Maureen O’Hara, spirited movie star, dies at 95

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The Irish Hollywood legend received her first Oscar at age 94. Photo by: Wikimedia Commons

Actress Maureen O’Hara (born Maureen FitzSimons; 17 August 1920), the Irish beauty who appeared in such classic films as The Quiet Man and How Green Was My Valley, has died.

Her manager, Johnny Nicoletti, said O’Hara died in her sleep Saturday at her home in Boise, Idaho. She was 95.

maureen-ohara-green-dressO’Hara came to Hollywood to star in 1939’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame and went on to a long career. How Green Was My Valley, a touching 1941 drama about a Welsh mining family, won five Oscars including best picture.

O’Hara was first educated at the John Street West Girls’ School near Thomas Street in Dublin’s Liberties Area. From the ages of 6 to 17 she trained in drama, music and dance, and at the age of 10 joined the Rathmines Theatre Company and worked in amateur theatre in the evenings, after her lessons. O’Hara was noted for playing fiercely passionate heroines with a highly sensible attitude. She often worked with director John Ford and longtime friend John Wayne. Her autobiography, ‘Tis Herself, was published in 2004 and was a New York Times Bestseller. She was one of the last living actresses from the Golden Age of Hollywood.

Although O’Hara was never nominated for a competitive Academy Award, in November 2014 she was presented with an Honorary Academy Award with the inscription “To Maureen O’Hara, one of Hollywood’s brightest stars, whose inspiring performances glowed with passion, warmth and strength”. O’Hara joined Myrna Loy in being the only actresses ever to receive an Academy Award for acting without having been nominated previously.

In addition to her acting skills, O’Hara had a soprano voice and described singing as her first love. The studio heads never capitalised on her musical talent, as she was already big box office in other genres of film. However, she was able to channel her love of singing through television. In the late ’50s and early ’60s, she was a guest on musical variety shows with Perry Como, Andy Williams, Betty Grable and Tennessee Ernie Ford.

In 1960, she starred on Broadway in the musical Christine which ran for 12 performances. That year she released two successful recordings, Love Letters from Maureen O’Hara and Maureen O’Hara Sings her Favorite Irish Songs. Love Letters from Maureen O’Hara was released on CD in Japan.

O’Hara received the Heritage Award by the Ireland-American Fund in 1991. For her contributions to the motion picture industry, O’Hara has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 7004 Hollywood Blvd. In 1993, she was inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. She was also awarded the Golden Boot Award.

In March 1999, O’Hara was selected to be Grand Marshal of New York City’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade. In 2004, she was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Irish Film and Television Academy in her native Dublin. The same year, O’Hara released her autobiography ‘Tis Herself: An Autobiography, co-authored with Johnny Nicoletti. She wrote the foreword for the cookbook At Home in Ireland[when?]. In 2007, she wrote the foreword for the biography of her friend and film co-star, the late actress Anna Lee.

O’Hara was named Irish America’s “Irish American of the Year” in 2005, with festivities held at the Plaza Hotel in New York. In 2006, O’Hara attended the Grand Reopening and Expansion of the Flying Boats Museum in Foynes, County Limerick as a patron of the museum. A significant portion of the museum is dedicated to her late husband Charles. O’Hara donated her late husband’s seaplane, the Excambian (a Sikorsky VS-44A), to the New England Air Museum. The restoration of the plane took eight years and time was donated by former pilots and mechanics in honor of Charles Blair. It is the only surviving example of this type of plane.[citation needed]

In 2011, O’Hara was formally inducted into the Irish America Hall of Fame at an event in New Ross, County Wexford. She was also named president of the Universal Film & Festival Organization (UFFO) which promotes a code of conduct for film festivals and the film industry.

In 2014, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences selected O’Hara to receive the Academy’s Honorary Oscar, to be presented at the annual Governor’s Awards in November. O’Hara becomes only the second actress, after Myrna Loy in 1991, to receive an Honorary Oscar without having previously been nominated for an Oscar in a competitive category

O’Hara is survived by a daughter in Ireland.


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