20 Great Interviews:
Known for her remarkable beauty and her fiery screen persona, Maureen O’Hara was born Maureen FitzSimons in County Dublin in 1920. One of six children, O’Hara began acting at age six with the encouragement of her parents. At 16 she joined the Abbey Players, and shortly thereafter she was “discovered” by actor Charles Laughton who took her to London.
She made her first movie, Jamaica Inn, with legendary director Alfred Hitchcock. Soon after O’Hara’s arrival in Hollywood she was “sold” to RKO. It was director John Ford who gave her a chance to prove herself a great actress. Their first movie together, How Green Was My Valley, won a total of five Academy Awards. In all she made 60 movies, five with Ford, who used he as his muse for The Quiet Man.
In her own words, she said, “I acted, punched, swashbuckled, and shot my way through an absurdly masculine profession.” Patricia Harty talked to O’Hara in March 2004, on the publication of her biography ‘Tis Herself.
Why do you think The Quiet Man is still so popular with Irish-Americans?
Not just Irish-Americans, it has a particular effect for Japanese, Chinese, Italian, Spanish, American, Canadians, and South Americans.
Everybody in the world loves it because it is a story that could have happened in any country.
If you were to sum up John Wayne in a sentence…
Such a fine man is very hard to sum up in one sentence. He loved his family, adored his kids and was very loyal to his friends. He never let a friend down even if it meant putting himself in danger.
Director John Ford was quite abusive and, in fact, he even socked you one time.
He was very abusive to almost every actor who ever worked for him. Every stunt man, every mechanic and every lighting man. He was abusive if it suited him and what he was after. But he was a genius. He was the finest director any of us ever worked with, and we were proud to work with him and work for him.
But sometimes it was terrible. One day on Rio Grande he was being so awful to John Wayne, just belittling and terrible, and Wayne just stood there with his head down and took it. I thought “Give it to him. Sock him in the jaw.” But Wayne didn’t.
You have said that the publicity department created Maureen O’Hara.
Not just Maureen O’Hara, any actor who was under contract to a studio. The publicity people were ordered by the studio to see to it that your name was in the paper every day. So they had to think up a lot of phony stories. One time I read that I’d been bitten by a spider, and it never happened at all.
So you didn’t always have control over what you wanted to do.
We were the property of the studio and they felt that we had to do what they told us to do. If you refused they had the right to suspend you. And suspending you meant they put you off salary for the duration of the time it took to replace you, shoot the movie and finish it. That made it kind of difficult to pay your grocery bill.
Would you say the love of your life was your husband Charlie Blair?
Yes. He flew the first land plane with passengers and mail non-stop from the United States to Shannon. And the plane he went over the pole with is in the Smithsonian, and another of his planes is in a New England museum.
If you had to do it all over again, is there anything you would do differently?
There are a couple of things I wouldn’t do, but I wouldn’t change my life. My career just came like a flood and swept over me and I didn’t get to finish things I really wanted to do. I would love to have sung just one opera. I would have loved to sing Carmen. I would still go for a dramatic career, because that was what I wanted, that was what I planned and that’s what I got.
Staying alive. And of course if some fantastic script came along it would be great ♦