'Tis Herself

'Tis Herself

4.5 9
by Maureen O'Hara, John Nicoletti

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In an acting career of more than seventy years, Hollywood legend Maureen O'Hara came to be known as "the queen of Technicolor" for her fiery red hair and piercing green eyes. She had a reputation as a fiercely independent thinker and champion of causes, particularly those of her beloved homeland, Ireland. In 'Tis Herself, O'Hara recounts her extraordinary


In an acting career of more than seventy years, Hollywood legend Maureen O'Hara came to be known as "the queen of Technicolor" for her fiery red hair and piercing green eyes. She had a reputation as a fiercely independent thinker and champion of causes, particularly those of her beloved homeland, Ireland. In 'Tis Herself, O'Hara recounts her extraordinary life and proves to be just as strong, sharp, and captivating as any character she played on-screen.
O'Hara was brought to Hollywood as a teenager in 1939 by the great Charles Laughton, to whom she was under contract, to costar with him in the classic film The Hunchback of Notre Dame. She has appeared in many other classics, including How Green Was My Valley, Rio Grande, The Quiet Man, and Miracle on 34th Street. She recalls intimate memories of working with the actors and directors of Hollywood's Golden Age, including Laughton, Alfred Hitchcock, Tyrone Power, James Stewart, Henry Fonda, and John Candy. With characteristic frankness, she describes her tense relationship with the mercurial director John Ford, with whom she made five films, and her close lifelong friendship with her frequent costar John Wayne. Successful in her career, O'Hara was less lucky in love until she met aviation pioneer Brigadier General Charles F. Blair, the great love of her life, who died in a mysterious plane crash ten years after their marriage.
Candid and revealing, 'Tis Herself is an autobiography as witty and spirited as its author.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Film legend O'Hara (b. 1920) and her collaborator, Nicoletti, have assembled a delightful anecdotal autobiography. She calls it "the tale of the toughest Irish lass who ever took on Hollywood and became a major leading lady of the silver screen." Born in a Dublin suburb, Maureen FitzSimons was a child radio actress, joined the Abbey Theater at age 14 and was cast in two major films before she was 19. After Alfred Hitchcock's Jamaica Inn (1939) came The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939), launching her career of 60 films. Many were top productions, yet O'Hara never received an Oscar nomination: "Hollywood would never allow my talent to triumph over my face." She recalls highlights and hurdles, including confrontations with stars and directors, commenting, "I have acted, punched, swashbuckled, and shot my way through an absurdly masculine profession during the most extraordinary of times." With her hazel-green eyes and red hair, O'Hara was dubbed "Queen of Technicolor," but yearned for more than "decorative roles." During her lengthy friendships with John Wayne and director John Ford, she saw "the darker side of John Ford, the mean and abusive side." In concluding chapters, she writes about her TV appearances as a vocalist, the mysteries surrounding the death of her husband, Brig. Gen. Charles F. Blair and her life in the Virgin Islands, where she ran an airline (Antilles Air Boats) and became publisher of Virgin Islander magazine. Hollywood's heyday returns to life in this revealing, insightful memoir. O'Hara treats readers like close friends, and her powerful personality is evident throughout. Photos not seen by PW. Agent, Mitchell Waters. (Mar.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Dubbed "The Queen of Technicolor" owing to her red hair and green eyes, Maureen O'Hara defined the strong, determined woman in such classics as How Green Was My Valley and The Quiet Man. But she was never given credit for her acting abilities, and in her memoir, the eightyish actress means to set the record straight. Fact: she was a member of the renowned Abbey Theater in Dublin, Ireland, when actor Charles Laughton discovered her (later, she was cast at his request in The Hunchback of Notre Dame). In a no-nonsense tone, O'Hara candidly shares tales of her costars (e.g., Errol Flynn, John Wayne, and Tyrone Power) and of her personal life-which was marked by a na vet that went against her screen persona. She married two men whom she didn't mean to marry and doesn't know why; she also asserts that director John Ford didn't really love her despite her evidence to the contrary-and she believes that her third husband was a secret CIA operative. Celebrity mavens will lap up this engrossing addition to the autobiography genre; little has been written about O'Hara, one of the last surviving members of Old Hollywood. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 11/15/03.]-Rosellen Brewer, Monterey Cty. Free Libs., Salinas, CA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The actress burns brighter still than her hair in this get-it-straight-before-I-go, easy-sipping memoir. True to form, O'Hara comes out swinging: "I have acted, punched, swashbuckled, and shot my way through an absurdly masculine profession during the most extraordinary of times. As a woman, I'm proud to say that I stood toe-to-toe with the best of them." Maybe so for her movies, but not for her love life, in which she got trapped by one loser after another. While she is refreshingly honest about her bad choices, her excuse-"I know many women who are wonderfully savvy about turning away men they aren't interested in, but I've never been one of them"-is awfully lame, especially by the third time around. When it came to acting, O'Hara had a better head. She had her blockbusters and her bombs, but when she started getting background parts after big hits with Charles Laughton and Alfred Hitchcock, she identified the problem as casting executives ("I wasn't a whore. . . . I was unwilling to make that kind of sacrifice to get a part in a movie") and then took pains to dominate the scenes she was given. The actress comes across as tough and strong, on her knees only before her God, and comfortable in her own skin-enough so to voice unequivocally her critical assessments of Rex Harrison ("rude, vulgar, and arrogant"), Jeff Chandler ("a real sweetheart; but acting with him was like acting with a broomstick"), and Errol Flynn (serious decency issues). Nor does O'Hara make any bones about swashbucklers like At Sword's Point: "Hollywood snobs might have sneered at these pictures, but audiences never did." Perhaps most importantly, she provides heaps of material on her professional relationship withJohn Ford, its wild swings, and what she considers to be its root causes. "Above all else . . . I'm a tough Irishwoman." Not that the Technicolor hurt, but this feisty memoir shows there's way more to O'Hara than red hair and green eyes. Agent: Mitchell Waters/Curtis Brown
From the Publisher
"A great page-turner, a well-told saga."
The Hollywood Reporter

"This feisty memoir shows there's more to O'Hara than red hair and green eyes."
Kirkus Reviews

"Lots of revealing, candid moments from inside Hollywood."
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

"A delightful anecdotal autobiography....O'Hara treats readers like close friends, and her powerful personality is evident throughout."
Publishers Weekly

Product Details

Simon & Schuster
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x 1.12(d)

Read an Excerpt

Tis Herself

A Memoir
By Maureen O'Hara

Simon & Schuster

Copyright © 2005 Maureen O'Hara
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0743269160

Chapter One: The Gypsy and the Two-Headed Beast

My whole life was foretold to me. I peered out the crack of our door and found an old Romany Gypsy standing hunched on our porch in the hot afternoon sun. She smiled down at me and took my five-year-old hands in hers, then turned my palms upward and read my fortune. "You will leave Ireland one day and become a very famous woman known all around the world. You are going to make a fortune and be very, very rich." Then she held my hands in the light and cackled, "But it will all slip through your fingers one day." I pulled my hands away and answered with certainty, "I'll never leave Ireland." Then I closed the door.

I thought the old girl was silly. I didn't need a Gypsy to tell me what my place in the world would be. I already knew. I believed from the time I was able to think that I was going to set the world on fire.

You are about to read the tale of the toughest Irish lass who ever took on Hollywood and became a major leading lady of the silver screen. In a career that has lasted for over sixty years, I have acted, punched, swashbuckled, and shot my way through an absurdly masculine profession during the most extraordinary of times. As a woman, I'm proud to say that Istood toe-to-toe with the best of them and made my mark on my own terms. I'm Maureen O'Hara, and this is my life story.

So did the old Gypsy get it right? And who is the real Maureen O'Hara anyway? I bet that's what you really want to know. Before I answer and we begin our journey together, I want to tell you why I've decided to write this book. For one thing, I do feel a sense of responsibility for sharing my thoughts and experiences about the most remarkable era in filmmaking history -- Hollywood's golden age. There aren't many of us left who can honestly look back and give you a taste of its delicious insanity and glamour.

More important, though, I'm finally ready to confront my long life with open eyes. I'm ready to revisit those treacherous hills I once climbed, and eager to kill any fear deargs (pronounced "far darrigs") that may still be lurking in the shadows. I also want to set the record straight about my life in my own words before some self-serving writer pens a heap of rubbish about me after I'm gone from this earth.

My favorite untrue story ever written about me is that I once lived in a magnificent Arabian palace with tall towers and a long swimming pool filled with waters of sapphire blue. Each night, I descended its marble steps and swam from one end to the other, cooling my naked body, while castrated slaves in white turbans and loincloths pointed flaming torches to light my way.

What fabulous rubbish.

You already know that I am an actress and movie star. Some see me as a former screen siren, while others remember me as the dame who gave as good as she got with Duke. To some I'm the first woman swashbuckler, while others think of me as a pirate queen. I've done as many tearjerkers as I have movies with crazy stunts. I was once called "Frozen Champagne" and "Window Dressing," which still annoys me. I much preferred "Big Red" or "the Queen of Technicolor." Many women have written to me over the years and said that I've been an inspiration to them, a woman who could hold her own against the world. That's lovely. The great director John Ford paid me my favorite compliment by saying I was the best "effin' " actress in Hollywood.

Much of this story, though, is part of a public persona that was carefully sewn together, like a magnificent quilt, by the powerful Hollywood studio system. An entire publicity team had to see to it that at least one item about me was published every day. Many were total lies or studio publicity department inventions. Hollywood gossip queens like Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper then built on these myths in their daily columns, which were read as Gospel by millions.

Of course, my loved ones know me in a far more intimate way. To them I'm just Mammy, Gran', or Auntie Maureen -- a lousy cook but one helluva cleaning lady.

I am and have been all of these things throughout my personal and professional lives, but no one of them defines me. Above all else, deep in my soul, I'm a tough Irishwoman.

Being an Irishwoman means many things to me. An Irishwoman is strong and feisty. She has guts and stands up for what she believes in. She believes she is the best at whatever she does and proceeds through life with that knowledge. She can face any hazard that life throws her way and stay with it until she wins. She is loyal to her kinsmen and accepting of others. She's not above a sock in the jaw if you have it coming. She is only on her knees before God. Yes, I am most definitely an Irishwoman.

My heritage has been my grounding, and it has brought me peace. Being tough and strong have always been my most dominant characteristics, like a fire that burns deep within me. I have always believed that I can do anything I set my mind to, as long as I'm willing to make the necessary sacrifices. I have called upon this fire to achieve my goals and survive whenever I felt my world come crashing down around me. In this way, I am like many of the women I've played on-screen.

And yet you will soon read about two events in my life that caused me to stumble and do exactly the opposite of what you and I would expect Maureen O'Hara to do. They involve my first two marriages and may jolt you. One was a comedy of youth, but the other was a tragedy of inexperience.

Still, if the events of our youth shape us into who we become, then one incident in particular had the greatest impact on me. It happened when I was a young schoolgirl at the Irish Sisters of Charity school in Milltown.

There were two old biddies there who just couldn't stand me. I never knew why they disliked me so, but they jeered at and ridiculed me every day. Miss O'Meara taught English in room 8 and Miss Cook taught math in room 7. But I never saw them as two old teachers. To me they were one, a large and ugly beast joined at the side like Siamese twins, with two heads that shared one small brain and an even smaller heart. (Allow me just a smidgeon of lat-itude here. I've waited seventy years for this!)

One day I was sent to school wearing a brand-new sweater. My mother always dressed me and my sisters in matching outfits when we were growing up, but each of us had our own special color and mine was red. I was walking down the hall with my older sister and she looked marvelous in her new blue sweater. At fourteen, Peggy already had a figure, but, at twelve, I was still an awkward girl -- big, tall, and freckled.

As Peggy and I made our way to class, we came upon the two old biddies in the hallway. "Peggy," purred Miss O'Meara, "that sweater looks beautiful on you." Miss Cook followed her lead. "Yes it does. Just beautiful." But as I scurried behind Peggy, the two old biddies quickly transformed into the two-headed beast and lashed out at me. "And, Maureen," Miss O'Meara's head went on snidely. "Whatever are you hiding under your sweater? A football?" I tried to ignore her and kept walking with my head down in anger while Miss Cook's head burst into laughter. Their shrill cackles followed me down that hallway.

I was angry, and worst of all, I was hiding. My first class of the day was English, with Miss O'Meara. Should I go or should I run? I wondered. I felt the fire inside me. It told me that I couldn't run. So I turned the doorknob and entered.

Miss O'Meara was standing in front of her desk, before the class, holding the morning edition of the local newspaper, the Irish Independent. Over the previous weekend, I had entered a very prominent acting festival and had won the top prize. It was such a big competition that the Irish Independent placed the story, with my picture, on the front page of the paper. Miss O'Meara's eyes were fixed on the article, and the corners of her mouth were turned up in a smirk. As the door closed behind me, she turned her attention to me with intensity.

"And here she is at last," Miss O'Meara began, sarcasm dripping from her mouth. "The newest star of Dublin theater, Miss Maureen FitzSimons." I moved quickly across the room to my seat, not saying a word. "Maureen, I was just sharing with the class your triumphant victory at this weekend's festival." Her eyes narrowed on me as she continued. "However did you do it? How could you win such an important acting competition?"

The class began to giggle and I felt the heat of the spotlight burning my body. I remained silent, my head down, as Miss O'Meara continued. "Perhaps you could give the class just a taste of your extraordinary talent. Come up and show us what you did to win the competition." She followed her challenge with laughter and the entire class joined her.

As the sound of it covered me, I felt that fire burning in my belly. It grew in intensity and extended throughout my body. It lifted me, and I knew at that moment that I would never surrender to anyone's jeers. I wouldn't go up there to save my life. I wouldn't give that old biddy the satisfaction. I folded my arms across my chest and locked eyes with her, freezing them. Then I stuck my lower lip out at her defiantly and held it there.

I had never been openly defiant, not ever, and it caught her by surprise. The smile washed from her face. "No? You won't share with the class? I see. Then come with me." She moved toward the door and opened it. We moved down the hall, and Miss O'Meara opened the door that led into room 7, holding it for me to enter.

Miss Cook looked up with surprise as Miss O'Meara and I joined her at the head of the class. They melded together again, transforming into the two-headed beast. O'Meara's head spoke first. "Miss Cook, I thought you would like to share the good news with your class. Our Maureen has made the newspapers for her acting." Cook's head joined in. "Yes, I heard that she had," she said coldly. "How wonderful for you." O'Meara's head continued. "I've been trying to coax Maureen to share what she did to win."

Cook's head picked up fast on where this was going. "Yeeeees. Wouldn't that be fun? Please, Maureen, do perform for the class. We would all love to see what you did to win." I remained silent, unwilling to give an inch. As far as I was concerned, this was a battle between good and evil. "Just give us a little sample," Cook's head went on, "of that enormous talent you must have." O'Meara's head began to laugh and Cook's soon followed. Then the entire class joined in.

I stood there in front of the class with my arms folded, lower lip sticking out, looking at them all with defiant eyes. I was deeply, deeply hurt by their behavior but determined not to show it. Instead, I made a promise to myself. I swore that those two old biddies, that two-headed beast, would never beat me. I would win. I would stand up straight and take it all on the chin. I wouldn't let them or anyone else ever knock me down again.

Just you wait, I promised them in my head. I'm going to become the most famous actress in the world and one day you both are going to boast to everyone you know that I was in your class. Then I'm going to tell the entire world how deeply you hurt me.

That day, I swore I'd keep my promise. If need be, I'd lick the world. And what a big world it proved to be.

Copyright © 2004 by Maureen O1Hara and John Nicoletti


Excerpted from Tis Herself by Maureen O'Hara Copyright © 2005 by Maureen O'Hara. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Maureen O'Hara has homes in St. Croix and Ireland.

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'Tis Herself 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
ProfessorMS More than 1 year ago
Here is a delightful autobiography of a woman of strength, inteligence and ability. When you look at what passes for celebrity now, it is disheartening. Miss O'Hara is a woman who worked hard, lived with integrity, and was respected by her peers. She is someone that could be a role model, in lieu of today's "actresses" who are common girls with bad manners, bad behavior and no social graces, much less any modicum of real talent. I miss the days when woman were genuine, smart and had a level of self-respect, and this book reminds me of those days. I wish she still made films, just so I could enjoy seeing her again. But she has certainly left a body of work that can be watched again and again and honors her amazing career, as well as a remarkable life and lady.
NancyLee1and2 More than 1 year ago
Simply put, I so enjoyed reading Maureen's autobiography. She is as lovely inside as she is on the outside. I've so enjoyed your movies. Of course, The Quiet Man is my all-time favorite. My husband & I have a tradition of watching once a year. I was sorry when the book ended but you betcha I'll be rereading it a few years from now just to laugh with you, and be saddened by your losses.
SeriousPanda More than 1 year ago
For a celebrity autobiography this is very absorbing and interesting especially for readers of a certain age who will know most of the people mentioned in her story. She gave us lots of interesting detail but stopped in time to keep our interest and look for more instead of skipping over paragraphs. She also added new details about the Hollywood legends she knew so well. I was amazed to know how self-effacing she is about her ability and even her beauty. It's very charming and adds to the overall story. Well done, Maureen, and thank you for sharing your life with us especially we who have long admired you and your work.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I must admit that I would have never bothered to pick up this book had Maureen's beautiful picture on the front not caught my eye. I started thumbing through the pages and before I knew it I found myself in the book store on Chapter 2! Her book is so personal. She gives you a great feel for how life was back then. She is a strong Irish women who never forgot where she came from. I Highly recommend this book. Such a true and personal look into life as a female hollywood actress!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have never read an autobiography in my life. I am a 20 year old college student, and I have always loved Maureen O'Hara films. I especially liked the films that included John Wayne in the cast. The story of the actress' life presented in this book was very emotional and full. You are able to see into the real life of one of Hollywood's greatest stars. O'Hara was a strong woman and her character really shows through in her autobiography. You feel every emotion she does while reading. The book will make you laugh, curse, and cry. Sometimes in the same chapter. If you read into what O'Hara writes you can pick up on some mannerisms she has that are not fully brought out in the book. I can't express how content this book makes you feel once you have completed it. Maureen O'Hara is a person from the old Hollywood traditions and she was one of the greatest stars the production companies ever had in my view. There are not many people like O'Hara and Wayne anymore, but to be able to read their stories in their own words is something you can appreciate and cherish. I would recommend this book to anyone of any age.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Reading this book you can't help but smile at the humanity in the stories told. THANK GOD SHE IS NOT PERFECT IN EVERYWAY! Certainly she is beautiful, and a hell of an actress, but who knew she actually jumped ran, fell, and fought her way thru the whole take? Mind those odd moments where you wonder if she actually said what you just read. She tells of a life lived to the fullest! Good, bad, and ugly. Thank you for sharing Mrs. Blair.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Reviewer: rchowe from Erskine, Minnesota United States Ms. O'Hara's 'TIS HERSELF provides an intimate 'look behind the scenes' of motion pictures--and the people who made them--from Hollywood's Golden Era. Frank, funny, sad... and so much more, this memoir is a treat for fans of cinema, as it once was.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Born into a fairly affluent family of six children in Dublin, Ireland, Maureen FitzSimmons's stage-acting career was launched at an early age. Her film last name, O'Hara was given to her by Charles Laughton because her nee would not fit the movie billboard. Ms. O'Hara gained fame in a Alfred Hitchcock directed film, 'Jamaica Inn', co-starring the great Charles Laughton. It is the aforesaid movie that Ms. O'Hara is accorded with: '¿entered the premiere as an actress and left as a 'star',' and dubbed as 'the girl with the black-cherry eyes.' 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame' was also a triumph for Ms. O'Hara, again co-starring Charles Laughton (remembered for his role in 'Mutiny On The Bounty', extraordinaire classic). The reader cannot help but chuckle about an 'event' that occurred on the set of 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame' -- heavily-accented director Dieterle had asked for 200 priests/monks to be available for the set; what he got was 200 monkeys! Among many film credits are Ms. O'Hara's performances in 'How Green Was My Valley'; 'Miracle on 34th Street' with child actress Natalie Wood; 'The Quiet Man', filmed in Ireland, co-starring John Wayne (the 'Duke'). O'Hara candidly speaks of her long-time friendship with John Wayne, and her tormenting, tragic loss of her husband, record-breaking, famed-pilot, Charlie Blair. Just as there was no safety from the power of studio politicos 'trading' the star to another studio -- to her credit, and perhaps to the surprise of some readers, Ms. O'Hara performed her OWN STUNTS without the aid of harnesses and other safety devices. The latter performance strength of Ms. O'Hara shines in the swashbuckling, fencing movie scenes where she skillfully showed her fencing training and knowledge (again including her own stunt-work). Also of note is Ms. O'Hara's stamina to stand up to the politics in the industry, including her successful lawsuit against a tabloid, putting them out of business. What baffles this reader is learning of Ms. O'Hara's 'weakness' in some not-thought-through life decisions and relationships, specifically the continuation of her marriage to Will Price, a rough, alcoholic, abusive, philandering spouse. And, by her own admission, making the quick choice to wed (more than once) to men she was not in love with. More baffling is why she stayed in the situation(s) for so long, considering husband Price was spending her earned money by living lavishly, purchasing mansions without her knowledge until the 'deed was done', via simply using her name. From Ms. O'Hara's book, 'TIS HERSELF, the reader picks up hints of bias here and there; her 'chip-on-the-shoulder' brazenness, bragging, pomposity and naivete, albeit at times with added wittiness. Readers might forgive and indulge Ms. O'Hara's aforesaid eccentricities, allowing that the book includes earlier film years and the effect World War II had on all film studios and staff. Ms. O'Hara's memoirs are rich with stage and film including recorded singing and dancing talents on TV specials (such as the Dinah Shore Show and Perry Como Show); along with movie studio and film history, and many personages who are part of film history -- be it singers and dancers, actors, producers, writers and directors. And, worthy are the descriptive words used to carry the reader through incidents, actions and events, which transpired during filming, and history of stage, film and TV. Overall 'TIS HERSELF is a good read of historical information, but the reader can't feel bad for some of Ms. O'Hara's predicaments she got herself into, and being ever - so - slow in getting out of them. Why? The reader may wonder¿?!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Maureen O'Hara is one of my favorite actresses because she is a tough, strong-mind, no-nonsense Irish lass. She could hold up ranks with her favorite leading man, John Wayne, and could have a fencing duel with Errol Flynn. She is a remarkable talent and it is wonderful to hear stories from the Golden Age of Hollywood. She pours out her heart and soul about her relationships with John Ford, Charles Laughton, her late husband Will Price, John Candy, the Duke, and many other Hollywood legends. A great read for any classic Hollywood fan!