Behind the Camera: Maureen O’Hara

Maureen was probably one of Hollywood’s great beauties

When discussing classic Hollywood cinema, there are usually several different actors and actresses that come to mind as you murmur the words, “golden age.”

Greta GarboFred AstaireHumphrey BogartBette DavisJames Dean, and Audrey Hepburn, are just a couple of many names on the endless list of legendary classic movie performers.

A woman that doesn’t nearly get enough recognition on these lists is Ireland’s very own ‘Queen of Technicolor’, Maureen O’Hara. 


Born on August 17th, 1920 in Ranelagh, Ireland, O’Hara‘s career lasted 61 years, triumphantly ending in 1991 with the romantic-comedy Only the Lonely starring alongside John Candy. During those six decades, she co-starred with some of the most admired actors in film history.

From Tyrone Power to John Wayne and even Charles LaughtonMaureen O’Hara’s film roles were just an extension of who she was as a woman. 

Whether it be sword fighting with Errol Flynn, planning a summer vacation with Jimmy Stewart, or falling madly in love with John Wayne on the mountainous terrain of rural Ireland, Maureen O’Hara’s filmography is perhaps one of the most underappreciated in classic Hollywood history.

Humble Beginnings

source: Republic Pictures

Strikingly beautiful and blessed with an aura that the camera naturally gravitated too, O’Hara was raised in the sleepy Dublin neighborhood of Ranelagh.

Born to Charlie and Marguerite (née Lilburn) FitzSimonsMaureen has said that her adolescence was “the most remarkable and eccentric that she could’ve hoped for.”

Being the second oldest of six children (and the only red-head), O’Hara lived a relatively happy and carefree childhood. She would often describe her mother in a kind light, saying that she,”inherited [her] singing voice from [her] and that when her mother would leave the house, men would “leave their houses just to catch a glimpse of her on the street.”

O’Hara has also asserted in interviews that she was a rather “blunt child”, saying that she “didn’t take discipline very well.”

As an infant, she was given the nickname, “Baby Elephant” for having a stout physique. Her tomboyish nature had her take part in a number of physically strenuous activities like fishing, riding horses, judo and even Gaelic Football.

O’Hara with her mother, Marguerite FitzSimons in 1948

At the age of 5, she began dancing. O’Hara didn’t take the hobby seriously until a gypsy spotted her and prophesied that she would one day become well-known for her acting skills.

She initially scoffed at the idea, but her parents coaxed her into the thought. Her hunger quickly for fame quickly grew and by age 10 she was working for the Rathmines Theater Company, where she honed her skills in amateur theater productions.

It wasn’t until the age of 17 when O’Hara grew into her stunning looks that casting agents started giving her attention.

By 1937, O’Hara was a full-time actress, working at the Abbey Theatre where she swiftly caught the attention of singer/actor Harry Richman. Richman insisted that O’Hara should travel to London to have a screen test done.

She agreed, and when Maureen and her parents landed on the island she was immediately thrust into the limelight, making her screen debut in the 1938 film Kicking the Moon Around.

First Films

source: Kino International, Ltd 

Although O’Hara didn’t consider Kicking the Moon Around her screen debut, it’s still counted as the first film she’s starred in. However, the movie that she truly believed to be her screen debut was the Hitchcock thriller Jamaica Inn.

Co-starring alongside Charles Laughton, Jamaica Inn is a Hitchcock film through and through. Although it isn’t as recognizable as some of his later drama/thrillers, it holds it’s own as a standalone film.

O’Hara‘s performance received raved reviews, quickly cementing her place amongst Hollywood elite. She was then offered a seven-year contract off the back of her stand out performance.

At first, she and her family declined, citing that O’Hara was far too young to make such a momentous jump in her career. But, after a few drinks and coddling, they caved and Maureen signed a seven-year contract to Mayflower Pictures.

After that she was cast in The Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1939. Boarding the ship liner from England to New York, then taking a train from NYC to Los Angeles, O’Hara‘s Hollywood journey truly began.

Because of her role in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, O’Hara‘s star in Hollywood continued to rise, starring in a number of films like How Green Was My Valley, Miracle on 34th Street and of course The Quiet Man.

She followed those up by starring in a series of John Ford films that, just maybe, cemented her legacy as “Hollywood’s toughest broad.

Later Years

As O’Hara got older, she continued to act and hold her own against some of the best in the business, even acting up until the early 1990s. Stand outs from that era include, The Parent Trap, Spencer’s Mountain, and the very funny Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation.

Unfortunately, after a very long life, Maureen O’ Hara would pass away on October 24th, 2015, leaving behind not only a fantastic filmography, but also and incredible legacy as a human being.

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The Classic Comfort Movie Blogathon…

mclintock 1

source: United Artists

“George Washington McLintock,” is the name that Katherine McLintock wistfully whispers to herself as she comes face to face with estranged husband of 2 years.

Standing eye to eye for the first time in 730 days, the McLintock’s are reuniting for a rather important moment in their lives – the finalization of their divorce.

Spearheaded by Maureen O’Hara and John Wayne, McLintock! is a film that may be overlooked compared to other Wayne/O’Hara collaborations.

Action packed with slapstick comedy, romantic tension, and witty dialogue by James Edward Grant, the film is a refreshing take on the western genre.

It may star John Wayne, but it isn’t your typical “shoot em’ up cowboy” movie.

Directed by Andrew V. McLaglen, McLintock! is a family friendly, comedy romp starring two Hollywood legends.

It tells the story of George McLintock as he struggles both professionally and personally to overcome various obstacles in his life.

Whether it be his ex-wife returning to his ranch to beg for their daughter’s custody, Native Americans fighting him for a piece of his land, or local townsfolk harassing him for no good reason, the predicaments that George gets himself into makes for a hilarious movie.

McLintock 2

source: United Artists

One of the more memorable scene from the film was the giant mudslide fight about halfway through the movie.  The scene, which lastest a grand total of 10 minutes is an absolute ‘gut buster.’ It had me rolling on the ground for a good 5 minutes, my lungs were very sore after that ordeal.

O’Hara, often known for her grittiness and willingness to do action sequences, did all of her own stunts in the scene. As a woman, I’d have to say that was very commendable, and it’s probably something I would’ve done as well.

Lastly, and perhaps the funniest scene of the picture is its finale. It sees a half naked (not really, she was wearing bloomers) O’Hara soaking wet and soiled running away from an irked and disgruntled John Wayne.

When he finally catches up with her, it culminates in Wayne taking O’Hara over his knew and smacking her into submission.

McLintock 3

source: United Artists

Hilarious? Yes.

Sexist? A tad bit.

Is it in line with the movie’s plotline? Absolutely!

That’s why I believe McLintock! is the perfect comfort movie. It’s not the best Western out there, but it doesn’t attempt to be.

It does it its job perfectly.

It’s entertaining, nostalgic, and the excellent film to watch when you want to unwind from a long day at work.

What more could you ask for?

Hidden Gems: Spencer’s Mountain (1963)

Spencer's Mountain

source: Warner Brothers

If you ever longed to live in the vast, open spaces of the Grand Teton Mountains of Wyoming while drinking your favorite brand of bourbon till the sun goes down, annoying not only your significant other but also your fellow townsfolk, children and their friends, then Spencer’s Mountain is a movie that may pique your interest.

1200px-barns_grand_tetons

Where the Spencer’s laid down their roots.

Adapted from the novel of the same name by Earl Hamner Jr. Spencer’s Mountain tells the story of Clay Spencer, played by Henry Fonda, and his struggles to build a better life for his family.

His wife, Olivia, played by Maureen O’Hara, tries her best to accommodate Clay and his ambitions but finds it difficult when he continually deviates from the path he stringently set for himself.

Among some of Clay’s ‘distractions’ include mild alcoholism, perpetual flirtations with other women, and the occasional adversarial comment about his wife’s religion.

Clay’s carelessness causes his family more harm than good.

The Spencer’s essentially live in the middle of nowhere. They don’t own any vehicles, horses or telephones, this leaves the family especially helpless during emergencies. When they do need some assistance, Clay just harrases his eldest son ‘Clayboy’ a freshly minted high school graduate, to run a couple of miles to the nearest police station.

It isn’t a very effective way to go about things, but, it’s the best they have.

‘Clayboy’ played by James MacArthur, is the only man to graduate high school in the Spencer family. He wants to make something out of himself, and he decides that living in the backwoods of, in his words,”the middle nowhere” is no way to live a life.

Strangely enough, his father agrees, and when ‘Clayboy’s’ teacher chooses him for one of the few scholarships that his school offers, he jumps at the chance.

Spencer's Mountain 2

source: Warner Brothers

This is where Clay’s redemption story begins.

‘Clayboy’s’ teacher nominates him for a “divinity” scholarship. It wasn’t necessarily the one he wanted, but it was better than nothing.

Knowing the elder Spencer’s general grumpiness about religion, he’s hesitant to agree to this. Olivia, on the other hand, is ecstatic that her baby boy is potentially pursuing a career as a pastor.

All the while this is happening, Clay begins renovating his home, hoping to use a plot of old Spencer land to create his dream residence. With ‘Clayboy’s’ dream of going to college, all of that is put on hold.

After letting this ruminate in his heart for a few days, Clay casts aside his prejudices and quietly accepts his son’s decision. Just as he came to terms with himself, it turns out that ‘Clayboy’s’ scores in Latin were too low for his scholarship to be accepted.

Frustrated, Clay drives up to the university to give the dean a piece of his mind. A couple of hours of contentious conversation later, the dean gives him an ultimatum: if ‘Clayboy’ can learn Latin before the semester starts, then he can enroll, but his scholarship will be dropped as a result.

Problem solved, right?

Well, not exactly.

It takes the Spencer’s a couple days to figure out where they could possibly find a Latin tutor in the middle of the dense backwoods of Wyoming. When they do, it comes as a shock to Clay when it’s the local priest that selflessly agrees to help his son.

Divine Intervention.

Spencer's Mountain 3

source: Warner Brothers

Preacher Goodman (played by Wally Cox) forces Clay to go to his services on Sunday in exchange for ‘Clayboy’s’ lessons. Sure enough, next Sunday Clay sticks to his word and attends the service, much to the delight of not only his wife but the entire town.

It appears that the hard-drinking, no-nonsense, Clay Spencer has finally begun to soften up a bit.

His newfound faith would be tested, however, when he and his father Grandpa Spencer (played by Donald Crisp) get crushed by an unsuspecting falling tree while trying to remove the stump before it grows into the family funeral plot.

The irony.

‘Clayboy’ arrives moments after the incident, bringing a pail of lunch the pair requested hours earlier. As he steps closer to the scene, ‘Clayboy’ knows that this is quickly turning into a life or death situation.

Scared out of his mind, he drops everything he’s doing and runs to the nearest ’emergency bell’ immediately alerting anyone near. Subsequently, everyone heads up the mountain bringing all the tools and medical supplies that are needed.

Spencer's Mountain 4

source: Warner Brothers

Clay escapes with a few injuries but it’s Grandpa Spencer that takes the brunt of the damage, ultimately losing his life.

Months go by after the accident.

Clay preoccupies himself with his new “dream house” project, expecting it to take his mind off of what happened. It does for a little while, but his ambitions only serve as a reminder of his dad who also shared the same dream.

The next day, Clay and ‘Clayboy’ head up to the dean’s office to show him that he successfully passed his lessons. The dean agrees and proudly scribbles ‘Clayboy’s’ name on the roster. Knowing that the last thing they need to do in order to enroll is a tuition deposit, Clay gives up on his dream of building a new home and literally sets the house on fire.

Once it simmers down and there’s nothing left but ash and disappointment, he sells the land for a hefty fee, which goes towards ‘Clayboy’s’ tuition.

The end of the movie sees the Spencer family send-off ‘Clayboy’ to college. With a clear conscience and a happy wife, Clay Spencer can definitely rest easy knowing that he made his dad proud.

Conclusion

spencers-mountain-the-end

source: Warner Brothers

This movie is the equivalent of drinking iced tea on the banks of a canal that sits a couple of feet behind your home, watching the sunset while you quietly ignore your responsibilities.

Director Delmer Daves truly outdid himself with this one. Not only does the movie give you a sense of familiarity, it shows a different side to what one would call a “nuclear family.”

Everything is not what it seems in Spencer’s Mountain.

I’ve always seen Henry Fonda as the soft, brooding type of guy. So it came as a bit of a surprise when I saw him acting “out of character” – so to speak – in this film.  Maybe I need to watch a couple of more of his movies to break this stereotype, but I’d say that his portrayal of Clay Spencer did a perfect job of that.

As for the film itself, it’s certainly a fun one. I thoroughly enjoyed all of the acting performances put on, particularly James MacArthur who, I have to admit, made my heart flutter during multiple instances in the movie.

If you have the chance to check out this film, I recommend that you do. It may not be the most exciting, or the most angst-inducing, but it’ll have you compelled to cast aside some selfish need for the sake of your family.

 

Summer Movie Blogathon… The Parent Trap (1961)

The-Parent-Trap

source: Buena Vista Distribution

I’ve never been to summer camp as a kid.

I have been to a day camp however, but it’s nothing like what the twins in this movie get to experience.

I think that’s why The Parent Trap is the perfect summer film for me. I was never able to have the opportunity to stay up late with my friends, anticipating what we’re going to do the next day or go kayaking through the white river rapids of Colorado, so when I watch this film, I get to vicariously live through the mischievous adventures that these girls go on.

And boy, do they get into a sticky situation.

the parent trap

source: Buena Vista Distribution

Directed by David Swift and starring Hayley Mills, Maureen O’Hara (RIP) and Brian Keith, The Parent Trap is probably one of the most recognizable, unintentionally funny and heartwarming films I’ve ever seen.

If you’ve seen the movie, you probably know what happens in the story. The film follows the lives of twins named Sharon and Susan (both played by Hayley Mills) whose parents divorced when the pair were only a few months old. Naturally, with divorce, comes child custody. Sharon goes to live with her mother Maggie in Boston (played by Maureen O’Hara), while Susan hitched her wagon to her father, Mitch (played by Brian Keith) who lives in California.

14 years after they were separated, the twins ‘accidentally’ get reunited when friends introduce them at a summer getaway named Camp Inch.

At first, their personalities clash, seeing that one is a brash Bostonian while the other is a laid-back Californian. But, after a few days of really getting to know each other, they find that they have a lot more in common than they were first lead to believe.

The parent Trap 1961

source: Buena Vista Distribution

During those few weeks of getting acquainted, the twins hatch up a plan to switch places in an attempt to get their parents back together.

So, Susan (the twin with the longer hair) cuts it to make it look like Sharon’s style, and Sharon picks up Susan’s mannerisms. When they finally do get to each other’s houses, Sharon fears that their plan will go to ruin when she finds out that her father is planning on marrying a younger, money hungry, woman named Vicky Robinson (played by Joanna Barnes.)

To stop this from happening, Sharon calls Susan in Boston to tell her the news and to convince her mother to fly over to California to stop the wedding.

Surprisingly, Maggie isn’t too upset at the idea, and promptly takes the cross-country trip to The Golden State. Once Maggie and Susan arrive at Mitch’s house, the twins make it their goal to get their parents to experience the spark that initially attracted them to each other.

The-Parent-Trap-David-Swift-1961-3

source: Buena Vista Distribution

In the most heart touching scene in the movie, Susan and Sharon recreate the restaurant where their parents had first met. Slowly but surely, Mitch and Maggie gradually start to forget why they ever got divorced.

But, that all comes crashing down when they start fighting and squabbling over minor things, like Mitch’s fiancée, Vicky.  Understandably upset about the entire ordeal, Maggie buys a flight back to Boston.

The twins being twins, purposely dress up and act like the other so their parents wouldn’t know who is who, essentially delaying their mother’s flight home. To solve the issue, the girls give their parents an ultimatum: they’ll only reveal which twin is who when the four of them go on their annual family camping trip. Vicky finds out about this and tricks Maggie into staying home.

Maureen-OHara-and-Brian-Keith-in-Parent-Trap-movie

source: Buena Vista Distribution

Why?

Because Vicky is a petty gold digger, but that’s beside the point.

Always two steps ahead, the twins strategize to make Vicky’s time outside a living hell. First, they replace her mosquito repellent with sugar water. Then, they smother honey on her feet while she’s sleeping and get a cub to lick her feet to make it seem like a bear attack was imminent.

For Vicky, that was the last straw.

When she wakes up in the morning, she is livid. She makes her rounds around the campsite, destroying everything and anything, which eventually culminates in her slapping (why she does it, is beyond me) one of the girls. Mitch sees this and reassesses his attraction to her. Vicky, tired and sticky, flees back to the city.

Exhausted, emotionally and physically, Mitch, Susan, and Sharon make their way back to the homestead where Maggie greets them with a feast matching their appetite. They say the fastest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.

It’s true.

This leads to Mitch and Maggie to have a heart to heart, where they admit they still do love each other.

At the end of the movie, they choose to get married again and for Susan and Sharon, they couldn’t be happier.

Why I Chose this for the Summer Movie Blogathon…

I really do adore this movie. It’s sweet, charming and absolutely absurd, in a good way. Summer is about kicking back and letting go. It’s a couple months out of the year where you plan something absolutely crazy and get away with it.

That’s the thing about summer. After 9 long months of working and or going to school, summer is where you can come together with friends and relax, or in this movie’s case, plot to do something out of this world. That’s why I chose The Parent Trap for this blogathon, no matter how preposterous something is, during the summer, it’s never off limits.