Maureen O’Hara, a performer whose 60-year acting career included starring roles in the original versions of Miracle On 34th Street and The Parent Trap, as well as long and fruitful collaborations with John Wayne and director John Ford, has died. O’Hara was 95.
Born in Ireland, O’Hara moved to the U.S. after the outbreak of World War II, where her studio contract landed at RKO. In 1941, she caught the attention of Ford, who cast her as the female lead in his Academy Award-winning ode to family bonds, How Green Was My Valley. From there, O’Hara’s career exploded, with the actress appearing in 39 more films over the next 20 years.
Among her numerous roles: 1947’s Miracle On 34th Street, in which she played the Santa Claus-skeptical mother of Natalie Wood, and Rio Grande, her second film with Ford. The latter was notable for pairing her for the first time with Wayne, who she’d go on to star with in four more films, including McClintock! and The Quiet Man, which O’Hara considered her favorite of her many film roles. Talking about her relationship with Wayne, O’Hara once described their similarities like this: “I was tough. I was tall. I was strong. I didn’t take any nonsense from anybody. He was tough, he was tall, he was strong, and he didn’t take any nonsense from anybody. As a man and a human being, I adored him.”
O’Hara continued to work at a rapid pace during the 1960s, appearing in The Parent Trap for Disney and starring in films like Spencer’s Mountain with Henry Fonda and How Do I Love Thee? with Jackie Gleason. (O’Hara referred to the latter movie as a “terrible film” in her 2004 autobiography, ‘Tis Herself.)
In 1971, O’Hara appeared for the last time with Wayne, in George Sherman’s Big Jake. Afterwards, she entered a decades-long retirement—during which, owing to the death of her husband, she became one of the first female airline owners in America—before returning to the screen in 1991, where she played John Candy’s overbearing Irish mother in Only The Lonely. (O’Hara would later call Candy one of her “all-time favorite leading men.”) She worked on a few more films during the ’90s, before retiring for good in 2000, at the age of 80.
In the intervening years between her retirement and today, O’Hara remained active, writing her autobiography and occasionally appearing to be honored, often for her work with Wayne. Last year, she received an honorary Oscar—her first recognition by the Academy in the entire span of her long career—for her contribution to film. She died earlier this week at her home in Idaho, reportedly surrounded by friends and family, and listening to the soundtrack from The Quiet Man.