Once my mom told me that she was impressed of Maureen's reaction in the documentary Directed by John Ford. She said that when Maureen was asked about the famous director, she cried, but she noticed that not only out of sadness but out of anger too.
I had seen that documentary, and yes, her reaction wasn't normal. Now I know why. She cried out of a mixture of sadness and anger and nostalgia and powerlessness. Because John Ford was a man that was beyond the word complex. He was COMPLEX with capital letters, underlined and italic. His picture should illustrate the 'complex' entry in the dictionary. I know this because I finished 'Tis herself, the incredibly engaging autobiography by Maureen (FitzSimons) O'Hara, the great Irish actress with the read hair.
She and John Nicoletti managed to write a book that surprises you. Surprises you not only because the episodes they chose to include are were very well picked, but because you get to know Maureen herself. If you haven't read this book yet and you still picture her only as the fierce woman she played in most of her films, well you'll be shocked.
And you'll be shocked, because even when she doesn't fully admit it, men and life overpassed her. She had one failed marriage (if you can call that way the bond between a boy and a girl that said "yes, I do" and never see each other again), then another marriage that left only one good thing for her: her daughter. At this point, the image of Maureen the untouchable, the one you had seen in movies like Against all flags starts to succumb. And then her vulnerability strikes you.
This book contains one of the most violent episodes ever: her alcoholic second husband, the one that left their home and came back when he wanted, the one that hired prostitutes with her money because he didn't work, the same that decided to change houses every two minutes and pick every time a more expensive one, that same guy, drunk of course, kicks Maureen on her stomach. She was pregnant. Eight months pregnant. And then she continued living with him for years, before assuming that she was freaking scared of what he might do to their daughter.
So, you see, it wasn't very easy to read things like that. It wasn't easy either to read the difficult/marvelous times she lived with John Ford. Pappy, as she called him, allowed her to live some of her greatest moments as a performer, but also feel utterly miserable. According to Miss O'Hara, he was a man that could praise you one moment and the next make fun of you or call you a bitch in front of a crowd. He did the craziest things -- including campaigning against her winning the Oscar-- the kind of things that make you wonder if you're the only normal person living on Earth. But they adored each other. And they hated each other. They suffered.
|Scan from the book. It contains many interesting pictures.|
AND OF COURSE, there are hundreds of anecdotes and great stories about her life in Ireland with her wonderful family and her life in America, the movies she did and how she did them. You get to know a bit more about how things worked in Hollywood, for example, the way the studio forced her to take stupid roles (well, I knew that). You get to know a bit more about Classic actors and directors (want names? Well, right now come to my mind James Stewart, Natalie Wood, Linda Darnell, Lucille Ball, Errol Flynn, Alfred Hitchcock...). Charles Laughton and John Duke Wayne are the two she most talk of. The first, her mentor, the one who gave her her first film role, the one who wanted to adopt her; the second, of course, her pal and greatest friend.
The Quiet Man has a full, amazingly interesting chapter (you read the ending the other day); and you also know more about the making of films like The Parent Trap and Miracle on 34th Street. I like the way she openly discusses every topic, from her sicknesses and fears to her suspicion that the love her life --her third husband pilot Charles Blair-- was murdered (I don't want to tell you about this, you need to read this book). I like the way she swears and how she makes fun of herself. I like the way Maureen O'Hara decided not to talk about her child or grandchildren. My only tiny, tiny complain is that at some points I would have a edited a bit more the text, because I felt that they repeated the same words in the same paragraph (yes, I know, I have some nerve...). End of the complain.
So, you see, I said that the image of the strong, untouchable Maureen starts to succumb when you read how much she was hurt by close people during her life. But it doesn't fully succumb. Because she was a brave woman that could face the American government and demand that her Irish heritage was acknowledge; she could face one of the most nasty gossip magazines and make them pay; she could be on a set and do her own dangerous stunts.
'Tis herself doesn't shatter her legendary cinematic image. Just makes this woman, who plans to live till she's 102, more human. And that fact, in Maureen O'Hara's case, is priceless.
More Book Reviews
- "Jean Arthur: The actress nobody knew" by John Oller
- "My Wicked, wicked ways" by Errol Flynn
- "Chasing Carole" by Barbara Washburn