miracle on 34th Street", and those John Wayne movies that popped up on Saturday/Sunday afternoons. My two favourites are "How Green Was My Valley" and "The Quiet Man". She has a lovely presence on screen, a little fire, and yet still graceful. I only hope she stays in good health so that she can enjoy this long, long overdure recognition.

As for how the Academy decides on honourary Oscars, that is a good topic for a podcast Nathaniel... (big hint)

August 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLadyEdith

Martin, thanks for bringing up Doris' recordings. She is a great movie star, but she doesn't get enough credit for being a sublime singer. Her Christmas album is a staple at my family gatherings. Her rendition of Toyland...gives me shivers. Sigh.

August 29, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

jimmy - Belafonte isn't getting the Oscar for his film work, he's getting the Hersholt for his humanitarian work. There's a great documentary about his activism, Sing Your Song.

August 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

What I wish they would do is an hour long special devoted to the four recipients. They could show clips and have edited interviews with the honorees. Then it could be shown on PBS or TCM or something. They would also have the dinner party or whatever, but the "clip show" could be out there for all the fans. I don't even see this as a money loser for the Academy if they do it right. It couldn't cost any more than your average NOVA episode, right? Get Oprah involved for heaven's sake.

As for Belafonte, I do think he deserves the award for his humanitarian work more than his screen work, but his screen work is quite nifty, if limited (what black actor of his generation was given the opportunities s/he deserved anyway?). But I'd say that he has done great work in Kansas City, White Man's Burden, Island In The Sun, Carmen Jones, and The World, The Flesh & The Devil (or whatever it was called).

And as someone noted about Maureen above, sure she wasn't a histrionic actress particularly, but someone who does "very good" work for 50 years in movies is a pretty good candidate for an honorary award. I don't think she's any better (or worse) than Lauren Bacall and no one had a problem with her award. And Maureen had a far greater impact in movies than Angela Lansbury, and no one disputes her award either.

Okay, sorry for the long post...

August 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDave in Alamitos Beach

Dave - exactly. Even if Maureen was never THE BEST ACTRESS of a given year, doesn't mean the filmography needs to be ignored. Especially when there are so many classics in it and over such a long stretch of time. She really was an enduring movie star.

p.s. i love Harry Belafonte and am now feeling bad i didn't say more about him.

August 29, 2014 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

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