Maureen O’Hara played John Wayne’s estranged wife in “McLintock!” Photography: United Artists

The Irish-born beauty was frequently paired on screen with her good friend John Wayne.

The Cowboys & Indians staff would like to extend condolences and best wishes to the fans, friends and family of Maureen O’Hara, the spirited Irish-born actress who died Saturday at her home in Boise, Idaho. She was 95.

In a statement released to the Irish Independent newspaper, her family said: “It is with a sad heart that we share the news that Maureen O’Hara passed away today in her sleep of natural causes. Maureen was our loving mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and friend. She passed peacefully surrounded by her loving family as they celebrated her life listening to music from her favorite movie, The Quiet Man.”

“Her characters were feisty and fearless, just as she was in real life. She was also proudly Irish and spent her entire lifetime sharing her heritage and the wonderful culture of the Emerald Isle with the world… As much as Maureen cherished her privacy, she always appreciated the expressions of goodwill from people around the world and from all walks of life. She especially loved it when children recognized her from her role in Miracle on 34th Street and asked her: ‘Are you the lady who knows Santa Claus?’ She always answered: ‘Yes I am. What would you like me to tell him?’

“While we mourn the loss of a very wonderful woman, we also celebrate her remarkable life and hope that it serves as an example to young people around the world, especially in Ireland, to work hard to make their dreams come true and to always have the courage to stand up for themselves.”

The Quiet Man was one of five movies O’Hara made with John Wayne, a close and devoted friend. “I was the only leading lady big enough and tough enough for John Wayne,” she wrote in her 2004 memoir, ’Tis Herself. “Duke’s presence was so strong that when audiences saw him finally meet a woman of equal hell and fire, it was exciting and thrilling.” O’Hara also included in her memoir Wayne’s admiring appraisal of her: “She’s big, lusty, absolutely marvelous — definitely my kind of woman. I’ve had many friends, and I prefer the company of men. Except for Maureen O’Hara.”

Among their on-screen collaborations, McLintock! often has been cited as a particular favorite by fans of both superstars. Aptly described by film critic and historian Leonard Maltin as “slapstick variation of The Taming of the Shrew set in the Old West,” the 1963 comedy-drama is a hand-tooled star vehicle showcasing Wayne as G.W. McLintock, a swaggering man’s man who’s rich enough to accurately claim he owns “everything in this county from here to there,” and ill-behaved enough to drive his well-bred wife, Katherine (O’Hara), to establish residency back East.

Two years after his wife’s departure — she suspected her husband of infidelity, and he never really denied it — Katherine returns to the territory, and to McClintock’s opulent home, to claim their Eastern-educated daughter, Becky (Stefanie Powers), and to start divorce proceedings. But Becky is in no hurry to leave after she discovers her father’s new ranch hand (Patrick Wayne, The Duke’s son) is appreciably more attractive than her Harvard-educated fiancé (Jerry Van Dyke). And Katherine reconsiders her options after falling in love with “G.W.” all over again — after he chases her through town during the movie’s climactic sequence, and none-too-playfully spanks her.

The screenplay, written by Wayne favorite James Edward Grant (who also directed The Duke in Angel and the Badman), has something to do with McLintock’s attempts to help his longtime Comanche buddies in their battles against paternalistic government officials — including an officious but inept Indian agent played by Strother Martin — and something else to do with the cattle baron’s defiant efforts to demonstrate that the passing of time has done little to diminish his virility or authority. But for most viewers, then and now, the scenario serves simply as a welcome excuse for the re-teaming of Wayne with O’Hara, who had previously co-starred with The Duke in Rio Grande (1950), The Quiet Man (1952) and The Wings of Eagles (1957) — she would later appear with him in Big Jake (1971) — and was praised by Patrick Wayne as “the only one who could stand up to my father, and stand toe-to-toe with my father, and match him in everything.”

“When I read the script,” O’Hara recalled in a documentary produced for the DVD release of McLintock!, “I was thrilled. I thought: By God, they wrote this for the two of us.”

“They had worked so frequently and so well together,” marveled co-star Stefanie Powers, “that they had their own sort of language. He’d say, ‘You’ll zig and I’ll zag, OK?’ They each knew immediately what the other was going to do, and how that would work, what would happen. And they were both very physical.”

Trouble was, at the time of filming in and around Tucson, Arizona, in the fall of 1962, O’Hara was recovering from surgery to remove ovarian cysts. So she was understandably concerned about taking part in a scene with Wayne and co-star Leo Gordon that  called for them — and just about everyone else in the scene — to tumble down a hillside and into a massive mud hole.

“When we were ready for me to slide backwards down into the mud,” O’Hara said, “the wardrobe man and the wardrobe lady grabbed me, and they started taking my clothes off. And I said, ‘What are you doing? What are you doing?’ And they said, ‘We can’t let you go down that, and have your stomach opening up and all your innards coming out. So we’re going to fix you for it.’

“Somewhere they had found the waterproof leggings that a fisherman wears if he goes into a stream and he’s going to get wet. They cut the top off of it, and then they pulled the pants and everything up, and tied it around my waist. And then they put my clothes back on, and told me, ‘All right. Now you can go and do the stunt.’

“Duke said to me, ‘What the hell kept you?’ Well, I couldn’t tell him. I told him afterwards. And he was shocked. He said, ‘Why didn’t you tell me, for God’s sake? I wouldn’t have made you do all those things.’ And I said, ‘Well, I’m not going to ask for pity from you, ever.’”

And besides: Sometimes, a woman’s got to do what a woman’s got to do.


Read Maureen O’Hara’s touching tribute to John Wayne before Congress.

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