The Many Faces of Maureen O’Hara

Maureen O'Hara in Flame of Araby (1951).
Maureen O'Hara in Flame of Araby (1951).

By June Parker Beck, Contributor
August / September 2010

Maureen O’Hara has celebrated many milestones in her life and career in films. Now in the 21st century, she prepares to celebrate her 90th birthday on August 17. One can’t help but wonder if she could have imagined in her wildest dreams that her image would be gracing a technology called “cyberspace” – that people would be chatting about her on Facebook or that she’d have a website visited by thousands of fans from all over the world.

I can still see her back in 1999 in the dining room of the Glengarriff Golf Club. I was just a first-time tourist to Ireland but in a different capacity than most. I was the editor and designer of Maureen’s official website here in the U.S. and had begun working with her in 1995. Now I was seeing her as Lady President of the golf club. Maureen O’Hara was back from America and was about to begin her duties as sponsor of this annual tournament by presenting trophies to the winners.

I have found in my research and 16-year association with her that she was so multi-faceted that her image kept changing, yet magically remained always the same. Years ago one writer described her as having the beauty of a child in a woman’s body. Her very being is that of a woman whose life experience embraces so many things: a heritage of Irish talent and beauty, a glamorous movie career, world travel, the romance of finally finding the true love of her life, and a sundry of interests and good works.

Maureen has received many honors and awards in her 90 years, and has played many roles in films. However, in real life it was the role of wife to Capt. Charles Blair she cherished most. I came to know the “Mrs. Blair” side of Maureen after about 10 years of research on Gen. Blair’s aeronautic career. To Maureen, Charlie Blair was the star. Charles Blair was the real-life hero that “John” Duke Wayne was on the screen, and just as perfect for Maureen (only as her husband in real life). Blair had been a senior pilot for Pan American World Airways for 29 years, including 10 years with American Overseas Airlines (which merged with Pan Am) and was one of the most honored flyers in history. Even more perfect was the fact that Charles Blair and Wayne became good friends, and had one major thing in common (aside from their love of the game of chess): they both loved Maureen. Wayne and Maureen made five films together and Maureen came to be the preferred on-screen love interest for the legendary Wayne. Off screen Wayne and Maureen did love one another, but as dear and beloved friends, more like brother and sister.

After Blair’s tragic death in a plane crash in 1978, Maureen did her share of crying and then did what was typical of Maureen. She gathered her wits about her and went on, working diligently to further Gen. Blair’s interests in aeronautics. For a few years after the loss of Charles Blair, Maureen continued to manage their commuter airline service in the Caribbean. In that capacity Maureen became the first woman ever to manage a scheduled airline (which she later sold).

Another cherished milestone for Maureen was in 1999 when she walked down 5th Avenue as Grand Marshal of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York City.  She was then age 78 and proudly kept pace with everyone as she listened to throngs of people on the parade route echo their affection: “We love you, Maureen!”

Yes, they will always love Maureen O’Hara.  She represents both Ireland and America…and women of the world in the best possible way.  She has done so for over 60 years.  But in that incredible face I see so much more.  The woman I saw sitting endless hours signing autographs for devoted fans here in America, and the woman I saw in Ireland are one and the same.  As a hopeless romantic I choose to think of her travelling the world with Charles Blair, the love of her life. That would probably have been her best movie of all.

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