Maureen O’Hara: Honorary Oscar to How Green Was My Valley & The Quiet Man actress
Veteran actress Maureen O’Hara attended the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ 2014 Governors Awards, where she was handed an Honorary Oscar for her body of work – 50 or so movies, including The Hunchback of Notre Dame, How Green Was My Valley, The Miracle on 34th Street, and The Quiet Man. This year’s ceremony was held on Saturday, Nov. 8, in the Ray Dolby Ballroom at Hollywood & Highland Center in Hollywood.
For the last couple of years, Maureen O’Hara has been a Boise, Idaho, resident. Before that, the 94-year-old actress – born Maureen FitzSimons, on Aug., 17, 1920, in Dublin – had been living in Ireland. Below is a brief recap of her movies.
Maureen O’Hara movies: From Charles Laughton to John Wayne
Following her leading lady role in Alfred Hitchcock’s British-made Jamaica Inn, starring Charles Laughton, Maureen O’Hara arrived in Hollywood in 1939 to play the gypsy Esmeralda opposite Laughton in William Dieterle’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame. At the Academy’s Governors Awards, O’Hara paid homage to Laughton, “who signed me to my first movie contract and is totally responsible for my career.”
Either at 20th Century Fox or RKO throughout much of the studio era, the red-headed O’Hara, often in Technicolor, was featured opposite a whole array of leading men. Among them were:
- Tyrone Power in The Black Swan (1942) and The Long Gray Line (1956).
- John Payne in Miracle on 34th Street (1947).
- Joel McCrea in Buffalo Bill (1944).
- Rex Harrison in The Foxes of Harrow (1948).
- Paul Henreid in The Spanish Main (1945).
- Errol Flynn in Against All Flags (1952).
- Jeff Chandler in War Arrow (1953).
- Douglas Fairbanks Jr. in Sinbad the Sailor (1947).
- John Garfield in The Fallen Sparrow (1943).
- Melvyn Douglas in A Woman’s Secret (1949).
- Alec Guinness in Our Man in Havana (1959).
- Robert Young and – sort of – Clifton Webb in the 1948 comedy hit Sitting Pretty.
- And John Wayne. See below.
Additionally, O’Hara was reunited with Charles Laughton in Jean Renoir’s solid World War II drama This Land Is Mine (1943).
Maureen O’Hara: Honorary Oscar recipient remembers Charles Laughton and John Wayne at the Academy’s 2014 Governors Awards.
John Ford, John Wayne collaborations
Apart from George Seaton’s 1947 Christmas classic Miracle on 34th Street, Maureen O’Hara is best remembered for her association with John Ford (“that old devil himself”), who directed her in five films:
- The Best Picture Academy Award winner How Green Was My Valley (1941), with Walter Pidgeon, Roddy McDowall, and Best Supporting Actor Oscar winner Donald Crisp.
- The Western Rio Grande (1950), with John Wayne.
- The Quiet Man (1952), opposite Wayne and Victor McLaglen, and delivering what is probably the most effective performance of her career.
- The Long Gray Line (1956), with Tyrone Power.
- The Wings of Eagles (1957), once again with John Wayne, in addition to Dan Dailey.
Regarding John Wayne – and her own time in Hollywood – decades later Maureen O’Hara would recall (proving that size does matter):
I was tough. I was tall. I was strong. I didn’t take any nonsense from anybody. He was tough, he was tall, he was strong and he didn’t take any nonsense from anybody. As a man and a human being, I adored him.
Maureen O’Hara and John Wayne would work together in two other movies not directed by John Ford:
- McLintock! (1963), a Westernized version of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, also featuring John Wayne’s son Patrick Wayne, Stefanie Powers, and Yvonne De Carlo. Director Andrew V. McLaglen, who died at age 94 this past August, was Victor McLaglen’s son.
- George Sherman’s Big Jake (1971), starring Wayne and featuring O’Hara in a brief “guest star” role.
Maureen O’Hara directors
Besides John Ford and the aforementioned Jean Renoir, Alfred Hitchcock, George Seaton, and William Dieterle, among Maureen O’Hara’s directors were:
- Dorothy Arzner (Dance, Girl, Dance), the only notable female filmmaker during the studio era.
- Fox reliable Henry King (The Black Swan).
- Nicholas Ray (A Woman’s Secret).
- Veteran Frank Borzage (The Spanish Main).
- David Swift (the blockbuster The Parent Trap).
- Carol Reed (Our Man in Havana).
Later film career
Maureen O’Hara’s film career petered out in the 1960s, finally coming to a halt following her cameo appearance in Big Jake (1971). Two decades later, she returned to the big screen one more time, playing John Candy’s mother in Chris Columbus’ 1991 comedy Only the Lonely, which failed to ignite at the box office.
Later on, O’Hara was seen in three made-for-television movies:
- Marcus Cole’s The Christmas Box (1995), as a widow who hires The Waltons’ Richard Thomas and Annette O’Toole as live-in help.
- Christopher Leitch’s Cab to Canada (1998), inspired by a true story about and elderly woman who unexpectedly demands that her taxi driver (Jason Beghe) take her from the Los Angeles area to Vancouver – a mere 1,700 kilometers away.
- Kevin Dowling’s The Last Dance (2000), playing a retired teacher who becomes mixed up in the lives of Eric Stoltz and wife Trini Alvarado.
Never an Oscar contender
Maureen O’Hara, who has never been even nominated for an Academy Award, was Turner Classic Movies’ Star of the Month of July 2014. The following month, about two weeks after her 94th birthday, the Academy announced that O’Hara, alongside screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière and animator Hayao Miyazaki, would be this year’s Honorary Oscar winners.
Who knows, perhaps the Academy’s Board of Governors are avid TCM watchers and were impressed with what they saw. If so, maybe TCM should have Doris Day – or, highly unlikely, Danielle Darrieux or Michèle Morgan or Max von Sydow – as their Star of the Month next July, as it remains unclear what Day, 90; Darrieux, 97; Morgan, 94; and von Sydow, 85, have done not to have thus far received an Honorary Oscar. (And/or, at least in Day’s case, a Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.)
Old Irish saying
At the Governors Awards, Maureen O’Hara wrapped up her speech with the following:
I’m so proud to receive this award because it comes from my peers, who represent every element of the motion picture business. Believe me, the admiration is mutual.
I am honored beyond words. Thank you with all my heart. And I leave you with this old Irish saying:
My the road rise to meet you. The wind be always at your back. And may the sun shine warmly upon your face.
More on the Academy’s Honorary Oscars
A few more articles on the Honorary Oscars:
“Honorary Oscars Bypass Women,” and its follow-up articles:
- “Honorary Oscar: Doris Day Snub.”
- “Honorary Award: Too Late for Gloria Swanson, Rita Hayworth; the Academy’s Women Presidents.”
Maureen O’Hara quote via the Chicago Tribune.
Honorary Oscar recipient Maureen O’Hara 2014 Governors Awards photo: Aaron Poole / © A.M.P.A.S.