Queen of Technicolor dies at 95

Maureen O'Hara was called the Queen of Technicolor because nothing seemed to show off the film process' splendour better than her red hair, green eyes and flawless complexion.
Maureen O'Hara was called the Queen of Technicolor because nothing seemed to show off the film process' splendour better than her red hair, green eyes and flawless complexion.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

NEW YORK • Maureen O'Hara, the spirited, Irish-born actress who played tempestuous beauties opposite all manner of adventurers in escapist movies of the 1940s and 1950s, died last Saturday at her home in Boise, Idaho. She was 95.

Mr Johnny Nicoletti, her long-time manager, confirmed her death.

O'Hara was called the Queen of Technicolor because when that film process came into use, nothing seemed to show off its splendour better than her rich red hair, bright green eyes and flawless peachesand-cream complexion.

One critic praised her in an otherwise negative review of the 1950 film Comanche Territory with the sentiment: "Framed in Technicolor, Miss O'Hara somehow seems more significant than a setting sun."

Even the creators of the process claimed her as its best advertisement.

Yet, many of the films that made her a star were in black and white. They included her first Hollywood movie The Hunchback Of Notre Dame (1939), in which she played haunted Gypsy girl Esmeralda to Charles Laughton's Quasimodo; the Oscar-winning How Green Was My Valley (1941), in which she was memorable as a Welsh mining family's beautiful daughter who marries the wrong man; and Miracle On 34th Street (1947), the holiday classic in which she played a cynical, modern Macy's executive who tries to prevent her daughter from believing in Santa Claus.

Perhaps the best remembered of her colour films was director John Ford's The Quiet Man (1952). Her character, the proud, stubborn and passionate Mary Kate Danaher, refuses to consummate her marriage to an Irish-American boxer played by John Wayne until he fights for her dowry.

Wayne once paid her what he considered the highest compliment. "I've had many friends and I prefer the company of men, except for Maureen O'Hara," he said. "She is a great guy."

O'Hara was born as Maureen FitzSimons on Aug 17, 1920, in Ranelagh, Ireland, on the outskirts of Dublin. She was the second of six children of Charles FitzSimons, a clothing-business manager and part-owner of a soccer team, and the former Marguerita Lilburn, a singer.

She began appearing in school plays as a child and was accepted as a student at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin when she was 14.

She was married three times. In 1939, she wed film producer George H. Brown, who later became the father of magazine editor Tina Brown. That marriage was dissolved in 1941, when she married writer and director Will Price. They had a daughter and divorced in 1953.

Fifteen years later, she married General Charles F. Blair, an Air Force aviator who operated Antilles Air Boats, a small Caribbean airline. The couple lived in St Croix, in the Virgin Islands, and she largely left show business behind, choosing to publish a magazine, The Virgin Islander. She took over Antilles after General Blair's death in 1978.

She is survived by her daughter, a grandson and two great-grandchildren.

Although O'Hara took on dual citizenship, she was intensely proud of her Irishness.

When a journalist asked her in 2004 how she remained so beautiful, she explained: "I was Irish. I remain Irish. And Irish women don't let themselves go."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 26, 2015, with the headline 'Queen of Technicolor dies at 95'. Subscribe