Maureen O’Hara, the actress best known for her roles opposite John Wayne in movies like The Quiet Man, died at 95 on October 23. Maureen O’Hara was a leading lady few forgot, with flashing green eyes and flaming red hair that ensured she would light up the screen in the Technicolor age.
She was definitely a force to be reckoned with, and Maureen O’Hara recognized this herself in her autobiography, Tis Herself.
“I was the only leading lady big enough and tough enough for John Wayne,” she said in the 2004 tome, according to the Los Angeles Times.
It seemed that John Wayne couldn’t get enough of Maureen O’Hara either. The two appeared in a number of Hollywood hits during their respective heydays, including The Quiet Man, Rio Grande, and McClintock!
The Duke said of his frequent co-star, “She’s big, lusty, absolutely marvelous — definitely my kind of woman. I’ve had many friends, and I prefer the company of men. Except for Maureen O’Hara.”
According to several reports, Maureen O’Hara died in her sleep while listening to music from The Quiet Man, which was her favorite movie. The actress is perhaps best known, besides for frequently co-starring with John Wayne, for her role in the original Miracle on 34th Street, in which she plays an embittered Macy’s executive who does her best to convince her daughter that the Santa she hired is not the real Santa Claus.
Her final film appearance was in 1991’s Only the Lonely, in which she played venerated Canadian actor John Candy’s overbearing Irish mother. Director Chris Columbus had written the part with Maureen O’Hara specifically in mind, according to IMDb, apparently unaware that she hadn’t appeared in a feature film since Big Jake, also starring John Wayne. He reached out to Maureen O’Hara’s brother, Charles B. Fitzsimmons, and he forwarded the script to her, saying, “This you do.” O’Hara apparently read the script and contacted her brother, replying, “This I do.”
Maureen O’Hara’s adventures with John Candy did not end there, however. Candy was furious when he discovered Only the Lonely producers had not included a trailer for an actress of her stature in the film’s budget and gave her his trailer. Maureen O’Hara also told Candy that he reminded her of Charles Laughton and that he should not always play the clown — that there was complexity in his acting and he should trust it.
Maureen O’Hara prided herself on being a “tough Irish lass,” according to Biography, and admitted that her reluctance to sleep with directors and producers likely cost her parts.
“I wouldn’t throw myself on the casting couch, and I know that cost me parts. I wasn’t going to play the whore. That wasn’t me,” she said.
Maureen O’Hara became an American citizen in 1946 and stirred some controversy even then, according to accounts of the ceremony in Tis Herself. During her citizenship ceremony, a judge asked her to swear allegiance to England, and O’Hara effectively said that she could not swear allegiance to Great Britain, as she was Irish and therefore did not have any allegiance to Great Britain. After much discussion, Maureen O’Hara said she ultimately told the judge that she no longer wanted any American citizenship.
In one final attempt to have the judge listen to her, she asked the judge to think of her unborn children and said, “You are trying to take away from them their right to boast and brag about their wonderful and famous Irish mother and grandmother. I just can’t accept that.”
Her certificate of naturalization had actually been created prior to her appearance before the court, but all entries that had labeled her citizenship as English were promptly changed to Irish. Maureen O’Hara had proven, once again, that she was not one to stand idly by and wait for decisions to be made — she would fight for what she believed was right.
Maureen O’Hara died in her home in Boise, Idaho. According to CNN, no funeral arrangements have been announced, but her family has said to honor Maureen O’Hara, people should visit Ireland one day and think of her.
[Feature image by Keystone/Getty Images]