I read with interest the piece written by Des MacHale, “Maureen O’Hara deserves Oscar for life’s work.”
It is true, Maureen may have been passed over for performance and lifetime achievement by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, but to say she is more deserving than those they do select would be inappropriate.
First of all, you do not “campaign” to beg the academy to take notice. There is a very rigid and fair process that the academy has in place. All nominations must come from a board member. They follow the guidelines set down for the selection of those to be recognized. It isn’t a popularity contest. Maureen O’Hara does not “beg” for recognition. It isn’t necessary.
As the editor/designer of Ms. O’Hara’s official website for the past 15 years, I have had quite an adventure. Not only has Maureen become a good friend, but my association with her has provided the experience of communicating with movie studios, TV networks, writers, newspapers, magazine, etc.
I have written many magazine articles about her, have been interviewed as her archivist in the A&E biography of her in 2000, and for the new documentary “Dreaming the Quiet Man,” a project in the making by Loopline Film in Dublin and to be released later this year.
Back in 1991 I simply wanted to try my hand at freelance writing and a writer-friend of mine suggested I first write about something I really loved. Well, I loved the performing arts, the movies, and,in particular, the multifaceted talent of Maureen O’Hara.
I began my research and it became so interesting that I was still researching long after my little article published in a classic film nostalgia magazine.
I literally camped at the local library pouring over microfiche articles about Maureen’s late husband, General Charles F. Blair, her connection to the airline industry and their wonderful love story.
I also found clips of her singing (few people knew about her wonderful soprano voice – which Hollywood never really utilized).
When Maureen wasn’t making movies she was signing and even dancing on TV shows: Perry Como, Andy Williams, Ernie Ford. She was nothing short of spectacular with that vibrant voice and that Irish beauty. Had MGM (not Fox) been her studio she may now be better known for her musical talent.
Maureen O’Hara’s career does not begin and end with “The Quiet Man.” In fact, for the most part, Ireland wasn’t all that pleased with the film upon its release in 1952. They are even writing books today in criticism of the costuming, the stage Irishness, and even the cinematography of Oscar winner Winton Hoch.
I knew at the onset, long before I ever even thought of meeting Maureen, knew if I was going to write about her, I needed to speak with people who have worked with her.
Since Los Angeles is just a 45-minute flight from my home in Phoenix I began setting up interviews in with those actors I could locate. The lovely Anna Lee (then a starring player in the TV soap General Hospital) was first to welcome me into her home.
Maureen and Anna were close friends off-screen as well. In fact, Maureen named her daughter, Bronwyn, after the character Anna played as Maureen’s sister-in-law in “How Green Was My Valley,” an Academy Award winning John Ford film in 1941.
Interviews to follow were with John Agar (from the film “Big Jake” 1971), Harry Carey, Jr., (Rio Grande, The Long Gray Line, and Big Jake), Paul Keyes (comedy writer and producer of All-star Tribute to John Wayne where Maureen sang “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Your Face” to Duke on this TV special).
In 1993, with the help of writer Angela Fox Dunn, I was able to interview Maureen’s brother, Charlie FitzSimons, then the executive director of the Producers Guild in Beverly Hills. Through Charlie I was able to get to know Maureen and then build our website with their help and input, for accuracy of information and general content.
To quote Charlie in that early interview, “In Ireland, the family comes first, then the family dog…and anything else is 26th or 27th.”
I certainly found this to be true and soon learned that Maureen’s family was equally as interesting as “herself.”
Would it be justified if Maureen could be recognized by the academy for her lifetime work? Sure, but it really isn’t necessary. While other stars’ Oscars are gathering dust on their mantels, Maureen’s films are being handed down to new generations as all-time classics.
“Hunchback of Notre Dame” and “How Green Was My Valley” are shown as part of the curriculum in schools and universities in the United States. “Miracle on 34th Street” and “The Quiet Man” grace TV channels for Christmas and St. Patrick’s Day, and “The Parent Trap” (1963) still reigns as one of Maureen and Disney’s biggest and most enduring hits.
Jeanine Basinger, cinema author and Professor of Film Studies at Wesleyan University wrote about Maureen in her recent book “The Star Machine.” I received this note from Prof. Basinger: “She is a fine actress, a stunningly beautiful woman (one of the most so in film history), a versatile performer, and a real icon. As I say in my new book, many of the ‘legends’ never appeared in as many films that are taught in colleges now as O’Hara did.
“To my students, she is better known (and more loved) than Davis, Crawford, Garbo or many others. I believe that history is turning her into the legend she really is, and making a super star out of her Just being in the John Ford movies…playing opposite Wayne as much as she did…or appearing in the annual showings of Miracle On 34th Street alone guarantees her legend.”
Maureen was thrilled recently when she was forwarded an email from a cameraman, Butch Pierson, who worked with her on one of her made-for-TV movies, “Cab to Canada,” in 1998.
Wrote Pierson: “Dear Maureen, I hope this letter gets to you. I don’t know if you remember me but I will never forget you. I was the 1st assistant camera on both Christmas Box and Cab to Canada. Never before or since has an actress had such a great effect on my career in the motion picture business. I have now been in the film business for almost 30 years and truly the highlight of my career was working with you.
“To me you personify what Movie making is all about. Your professionalism, decor on set, treatment of all those around you is the finest example of the way Actors, Actresses and all crew should treat their approach to work. Your beauty and grace has touched my life. This type of genuine beauty is rare in today’s world. I remember the times that I was able to meet with you in your trailer, to talk about your career as an actress, has etched an indelible memory in my mind. You made me feel a part of the history of movie making. I am truly grateful that I had the opportunity to work alongside one of the Greats of Hollywood.”
Letters like this from cinema professors, those who have worked with her in every phase of the business, and accolades from fans all over the world, pretty much signify Maureen O’Hara is already a winner.
I love to quote her own words when she appeared with John Candy on the Johnny Carson Show in 1991. They were there promoting the film “Only the Lonely,” which marked Maureen’s return to the theatrical screen after a 20 year absence.
Carson asked her how she felt about appearing in so many all-time classic films. Maureen quipped, “A hundred years from now….long after I’m nailed into the box, you’ll still be seeing Maureen O’Hara every Christmas and St. Patrick’s Day.”
And you know what, it’s now 18 years later and Maureen O’Hara is still center stage She didn’t need Oscar recognition to achieve this.
June Parker Beck is the editor of the official Maureen O’Hara website.