R.I.P. Maureen O’Hara

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I was barely home this weekend, so I did not have a chance to commemorate the passing of the extraordinarily beautiful, talented, and sexy-feisty Maureen O’Hara. Coincidentally, I was hired a couple of weeks ago to write an essay about John Wayne in The Quiet Man (a movie I have seen probably 50 times. It’s a requirement for Irish-Americans. We’d be deported if we didn’t like it. I know the Irish dislike the movie. I can see why. But I also can understand why it is a classic amongst Irish-Americans, as well as, in general, John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara fans.)

Along with The Quiet Man, I also grew up watching The Parent Trap. At a party on Saturday, thinking of Maureen O’Hara’s impressive bullet-bras in The Parent Trap, I mused, casually, standing among a group of men, “She has some nice tits in that movie,” and the men erupted into laughter. One guy said, “Yeah, that’s exactly how I’d describe Parent Trap. The great-tits movie.”

I wasn’t even drinking.

I also wasn’t lying. Exhibit A:

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My good friend Dan Callahan penned the tribute to Maureen O’Hara over at Rogerebert.com, and as usual he does not disappoint. While it is The Quiet Man for which she will be forever known, there was a lot more going on there, and Dan gets into it.

I love the mention of the famous whisper at the end of The Quiet Man. Let’s take a look so we can analyze.

In her memoir, O’Hara describes the filming of that whisper. John Ford came up to Maureen O’Hara and told her what he would like her to whisper. The whisper would not be heard on camera, he assured her. But the moment would close out the movie. We do not know what Ford told her to say, and in the memoir, O’Hara describes how she protested. We can only imagine that whatever John Ford told her to say must have been filthy. X-rated. And immediately after the whisper, the two run – yes, RUN – back to the thatched cottage together.

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I mean, look at John Wayne’s reaction to the whisper. (He had not been told what O’Hara would whisper.) To be graphic (I’m sorry), once he’s heard what she said, he looks like a hard-on personified.

We were talking about that moment at the same party, and about 5 minutes after the “great tits in Parent Trap” comment, Dan said, “What do you think Ford told her to say?” and I guessed, “Oh, something like, ‘I want your cock …'” (SHEILA.) More eruptions of laughter. There were people there who did not know me so I can only guess what I seemed like, rattling off: “O’Hara had great tits and she wanted Wayne’s cock.” But Dan said, “Yeah, it must have been something along those lines.” O’Hara, who was NOT shy, and NOT a prude, balked at that whisper, and made Wayne and Ford promise that they would never reveal what she said. (They didn’t.) She wrote in her memoir, “I’ll never tell.”

Dan writes in his beautiful piece:

O’Hara never did reveal what Mary Kate Danaher whispers to Sean Thornton at the end of “The Quiet Man,” taking that secret with her to her grave. But that secret is maybe the password to forever halt or ameliorate the battle of the sexes, and O’Hara’s Mary Kate still holds that up to us as a beacon and a goal.

But that secret is maybe the password to forever halt or ameliorate the battle of the sexes” …I love that.

And finally, on The Quiet Man train, I am so grateful for the nerds out there who create gifs of the exact moment I want.

In the famous kiss-scene in the cemetery during the rainstorm, O’Hara’s character is at first shocked (and pretending to be insulted) when Wayne’s Sean Thornton announces that he is about to kiss her. (Of course, their very first up-close-and-personal interaction, before they exchanged a “Hello, nice to meet you”, was a passionate kiss in a windstorm. Again with the right gif!!)

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But in the cemetery, they are now in the proper approved courtship stage, and they’ve talked a bit, fought a bit, and they know each other better. Mary Kate Danaher tries to put him off. Courtship needs to go in the proper phases. Walking out together, etc. No kissing until much later. But Sean Thornton tells her, “Nope. We’re not gonna do it that way.” He knows she wants it. (This is Wayne’s most carnal performance. He was always fully engaged with his sexuality in his roles, in a fresh and natural way, even if there wasn’t a love story. But The Quiet Man, with its frustrations, its lack of sex, its unconsummated wedding night, puts Wayne into the realm of ONLY operating from his sexuality. And … it’s something to see, right?)

Then comes a wild thunderstorm and Mary Kate gets freaked out. It is the damnation of God coming down upon her for impure thoughts. The rain pours down and the two hide under a nearby arch, dating from 1354, or whatever. Eventually, they start to kiss passionately. And, sexiest of all, John Wayne’s white shirt becomes completely see-through, clinging to his impressive body, as he holds her in his arms. Macho gruff John Ford knew exactly what he was doing, knew he was objectifying John Wayne – for himself, and for the audience – and that the camera was reveling in John Wayne’s sexual persona.

There it is.

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One of my favorite quotes from the Scott Eyman biography of John Wayne comes from Maureen O’Hara (who remained mentally sharp up until the end). John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara were friends for most of their lives. Everybody thought they were having sex, but Maureen says No, and close friends of Wayne say No, and Eyman also says No. So I think the evidence is pretty stacked up on the No side. Wayne was fully capable of being platonic friends with women (not a lot of men manage it). O’Hara worked with John Ford and John Wayne a number of times. Ford was tough. He could be impatient, gruff, cruel. O’Hara (and any story she tells needs to be taken with a grain of salt, especially her memoir) tells of one of her first days on Quiet Man and Ford screamed at her about something. Berating her in front of the whole crew. O’Hara fought back, loudly, shouting in his face that he was an asshole. Everyone watched this confrontation cowering in fear. But Ford backed off, and they were best friends until the end. So there’s that. Eyman also wrote about Wayne’s final illness, as he wasted away into nothing. Wayne, a proud strong man, was embarrassed about what he looked like, and also pretty devastated that the cancer had finally gotten him. He didn’t want his friends to see him like that, and he limited his friends’ access. Only a couple of people were allowed to visit in those final months, of the hundreds of colleagues and admirers who wanted to see him. O’Hara was one of the few allowed in. They spent time together, reminiscing, laughing, saying goodbye.

When Eyman asked O’Hara about her lifelong relationship with these two macho tough guys, and how it worked, O’Hara replied (and I can just hear her), “Well, I was really the only female man left in their lives.”

Once again: Read Dan’s tribute to Maureen O’Hara.

Rest in peace, icon.

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14 Responses to R.I.P. Maureen O’Hara

  1. Paula says:

    Sheila – When I saw the news this weekend, all I could think was the whisper and we will never know. She knew how to keep a secret.

    The bullet bras. Have to think she would have laughed at that.

    • sheila says:

      // all I could think was the whisper and we will never know. //

      I love that, Paula!

      I have actually tried to lip-read it in desperation – but honestly, it’s so clear it’s something so sexy because look at how he perks up, jerking his head back, like, WHAT did you just say to me?? So great!!

      She tells the story in her memoir about her battle with Walt Disney while doing Parent Trap – over the fact that it said in her contract that her name should go above the title. The studio reneged, though, because they wanted to put ” Starring Hayley Mills and Hayley Mills” – above the title, to show off their split-screen photography innovations. A real attention-getting thing on a poster. (Smart, I think, although I get why O’Hara was pissed.) O’Hara made a stink about it, stormed about, made fiery speeches (if you believe her) … did NOT get what she wanted – and voila, she never did a Disney movie again, which is a shame, because she was kind of made for Disney!

  2. This just seems entirely right. The filth is just exactly perfect.

    • sheila says:

      He listens, facing forward, and then he really hears what she’s saying, and jerks his head around to look at her. Makes me laugh every time. And then he chases her back to the house, because of course. Stop waving goodbye – that insanely huge bed awaits in that teeny tiny bedroom.

  3. shine login says:

    What can I say that hasn’t been said already? Especially for all those previous legends who left us golden gifts of creativity and artistry before they disappeared from this tiny Planet? I am simply saddened. Deeply saddened. But, considering the nature of this Art, we are at least left with a vast library of jewels in which they will always return to us, as young (or old), as vital and as talented as they were when they performed their roles in the first place. This is indeed the advantage we, the survivors have. We are left with a great talent school of immortal works. Just as great composers are remembered by their notes on paper and performed by some of the most talented musicians, these actors and actresses, will be remembered forever by their works on film or in digital form, through all the marvelous technical means we have today, and probably will develop even in the future. Despite the deep bitterness their loss leaves in our mouths, the fact that their memory will always be revived through their hard work left for us to cherish, should lift our spirits with a deep desire to follow on, and honor their efforts by trying to emulate them in commitment, dedication, passion and love for this art. Maureen O’Hara was one of the most known actresses of her era and despite not being your usual “sex symbol”, transformed the word femininity into a respectable, intelligent and highly regarded term. I can only tip my hat in front of such a great lady. She will always remain memorable in her roles, as well as the woman who did not flinch in front of even the hardest of men. It has been a honor to have her among us for so long. May you, Maureen FitzSimons, live in our hearts forever, and rest in peace, wherever your spirit is.

  4. tracey says:

    Lovely tribute, Sheila.

  5. Tim Dunleavy says:

    Been checking back every day since Saturday to see what you’d say. And you captured her perfectly – well, no one captured her perfectly, except maybe Wayne, but you know what I mean.

    I think you reawakened my love for Maureen – in the past year I finally saw How Green Was My Valley, Sitting Pretty, and Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation for the first time. So completely different and so wonderful in all of them (though like her, I wish she had more to do in Mr. Hobbs).

    On Saturday morning I happened to read that Huffington Post article about how she got her honorary Oscar, which I had saved in my browser earlier in the week. Then an hour or two later I saw the bulletin that she had just died, and it was like a punch to the gut.

  6. Tom Farrell says:

    Mary Kate was so named after the loves of John Ford’s life, his wife named Mary, and Katharine Hepburn.

  7. Maureen says:

    I hardly know what to say, I love Maureen O’Hara so much. I actually stayed off the internet for a bit after I found out she died-I had to let it sink in. One of my great regrets, my sister and I go to the TCM festival every other year, and she was there on our off year, so we never got to see her. Breaks my heart.

    I love the story Maureen told in her autobiography about her taking Wayne home drunk from a party, and he saying something like “I need a drink, stop!”. They went up to someone’s house and knocked, and he asked if they could have a drink. Could you imagine, sitting home at night, and having John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara knocking on your door? I think I would have fainted.

    The world is a bit less bright now that she is gone…I just loved knowing she was out there, doing her thing.

    • sheila says:

      // I actually stayed off the internet for a bit after I found out she died-I had to let it sink in. //

      Oh Maureen, I so understand that. I thought of you when I heard the news. My first thought was of my test-pilot friend, who is obsessed with Maureen O’Hara due to her devotion to aviation history and the restoration of gorgeous old planes and airboats. She was a hero to my friend for that and he had always said he wanted to meet her and kiss her hand.

      And thank you for reminding me of that hilarious story from her memoir.

      “Is this really happening? John Wayne is here, and he needs a drink? Well, hell, of course I’m gonna give it to him!!”

      It is really wonderful to see how beloved she was, in all of the tributes. 95 years old, man.

      RIP.

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