University Press of Kentucky continues to impress with their Screen Classics series of biographies; a far cry from the lackluster series of movie encyclopedias masquerading as biographies which were their earlier output. Much like author Christina Rice, author Aubrey Malone creates a tender and intriguing glimpse into the world of Maureen O’Hara, one of the remaining beauties of Hollywood‘s Golden Era. Drawing on O’Hara’s own autobiography, itself a must-read, as well as analysis of her movies and other sources of information, Malone crafts a thorough biography even if, at times, O’Hara still appears as an enigma.
Maureen O’Hara generally played the fireball, the spunky Irish lass who couldn’t be contained by mere men. She always needed a man’s man like John Wayne to love her, even if that meant disrespecting her. Malone’s book is a biography with a splash of feminist analysis included. Without stepping on the story of O’Hara’s time in Hollywood, Malone explores whether O’Hara was a feminist actress and what her movies were truly saying. The work O’Hara did with director John Ford and Wayne remains the best of the bunch – Malone continually refers back to The Quiet Man; a film both her and O’Hara agreed was her best – but they weren’t always on the forefront of feminine respectability. Binding the two elements is John Ford himself, a man who was either obsessed with O’Hara or just felt she wasn’t that good of an actress. His bizarre “jokes,” such as stealing items of O’Hara’s and breaking into her house border on sexual harassment today, and were never properly explained by anyone.
O’Hara remains an actress who understands propriety; Malone mentions O’Hara’s refusal to do cheesecake shots or any photos showcasing too much cleavage. At times, though, there’s still a veil between the reader and O’Hara. In her autobiography, itself rather candid, O’Hara pulled away from revealing all and Malone is only able to go so far. Questions about what male star O’Hara might have seen kissing John Ford, or what she whispered to John Wayne at the end of The Quiet Man remain forever a mystery. Other issues, like the real feelings of O’Hara with regards to her trouble marriage to Will Price and his subsequent suicide also remain elusive. Sure, O’Hara gave quotes on the matter, but they’re a bit too polished. In the end, the hurdle to surpass is O’Hara’s own elusiveness. She’s cultivated an image and there’s no ignoring that, and unfortunately Malone is never able to get completely backstage. It’s not detrimental to the book, but you certainly yearn for more.
Malone fills in the gaps as best she can, and instead of skimping on readers, she gives an amazing and thought-provoking analysis on O’Hara’s films. Standing alongside O’Hara’s own autobiography, Maureen O’Hara: The Biography is wonderful. O’Hara remains a vibrant star in the Hollywood firmament; a woman who did a bit of everything while never ignoring her Irish roots. If you’re a fan, or just want to learn about this amazing redhead, pick up a copy.
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A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.