Monday, Oct. 28, 2013

Maureen O’Hara

Biography of “Ireland’s First Hollywood Superstar”

By David Luhrssen
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  Maureen O’Hara had Gone with the Wind to thank for her name. Born Maureen FitzSimmons, the comely Dublin lass got her start on stage and on Radio Eieran; her film career began unpromisingly with a blink-and-miss-her cameo in a mediocre English movie musical. But she caught the eye of Charles Laughton; the great actor treated her as a daughter and brought her along with him to Hollywood, where she starred alongside him as Esmeralda in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Convinced that FitzSimmons was a name that would never light a marquee, Laugthon forced the teenage actress to become O’Hara after the Scarlet spitfire from Gone with the Wind.

Aubrey Malone’s Maureen O’Hara: The Biography (published by University Press of Kentucky) chronicles the life of “Ireland’s first Hollywood superstar” with the right measure of telling detail. At under 300 pages including index, filmography and footnotes, it never bogs down in needless digression. Capably researched yet breezily written (“A Street Car Named Retire” is one of the last chapters), the actress emerges as self-deprecating and level headed; a feisty Irishwoman devoted to her family and Roman Catholicism, yet determined to make her way in a man’s world.

Malone’s assessment of O’Hara’s film career minces few words: it had ups and downs. Of her Sam Peckinpah-directed western, The Deadly Companions, he writes: “It’s not a great film; in fact, it’s sometimes an exceedingly poor one.” O’Hara might have agreed.

On a related note, “Irish Catholics in the Golden Age of Hollywood” is the topic of this year's Chuck Ward Memorial Lecture, 7 p.m., Nov. 8 at the Milwaukee Irish Fest Center, 1532 N. Wauwatosa Ave. The speaker is Christopher Shannon, professor of American and Catholic Church history at Christendom College. The event is sponsored by Milwaukee Irish Fest and UW-Milwaukee Center for Celtic Studies.

 

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