22 March 2011
by John Verling
As I drove into town last Saturday night, I had butterflies in my stomach. I was genuinely excited, the first time, in a long, long time. I was on my way to see Maureen O’Hara, yes 'THE', Maureen O’Hara - in person at the Phoenix Cinema, Dingle as part of the annual Dingle Film Festival. At 90 years of age she has seen it all. She has shared the silver screen with John Wayne, Natalie Wood , Walter Pidgeon, Charles Laughton, Tyrone Power, Henry Fonda and been directed by the great John Ford, Jean Renoir, Walter Lang among others. In fact if I was to name all her co-stars and directors I’d be here all day. Suffice to say the MGM motto”more stars than there are in heaven” wouldn’t be out of place when looking over her career of 63 movies in 62 years. On top of seeing Ms O’Hara there was to be a screening of the award winning documentary Dreaming the Quiet Man, featuring her, amongst others.
The queue outside the cinema was wonderful to see; I wasn’t the only one feeling the excitement of this historic occasion. People still appreciate a genuine star and I was glad I had a ticket. Another great thing about this event was that it was an open affair, not of those fawning shows with invited guests only. No - these were real fans who’d bought a ticket for a great event.
We shuffled in as the doors opened, Sean and Kathleen greeting us as if this was an ordinary night at the Phoenix , and I found a free seat towards the middle of the house. People were pouring in, getting seats wherever they could. I watched a guy in a Mac with a rain hat pulled down over his head make his way to the top of the cinema. Turned out he was the director, Se Murray Doyle, of the fine documentary we were about to see.
No tuxedos and false smiles here. Dingle Film Festival Director Maurice Galway was at the top of the cinema talking to people and greeting friends. He looked calm and assured. When he took the mike he said it was the most nervous he’d been all week, possibly in all his life! You hid it well Maurice. First off we were shown a montage of Maureen O’Hara’s work. Great clips of the famous scenes from her career. My, oh my...not only was she very beautiful but she could truly act, her wonderful stage presence filling the screen in every shot and nailing out every role with ease.
“Ladies and Gentlemen I give you Maureen O’Hara.”
The whole cinema rose as one, cameras flashed, we were all clapping, stretching to a get a view as she walked in from the side door. She looked very much the lady, her red hair shining and make-up done perfectly. I wouldn’t have believed she was 90 years old if I hadn’t checked her age earlier. Once the cheering had died down she sat with Maurice at a table in front of us all to a few questions from him. At least he tried to ask her a few questions; this lady doesn’t need any prompting to get talking. In true star mode she didn’t talk about herself. She spoke of her childhood and how talented her sister was and still is, she spoke of how beautiful her parents were, her brothers, her happy childhood growing up in Milltown, her grandparents, Shamrock Rovers, playing camogie at school but having to give it up as the girls were too rough. She had us enthralled.
Maureen really is possibly the last link with that particular golden age of Hollywood. Not in my lifetime will I ever hear someone refer to 'Dook' in the first person when speaking of John Wayne - not 'The Duke' but her great friend and co-star Dook. She told of us of John Ford and what a ’cantankerous bastard’ he was to work for (her words not mine) but how he always got the best out of her. Time was found for Dingle jeweller Brian de Staic to present her with specially made piece and she seemed genuinely touched by the gesture. Eilis Kennedy, Pauline Scanlon and Donagh Hennessy were brought in to perform Isle of Innisfree, the theme song from The Quiet Man. Maureen told us that it was her brother who wrote the words even though we found out in the documentary that she too had contributed to the piece. As Eilis and Pauline sang Maureen hummed along on her mike, another wonderful little moment. I doubt if there was a dry eye in the house. Maurice tried to get a few more questions in and of course he couldn’t coax it out of her what she had said in the last scene of The Quiet Man. In that famous last scene she’s captured whispering something in John Wayne’s ear and he reacts with genuine surprise and pleasure. According to Maureen John Ford had given her a certain line to say so as to get that look on Wayne’s face. She only agreed to say it, apparently it’s fairly shocking, if the three of them took it to their graves never telling anyone. Now she’s the only left who knows what was said and like a true lady she’s not telling.
The director Se Murray Doyle said a few words and I noticed Maureen held his hand with true affection and after watching the subsequent film I could see why. A question was asked from the audience and Maureen was off again telling tales and making us laugh. Maurice and Se, worried obviously about timing, tried to get her to finish but she wasn’t having it. We were asked did we want to watch the film at all and I think most of us would have been happy listening to Ms O’Hara all night but all good things do come to an end unfortunately. A lifetime of great stories and recollections just can’t be covered in one session at The Phoenix Cinema and thankfully Maurice invited her back for a longer session next year, an invitation she gracefully accepted. Again we all rose as one clapping and cheering as she made her way to her seat to watch the documentary.
The documentary itself, Dreaming the Quiet Man, is well worth seeing. It contains some wonderful stories from the making of The Quiet Man but better still was in the insight into John Ford’s life and how his Irish heritage influenced everything he did. Ford took Maurice Walsh’s story and managed to make it into a classic movie with large helpings of his life story thrown in or at least his own romantic ideas of his life. The studios were against the project and it took 20 years for him to fulfil his dream. Watching it last night in the Phoenix Cinema with Maureen O’Hara with us was a truly special moment, and one nobody in the audience will ever forget.
I know I certainly won’t...
Pictured: Maureen O'Hara courtesy with Director Geoff Wonfor at the 2011 Dingle Film Festival. Photo courtesy of Pauline Rowan (www.paulinerowan.com).