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Maureen OHara was a classy veteran of cinemas Golden Age
John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara star in John Ford's classic romance "The Quiet Man" (1952). - photo by Chris Hicks
One of the perks of being a professional critic is interviewing filmmakers and movie stars whose work you admire.

Over my tenure in the 1980s and 90s, I was fortunate enough to sit down with Robert Redford, Paul Newman, Steven Spielberg, the Coen brothers, Jessica Lange, Sally Field, Jack Nicholson, Harrison Ford, Michael Caine, Bill Murray, Glenn Close, Bette Midler, Sigourney Weaver, Jackie Chan and many others.

And while they all provided the Deseret News with stories that readers seemed interested in during those years, I was personally much more enthused when I was able to interview celebrities whose work extended back to the Golden Age of cinema: James Stewart, Angela Lansbury, Blake Edwards, Charlton Heston, Claire Trevor, Don Ameche, Hal Roach, Lloyd Bridges, Stanley Kramer, etc.

But right up at the top was Maureen OHara.

Memories of meeting OHara came flooding back when I read of her passing last weekend at the age of 95.

A solicitation landed on my desk in early May of 1991 about flying to Los Angeles to do interviews for a new John Candy film titled Only the Lonely. Nothing about it sparked my interest until I noticed Maureen OHaras name as co-star. Say what?

I knew OHara had not made a movie for 20 years, not since Big Jake in 1971 with her frequent co-star John Wayne. But to make her return in a comedy as John Candys clinging mother? That seemed to push credulity.

Still, the press material insisted shed be there for interviews. So how could I resist? I was on the next plane.

And during those interviews, the Irish-born OHara was gracious and charming and outspoken, and still the intelligent, attractive flaming redhead with the wide fiery eyes who had graced the big screen in so many colorful adventures from The Black Swan (1942) to The Quiet Man (1952) to McLintock! (1963) that she was dubbed The Queen of Technicolor. She couldnt really be 71, could she?

And it turned out, I wasnt the only one who was enthused about meeting OHara.

Heres my 1991 description of how she immediately grabbed our attention: (OHara) entered the ballroom of the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills and every head turned in her direction. As she sat at our table, with eight newspaper writers ready to pitch questions, she seemed very much in command of the situation.

Indeed, all those stoic, unflappable movie critics from around the country with whom I had rubbed shoulders at previous junkets and who often seemed perturbed that their weekends were interrupted by something so mundane as celebrity interviews were fawning all over OHara, asking her to autograph press-kit photos or to pose with them for selfies (although that word had not yet been invented, and, of course, they held cameras, not phones).

But OHara took it all in stride, regaling us with stories from a period in movies that is still revered by many today as Hollywoods greatest filmmaking era.

She cited director John Ford who guided her through The Quiet Man, Rio Grande (1950) and The Wings of Eagles (1957), all co-starring John Wayne, as well as How Green Was My Valley (1941) and The Long Gray Line (1955) as her favorite director, though he pushed her harder than any other.

I dearly loved him, OHara said, and he was the greatest director I ever worked with. But that didnt stop him being Irish and me being Irish and having bad tempers.

Discussing her retirement, OHara described her third husband, Charles F. Blair, as a real-life adventurer, a retired Air Force brigadier general who received the Harmon Trophy from President Harry S. Truman for the first solo flight over the North Pole before establishing his own airline in the Virgin Islands.

After Blairs death in 1978, OHara became the first female airline president in history and published a magazine for some years, though by 1991 she had sold the airline and the publication.

Given that, it was only natural to ask whether OHara would be back in the movie business after Only the Lonely.

I had never intended to ever work in movies again, she said. Even now I have no agent. Im not entirely committed to coming back to the picture business. But if it was a really good script, and I liked the people involved.

As it turned out, Only the Lonely was OHaras final big-screen film, though she did subsequently star in three made-for-TV movies (one of them adapted from local author Richard Paul Evans The Christmas Box) and she participated in several documentaries.

That brief visit with OHara remains one of the fondest memories of my movie-critic term, and was actually similar to, albeit shorter than, the one described by Candy at that 1991 junket:

We were in Chicago and she flew in, and she came in the room and we lit up and were beaming when she walked in. There were about 30 people in the room and we all (Candy feigns a stunned, jaw-dropping look). What was the protocol of dealing with such a celebrity? We were all tongue-tied. So we went upstairs and chatted for three hours about John Ford and the Duke (John Wayne). And wed still be there today, but we had to shoot the movie.
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