Hollywood legend Maureen O’Hara’s final public appearance came almost a year ago at the Motion Picture Academy’s 2014 Governors Awards, where she received an honorary Oscar from Clint Eastwood and Liam Neeson.
And you could say that O’Hara went out in a way very much in keeping with her fiery, passionate screen persona.
O’Hara, then 94, her hair still bright, Technicolor red, was the talk of the evening, with legendary Japanese animator and fellow honoree Hayao Miyazaki saying that his “greatest luck” was being able to meet the actress.
Before presenting O’Hara with her Oscar, Eastwood told me, “I came here tonight because I made a movie [‘Lady Godiva of Coventry’] with Maureen O’Hara 60 years ago. For me, at that time, she defined the term ‘movie star.’ She still does, as far as I’m concerned.”
When O’Hara arrived in her wheelchair on the Dolby ballroom stage with the orchestra playing “Danny Boy” (which O’Hara continued to softly sing when the music ended), everyone in the room rose and cheered -- and cheered some more. The ovation was long and heartfelt, befitting a woman who starred in movies as varied as “The Quiet Man,” “The Deadly Companions” and “Miracle on 34th Street.”
After thanking Eastwood and Neeson and saluting her favorite leading men (Charles Laughton and John Wayne) and “that old devil himself,” filmmaker John Ford, who directed O’Hara in five movies including best picture winner “How Green Was My Valley,” O’Hara concluded her speech -- or so everyone thought.
“I’ll leave you with this old Irish saying,” O’Hara said, reading from her prepared speech. “‘May the road rise to meet you, the wind be always at your back and may the sun shine warmly upon your face.’ Good night.”
But when they went to remove her microphone, O’Hara protested, saying, “Oh, no,” adding that she intended to tell her life story. She spoke for another few minutes, talking about growing up in Ireland. When her words became halting and a bit confused, her microphone was unclipped, the orchestra began playing and Eastwood wheeled her off.
O’Hara was not pleased, with one report saying she kicked off one of her shoes leaving the stage. The kind of declarative dissent feels like something the proud woman who defied Wayne in “The Quiet Man” would do, doesn’t it? O’Hara remained uncompromising to the end.
From the archives: An interview with Maureen O’Hara: ‘The Christmas Box,’ wrapped with care