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THE REDHEAD AT NINETY; MAUREEN O'HARA LOOKS BACK AT HER LIFE AS A HOLLYWOOD GREAT.

Byline: Andrew Gerard

SHE was once described as the woman Technicolor was invented for.

With her lustrous red hair and beautiful green eyes, the camera loved Maureen O'Hara.

So did the moviegoing public, who flocked to see the Irishwoman who captured their hearts in some of the biggest films produced in the golden era of Hollywood.

And tomorrow marks a magic milestone for the star when she celebrates her 90th birthday.

O'Hara will do so in Glengarriff in County Cork where she has lived for many years.

She's been reminiscing about her extraordinary life and career - "I'm very grateful to God for letting me live this long," she said.

And she can look back on some stunning appearances.

O'Hara was spellbinding in her major film debut in Jamaica Inn (1939), then gained stardom as Esmeralda, the gypsy girl loved by Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939). She was a heartbreaker as Angharad, the Welsh girl thwarted in love in How Green Was My Valley (1941).

That film was the first of five for legendary director John Ford, who teamed her with John Wayne in the cavalry epic Rio Grande shortly before making the film that sealed O'Hara's status as a true star - The Quiet Man.

Her Mary Kate Danaher opposite Wayne's Sean Thornton boosted her fame worldwide, but led to the one regret in her career: "I never won the Academy Award. I think I should have for The Quiet Man."

The young tomboy O'Hara was always destined for an acting life.

Born in Dublin, her businessman father Charles FitzSimons was an unusual Irishman for his time - he preferred soccer to Gaelic football and was even banned from playing the latter as he liked the "British" game.

O'Hara's mother Marguerita was a trained opera singer and she wanted to follow in her foosteps - her soprano voice was a regular feature on top US TV shows in the 50s and 60s.

Like most of the family of six children, O'Hara got acting lessons from an early age - her brothers Charles and James FitzSimons can be seen in The Quiet Man."I was raised in an acting atmosphere," she said. "I thought I was one of the best in the world, I can't help it - but I did!"

She was certainly good enough to join the Abbey Theatre in Dublin as a teenager and, while there, Charles Laughton, the biggest British star of the time, spotted her talent.

He signed her to his Mayflower Productions and starred opposite her in three films, beginning with Jamaica Inn, made when she was just 18.

In a career spanning seven decades, O'Hara's biggest successes, apart from Miracle On 34th Street, came from roles opposite "The Duke" in five films.

Happy

Wayne loved her no-nonsense approach and the two became lifelong friends - it was O'Hara who begged the US Congress to strike a special medal for Wayne in 1979, saying, "The medal should say just one thing, John Wayne, American," exactly what it said.

O'Hara also starred alongside legends such as Tyrone Power, James Stewart, John Payne, Henry Fonda and Douglas Fairbanks Jnr.

She said: "I'm proud to say leading men enjoyed working with me because I was tough, I did all my own stunts and took no nonsense from anybody.

"I worked hard and always knew my lines. I enjoyed it. I really did enjoy it."

Though happy in Ireland, O'Hara has always been careful to credit America for her fame and fortune: "The States couldn't have been more wonderful to any Irish family than it has been to us."

She's been critical about some of her films, but knows who to credit for her triumphs: "When you make a movie and it is a success - you have to thank God, believe me".

O'Hara has known heartache, however. Her only child, daughter Bronwyn, came from her failed marriage to director Will Price, an abusive alcoholic.

Her subsequent blissful 10-year marriage to airline boss and top pilot Charles Blair ended with his death in a mysterious aircraft crash.

Though physically frail, the star retains her intellect as well as her twin passions for Ireland and movies.

She is drawing those two interests together in the Maureen O'Hara Legacy Centre which will be based in a new building in Glengarriff.

And her advice to young people wanting a career in drama?

"If you really want it, go after it - and learn how to speak properly, for God's sake!"

HER MAJOR BIG SCREEN TRIUMPHS

JAMAICA INN (1939)

THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (1939)

HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY (1941)

SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY (1946)

SINBAD THE SAILOR (1947)

MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET (1947)

RIO GRANDE (1950)

THE QUIET MAN (1952)

THE REDHEAD FROM WYOMING (1953)

OUR MAN IN HAVANA (1959)

SPENCER'S MOUNTAIN (1963)

CAPTION(S):

TOP GAL: With leading men (from top) Fonda, John Payne, Wayne and Douglas Fairbanks Jnr STARRING ROLES: With Rex Harrison, John Wayne in The Quiet Man and retirement in Ireland, right.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Aug 16, 2010
Words:828
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