Maureen O’Hara, the Irish-born actress once known as “the Queen of Technicolor,” passed away on Saturday at the age of 95. Throughout the 1940s and ’50s, the actress made a name for herself by playing a handful of strong-willed, beautiful women, opposite adventurous leading men such as Errol Flynn, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., and most notably, John Wayne.
Fitting her nickname, O’Hara’s appearance onscreen became synonymous with the Technicolor film process as her lush red hair and bright green eyes helped her stand out from the crowd. According to NYTimes, the creators of the groundbreaking process pointed to the actress as their best advertisement. While that complimentary moniker stuck with the actress throughout the duration of her life, the majority of the movies that made O’Hara a star were presented in black and white.
A short rundown of some of these classics include her first big-screen role as Esmeralda in 1939’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, opposite Charles Laughton’s Quasimodo; 1941’s Oscar-winning How Green Was My Valley where she appeared as a beautiful daughter to a Welsh mining family who marries the wrong man; and of course, 1947’s Miracle on 34th Street where she played Macy’s employee Doris Walker who tries so very hard to prevent her daughter Susan (played by a young Natalie Wood) from believing in Dear Ol’ Saint Nick.
The above classics are definitely worth a mention but it’s Maureen O’Hara’s work with John Wayne that she will most be remembered for. Of the five films she appeared onscreen, opposite the actor, it’s John Ford’s 1952 film The Quiet Man that stands out from the pack. Here, she played Mary Kate Danaher, a proud and stubborn woman who “refuses to consummate her marriage” to Irish-American boxer Sean Thornton — played by Wayne — until he agrees to fight for her prestige. So, of course, he obliges.
In her first two decades working in Hollywood, O’Hara appeared in roughly 40 films. After the 1973 TV Movie The Red Pony, the actress took a break from the industry which lasted 17 years. It was the 1991 John Candy comedy Only The Lonely that found her returning to the big screen to play the actor’s overbearing mother. She appeared in three more TV movies throughout the decade before retiring from the public eye after 2000’s The Last Dance, where she played a retired school teacher assisting a former student played by Eric Stoltz.
The actress is survived by her daughter, a grandson and two great-grandchildren. In 2004, a journalist inquired as to how she retained her beauty over all these years and she replied, by saying, “I was Irish. I remain Irish. And Irish women don’t let themselves go.” It’s John Wayne’s compliment to his old friend whom he worked with regularly onscreen that seems to stand out most as he once famously said, “I’ve had many friends, and I prefer the company of men, except for Maureen O’Hara. She is a great guy.”