Maureen O’Hara: Film’s Iron Lady

Hollywood icon stood toe to toe with John Wayne

One glance at Maureen O’Hara, and it was clear why she was deemed the “Queen of Technicolor.” The red hair, her flawless features — it was if she was created in some vast Hollywood lab.

Despite her beauty and talent, it was difficult to see her as a sex symbol. She was different from almost every woman on screen. She managed to be gorgeous, but she displayed no vulnerability, a prime selling point of the day’s actresses. That just wasn’t her.

O’Hara, who died Saturday at the age of 95, was like no other star before her or since, which made her the perfect foil and match for the toughest man in the history of Hollywood.

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For 40 years culture has been crying out for the strong woman to emerge, especially on film and TV, and there was O’Hara. She was not only a strong female, but one of the strongest personalities in the history of film. O’Hara had no problems with the traditional female role, which would be the out naysayers would take when using her as an example. But facts are, she represented what few people truly have.

Today’s Amy Schumers decry sexism in their ironies, or on campus they hide in their safe spaces while clinging to their list of microaggressions. O’Hara was a walking trigger warning. We do not know the mental state of O’Hara in the last years of her life, if she was aware of social media (it’d be almost disappointing if she were). She was so clear of personality, so confident, her existence seems almost a myth at a time when people break down over what’s said about them on a computer screen.

On the surface “The Quiet Man” would be hated by feminists.

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A case could be made that not only was she the strongest female in the history of Hollywood, but the strongest character as well. While the obits highlights “Miracle on 34th Street,” or “Hunchback of Notre Dame,” O’Hara’s seminal role was opposite the toughest man in the history of cinema, John Wayne in “The Quiet Man.”

The two matched as part opponents, part love interests. On the surface the movie would be hated by feminists, especially the scene of Wayne dragging O’Hara from the train station to her brother’s farm, with citizens offering twigs to teach her lesson.

But it was O’Hara who forced the issue, made Wayne love and marry her on her own terms and honor her in her own culture. Wayne’s Sean Thornton, a boxer raised in Pittsburgh, killed a man in the boxing ring. Looking to escape the life, he swears off fighting and moves to his birthplace of Ireland.

Despite her beauty and absolute talent, it was difficult to see her as a sex symbol.

He falls for O’Hara, but Wayne’s “leave well enough alone” attitude isn’t enough for her. She wants love on her terms and Wayne on her terms, and it leads to one of the most famous fights in film history. Victor McLaglen, playing O’Hara’s older brother, brawls with Wayne’s Thornton between farms and villages in one of the great and unexpected movie climaxes.

“The Quiet Man” remains separate from so many other films in the Wayne canon (it wasn’t a war movie or Western for that matter), but mostly due to his tit-for-tat relationship with O’Hara’s Mary Kate. Sure, Bruce Dern got the best of him by shooting him in the back in “The Cowboys,” but O’Hara got him in the heart and everywhere else. She starred in four other movies with Wayne, but the fire was never quite the same.

Some people prepare for job interviews by searching YouTube for various inspirational movie scenes (you know them all – “Any Given Sunday,” Braveheart,” “300,” “Independence Day,” “Rocky”). If I’m hit with a rare crisis of confidence, I like to watch O’Hara. Her posture, her poise, her speech — feminine or not, it’s pure strength. Thank God she went to Hollywood and shared it with the rest of us.

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