When I was a child, I firmly believed that Maureen O’Hara was married to John Wayne. Not only did the two fit, but she was the only female who could have stood so tall against the Duke. As I was convinced the flame haired beauty was Wayne’s wife, in real life, versus, reel life, when Disney’s The Parent Trap came on television it culminated in a moment of confusion, Brian Keith was not the Duke.
O’Hara worked with Wayne on a number of films, each time playing either wife, or (in the case of The Quiet Man 1952) romantic interest and then wife. In each film Maureen played the head strong and formidable female who stood head to toe, metaphorically at least, with her big strong husband.
The news that she died October 24, at the age of 95, in her sleep, stunned me. O’Hara seemed ageless. A woman for all seasons who would live to be 100, herself’s professed goal. The actress, born in Dublin, Ireland, spent her life playing strong positive role models. In a time when feminists were not even contemplating burning a bra, her characters stood up to and ruled the menfolk in many of her films.
Her Mary Kate Danaher, who believes her new husband to be a coward, stands up to him when he “manhandles” her back to fight the bullying brother (Victor McLaglen). The red-haired colleen takes a mighty swing at Sean Thornton but misses.
It was her role in the 1963 comedy western McLintock! (which was retelling of Kiss Me Kate with a cowboy setting) produced by Wayne’s son Michael and directed by Andrew V. McLaughlin where O’Hara proved that not only could she stand up to Duke, but she was adept at comedy. Her bossy, and hilariously gruff, Katherine Gilhooley McLintock ruled the roost.
Her scenes with Chills Wills, who Duke obviously forgave for his tasteless 1960 Best Supporting Actor Oscar campaign for his role as the beekeeper in The Alamo, are brilliantly funny.
Katherine to Drago: “Shut up and do as you’re told.”
Drago: “This here Douglas feller…”
O’Hara could deliver these orders as only she could. With a tone that allowed no argument and gave no quarter. As Barry Fitzgerald’s character Michaleen Oge Flynn the Matchmaker says of Maureen’s Mary Kate, “She’s the tongue of an adder.”
It was with complete delight that I introduced my, then, young daughter to the magic that was Maureen O’Hara when an old friend found a VHS copy of McLintock! and posted it to us in England. Despite the fact that the film is quite chauvinistic in its belief that women secretly want a man to either a) spank them, or b) “man-handle” them, it works precisely because it is a comedic rendering of the Cole Porter adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew.
The plot, of McLintock! deals with a cattle baron being “bullied” by his wife for a crime (lipstick on his collar) for years. When their daughter returns home to the town of McLintock and her father’s 200 square mile spread, Katherine Gilhooley McLintock increases her assault on George Washington “GW” McLintock her husband.
Featuring Patrick Wayne as the love interest of a young Stephanie Powers, the film is a favorite of John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara fans alike. While the movie “condone’s violence toward’s women and the message is very old fashioned, the entire thing is made more palatable by the ending.
After an epic town-long chase, with Katherine being doggedly followed by GW, the two end up at the blacksmith’s, where McLintock spanks Kate with a coal shovel. After tumbling the woman off his lap he tells her, “Now get your divorce.”
Drago, the hired hand, comes up with a wagon and the two men head back to the ranch. Katherine, rubbing her tender nether region, points up at her husband on wagon and shouts:
“Don’t think You’re gonna get rid of me that easy!”
Katherine then runs after the buggy and grabs hold, riding the thing back to the ranch. The film ends shortly after with the two reconciled at last. The scene works, not just because of the writing but because of Maureen O’Hara’s conviction and performance. On screen, the actress was bigger than life.
She was one of a kind and it is all too easy to believe that until she went to sleep at age 95, Maureen must have told the “big fella” that he was not going to get rid of her that easily, as “herself” had plans to stick around another five years.
Maureen O’Hara, actress, star, businesswoman, mother and the onscreen wife of another legend in five films has passed on. I sat and watched McLintock! on Sunday appreciating once more the talent and performance of Ms. O’Hara. Watching the featurette’s afterward, Stephanie Powers revealed that Maureen showed her how to keep the bright lights (used “back in the day” for filming) from affecting her performance. Maureen was a professional as they come and, sadly, there will be no replacement now that she is gone.
Mary Kate Danaher Thornton, Katherine Gilhooley McLintock, Mrs. Kathleen York, Min Wead, Martha McCandles, Martha Price, Olivia Spencer and even Doris Walker (Miracle on 34th Street) were all strong, passionate women who were unforgettable as was Maureen O’Hara herself. All will allow Maureen to live on.
RIP Ms. O’Hara the world will not be the same without you.