By the 1950s Irish actress Maureen O’Hara had established herself as one of Hollywood’s greatest stars, making her an obvious choice for an appearance on the popular TV show, This is Your Life.
She appeared on the show on 27 March 1957. Presenter Ralph Edwards surprised her at a Hollywood awards ceremony and issued the famous phrase: Maureen O’Hara – This is Your Life.
She is then whisked back to the TV studios where she is accompanied on to the set by three pipers in traditional costumes performing The Wearing of the Green.
Edwards introduces her as “our lovely Irish colleen Maureen O’Hara” and the Irish theme continues throughout the show.
The story begins with O’Hara’s childhood in Ranelagh on the outskirts of Dublin which, Edwards reminds us, is in the “Emerald Isle whose ancient heroes include St Patrick and Brian Boru”.
Freckle-faced redhead…and a tomboy
Her father owned a sporting goods shop and her mother was a singer. She was the second of six children including four girls and two boys. She was freckled face and the only redhead in the family…and a tomboy.
Her parents, who moved to California following O’Hara’s success, appear on the show and describe how she was very athletic as a child. “She used to love to play an Irish game called camogie – a form of legalised mayhem.”
Her rather was a director of the soccer team Shamrock Rovers. “The best team in Ireland,” says Maureen defiantly. “I’m not debating with you,” Edwards replies, obviously concerned about O’Hara’s reputation for being feisty.
Edwards then suggests that her athletic childhood led on to her insisting that she did most of her own stunts in movies.
The night she heard the Irish banshee wail
At one point, O’Hara describes hearing the banshee- fairy woman – when she was a child. Something she takes very seriously. She says: “In America people have come to laugh about it but it’s very serious in Ireland. I heard the banshee once with my father when my grandmother died. It’s a terrible wail.”
Her brothers and sisters appear on the show and describe how Maureen was enthusiastic about acting from the time she was a small child. They put on plays together for the family.
Her brother Charles says: “Maureen used to write the shows, direct them, produce them, star in them and of course we all played bit parts whether we liked it or not.
Her other brother James says: “Mammie and daddy used to be our main audience, sometimes friends and neighbours. We used to charge them a penny to see the show and then go down to buy sweets and sometimes Maureen would share them.” O’Hara responds with mock disapproval and points out that she sometimes let them have a lick of the sweets.
O’Hara went to acting school in Dublin at the age of 11 but her mother didn’t tell her father for a year. He didn’t approve of acting as a career and wanted something more dependable for Maureen.
O’Hara took shorthand notes on the Quiet Man from Ford
It meant that as well as acting, she also trained as a shorthand typist and bookkeeper. She says: “As a matter of fact I took the script of the Quiet Man from Mr Ford in shorthand and typed it, not the script but the notes for it.”
At age of 15, she won first prize at the national festival of performing arts.
At 17, had screen test in London, which didn’t go well at first but went on to provide her with her first big break.
The actor Charles Lawton appears on the show and talks about how she got the part in her first big film, Jamaica Inn, directed by Alfred Hitchcock.
He says she had been badly made up for a screen test, which made her look older than she was, but even so the beauty of her profile shone through. Lawton says: “We sent for you and you blew into the office like a hurricane…tweed suit on, hair sticking out and coming from Ireland…and said: ‘what d ye’s want with me?”
“I took you out for lunch. I asked you why you wanted to be an actress and I’ll never forget your reply: You said: ‘When I was a child I used to go down the garden and talk to the flowers and I would pretend I was the flowers talking back to myself.’
“And doing that you’d have to be a pretty nice girl and a pretty nice actress too…and heaven knows you’re both.”
Why she changed her name from Fitzsimon to O’Hara
Movie producer Eric Palmer also appears on show and explains why they changed her last name from Fitzsimon to O’Hara when producing Jamaica Inn. He said: “Fitzsimon was too long for the movie poster so we gave her a shorter name, either Maureen O’Mara or O’Hara…she chose O’Hara
O’Hara replies: “I owe my whole career to Mr Palmer.”
Following the success of Jamaica Inn she was taken to Hollywood by RKO and John Ford got her to star in How Green was My Valley. John Ford is in the audience and O’Hara shouts out to him, describing him as: “My favourite director.”
The show ends with O’Hara’s daughter Bronwen coming on stage.
You can watch Maureen O’Hara on This is Your Life in the video below.