Ninety-four years have not diminished Maureen O’Hara’s wonderful lilting voice or her unfiltered worldview. The Irish-born actress appeared on film in such classics as The Quiet Man (1952), A Miracle on 34th Street (1947), and the original The Parent Trap (1961). Though she never received a single Oscar nomination, on November 8 she will receive an Honorary Academy Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
“The Oscar [is like] having a hug, having somebody put their arms around you and say ‘Congratulations’ and say you are wonderful,” she says by phone.
When the Academy called to let her know, O’Hara cried. “How do you explain the reaction to something you wished you had won?” she says. “It was wonderful. I was thrilled every time I won a prize in life for acting.” Her grandson, Conor FitzSimons, was also on the phone and explained that O’Hara still has the first prizes she ever won as an actress. They are Ireland’s Feis Awards and they can still be found on the mantle in her house.
With this award O’Hara becomes only the second actor (along with Myrna Loy) to receive an Honorary Oscar without ever having been nominated for one during her career. “It would have been wonderful to be able to stand up there on the platform and thank them for something I really wanted,” she explains. “To thank them for something I really wanted, hoped I was going to win, didn’t know I was going to win and did win.”
O’Hara is probably best known for John Ford’s The Quiet Man, in which she played opposite John Wayne. “I loved everything about it,” she says. “The story, the film, the characters, John Wayne, all the actors who were in the movie. I loved it. And John Ford. When he gave his limited praise, it was heaven to me. That in itself was equal to more than one Academy Award.”
Of her co-star Wayne she says, “He was a great friend. He would do anything for you. He was a family man. He was a real man’s man and it was wonderful to have him in this world with us and be sent here to do whatever God wanted him to do.”
Late in her career O’Hara starred opposite John Candy in the 1991 Chris Columbus-directed film Only the Lonely. Conor spoke up and said that Candy and O’Hara would see each other at church and he’d say they should do a film together. “I loved him because he thought I was a magnificent soprano,” offers O’Hara. “It’s only human nature that I would love him for that.”
These days O’Hara spends quite a bit of time following soccer. “I love soccer. I really do,” she says with a glorious laugh. Her favorite team remains the Shamrock Rovers Football Club, which was partially owned by her father Charles FitzSimons at one point. She’s been a fan since childhood.
With the help of Conor, O’Hara has recently begun work on her acceptance speech. Though she wouldn’t reveal any tidbits, expect some of it to reflect the religious roots of her Irish birthplace. “What’s the most important thing,” she says, “is whatever I gather together when I die, I hope in God’s name it will be acceptable and God will be fine with it.” She asks if I’ve seen The Quiet Man. I have and I adore the movie. “Please keep adoring it. I might be dead and gone someday, but I’ll hear it in heaven if you don’t.”