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Maureen O’Hara: It’s the Rub o’ the Red

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Maureen O’Hara still has fiery red hair.

She still has hazel eyes.

She still has the peaches-and-cream Irish skin and the red lips that men loved to kiss on screen. Try to find a wrinkle.

But, best of all, the Technicolor Queen--the heroine of the swashbuckling Westerns with John Wayne and the pirate films with Tyrone Power, Errol Flynn and Douglas Fairbanks Jr.--is still blazing in personality.

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The American Ireland Fund can hardly wait to have her wear the green and receive its prestigious Heritage Award Wednesday at the Regent Beverly Wilshire, the first woman to receive the award.

The affair annually fetes an American of Irish descent. O’Hara follows in the glow of Gene Kelly, Carroll O’Connor and Merv Griffin.

O’Hara, Big Red on the set, recently returned to the screen after an absence of almost 20 years to star in the role of Rose Muldoon, a nasty, domineering and sentimental personality in 20th Century Fox’s romantic comedy, “Only the Lonely.”

Where has Maureen O’Hara been for two decades? She married a real-life swashbuckler--aviator Brig. Gen. Charles F. Blair and quit Hollywood.

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The couple lived on St. Croix in the Virgin Islands in the winter and at Glengarriff in West Cork, Ireland, in the summer.

Blair died in an air crash in 1978, and O’Hara became the first female president of an airline, she says, as head of his Antilles Airboats.

She also published the Virgin Islander, Blair’s Caribbean magazine, which she subsequently sold to the Gannett newspaper chain.

“Big Jake,” opposite John Wayne, in 1971, had been her farewell to Hollywood.

Appropriately, Wayne’s son, Michael Wayne, and his socially prominent wife Gretchen, head the Ireland benefit.

Who were her two favorite co-stars? “Why did you have to make that so difficult,” she says. “If you had asked one, I’d say John Wayne. But two--I couldn’t choose--Henry Fonda? Brian Keith? Jimmy Stewart?” And, yes, John Payne was wonderful.

“They were all fine actors, gentlemen, intelligent, considerate--fine people. They were tough and strong. I was tough and strong.”

Gretchen Wayne sits in on the interview. Maureen tells her anecdotes she’s never heard before.

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“Duke got $100,000 on ‘The Quiet Man.’ And I got $75,000.” In this classic set in Ireland, her favorite film, she plays the role of a feisty Mary Kate Danaher, who refuses to consummate her marriage to Sean Thornton (Wayne), an ex-boxer from America, until her brother pays her dowry.

Both she and Wayne, she recalls, took cuts in salary to do the film for director John Ford, and they agreed to make another film, “Rio Grande,” to recoup the loss.

O’Hara miscellaneous:

She sewed all the curtains in her Ireland home. She never sleeps fewer than eight hours a night. She skips vitamins, takes off her makeup with cold cream and has never had a face lift. (“But, if it makes you happy, and you don’t like what you see in the mirror, well, God bless you, but get a good surgeon.”) And, she was born Aug. 17, 1920.

Her view on aging, “We get wiser and much more intelligent and realize all the mistakes . . . and wish we had time to rectify.”


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