miracle on 34th street 1947

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Classic Christmas Movies - Part I:  It’s a Wonderful life, 1947; White Christmas, 1954; Miracle on 34th Street, 1947;  The Shop around the Corner, 1940; The Bishop’s Wife, 1947; Holiday Affair, 1949;  Christmas in Connecticut, 1945; Holiday Inn, 1942; The Man who came to dinner, 1942.  

Obit of the Day: The Queen of Technicolor

Maureen O’Hara (born Maureen FitzSimons) almost never made it to Hollywood. The Irish-born actress filmed a screen test in London and despised how she looked in makeup and dress and decided that her career in film was a lost cause. But legendary leading man Charles Laughton saw the test, and, in a hint of things to come, was taken by Ms. O’Hara’s eyes. So at his behest, she was cast in Alfred Hitchcock’s last London-made movie, Jamaica Hall (1939).

Upon her arrival in California, Ms. O’Hara was cast immediately as the leading lady Esmerelda in The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1940), which co-starred Mr. Laughton. A year later she was featured in John Ford’s How Green Was My Valley, a partnership that would last through four more films, most famously The Quiet Man (1952) which featured John Wayne, another perennial co-star for Ms. O’Hara who liked to say, “I was the only leading lady big enough and tough enough for John Wayne.”

For millions of fans, Ms. O’Hara is best known not as the beautiful damsel in distress but the no-nonsense single mother of Natalie Wood in the Christmas classic Miracle on 34th Street (1947). Given top billing in the film, the movie earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture.

Generally, Ms. O’Hara was disappointed in her roles which rarely allowed her to stretch her acting talents: “Hollywood would never allow my talent to triumph over my face.” However it was that face that also earned her the nickname “The Queen of Technicolor” as the new large color format highlighted her red hair and green eyes. And it was also her looks, which she maintained for decades, that she remained proud of declaring, in 2004, “I was Irish. I remain Irish. And Irish women don’t let themselves go.”

Her roles evolved and by the 1960s she was no longer seen by fans as a sex symbol but as a maternal figure in films such as Mrs. Miniver (1960, a made-for-TV version of the Oscar-winning movie) and the original Parent Trap (1961). Throughout the rest of the decade and into the 1970s she made various television and film appearances but her career tailed off after 1973.

She made a triumphant return in 1991′s Only the Lonely, which featured her as John Candy’s overbearing and downright rude mother in the dark romantic comedy. It was to be her last feature film appearance.

Maureen O’Hara, who was given an honorary Academy Award in 2015, died on October 24, 2015 at the age of 95. 

Sources: NY Times, LA Times, IMDB.com

Image of Maureen O’Hara from 1955 is a publicity photo from the film Lisbon and is copyright of Leo Fuchs. It is courtesy of hollywoodlady.tumblr.com

I wasn’t a ‘child star’ in the sense of, say, Shirley Temple. But I can sympathize with some of the problems that people like Judy Garland and Jackie Cooper went through. By the time I arrived, there were laws to protect you, to ensure that you got proper schooling and that you actually got to see the money you earned. One particularly difficult time was when I was making “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir” (1947) and “Miracle on 34th Street” simultaneously. One was a period film, the other a contemporary; in one I was a sweet kid, in the other a bratty kid. That is difficult for a 9-year-old to handle. That’s one of the reasons I later went into analysis — to sort all that out.