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August 17, 2020

30 Stunning Black and White Portraits of Maureen O'Hara in the 1940s and 1950s

Maureen O’Hara was an Irish-born actress who was billed alongside Hollywood’s leading men in a slew of features in the 1940s. She was a famous redhead who was known for playing passionate, but sensible heroines, often in westerns and adventure films. On numerous occasions, she worked with director John Ford and longtime friend John Wayne. O’Hara was one of the longest-lived stars from the “Golden Age” of Hollywood.

Born Maureen FitzSimons, on August 17, 1920, in Ranelagh, Ireland. The second oldest of six children, Maureen was raised in a close-knit Irish Catholic family. Her father, Charles, was a businessman, and her mother, Marguerite, was an accomplished stage actress and opera singer. Maureen displayed a penchant for dramatics at an early age when she staged presentations for her family; in school she was active in singing and dancing.

While still in her early teens, Maureen enrolled at Dublin’s prestigious Abbey Theatre School, where she studied drama and music. Upon her graduation in 1937, she was offered a lead role with the Abbey Players, but instead she decided to try her hand at film acting. She then moved to London, where she screen tested for an English feature. Although the film was never produced, her impressive audition caught the attention of Oscar-winning movie star and producer Charles Laughton. After convincing Maureen to change her surname to O’Hara, Laughton helped launch Maureen’s career by recommending her for the role of the orphaned Mary Yelland in Alfred Hitchcock’s British-made film Jamaica Inn (1939). Although the film met with lackluster reviews, O’Hara was noted for her convincing performance.

Under the tutelage of Laughton, O’Hara signed a contract with RKO Studios in 1939. She moved to Hollywood in the summer of that year, making her American film debut as the alluring gypsy Esmeralda (opposite Laughton’s Quasimodo) in RKO’s lavish production The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

In 1941, O’Hara gave a haunting performance as the Welsh daughter of a mining family in the drama How Green Was My Valley, which marked her first collaboration with legendary director John Ford. The film triumphed at the Oscars, winning top honors in five categories, including Best Picture and Best Director.

During the 1940s and 1950s, O’Hara was repeatedly cast as the heroine in elaborate Technicolor features. Her strong-willed characters, which were complimented by her fiery red hair, green eyes, and peaches and cream complexion, earned her the nickname “Queen of Technicolor.”

On October 24, 2015, O’Hara died in her sleep in her Boise, Idaho home at the age of 95.


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