Sunday, October 25, 2015

Miracle of 34th Street

Like most great stars, she had a face the camera loved; even more, she had a coloring that the tricky, fickle Technicolor camera turned into something as rich as cream and as a invigorating as a dose of cinnamon.

Maureen O'Hara, dead alas at 95, was only one of many ladies of her time who seemed invented for the new color technology - Lucille Ball spent years being used primarily for her virtues as "Technicolor Tessie," and Rhonda Fleming and O'Hara seemed for a long while to be more or less of the same fach, But O'Hara turned out to be one of a kind.

A working actress as much as a star (and that's a compliment, and a high one), she made everything from women's pictures to pirate epics, with steady work churning out movies in which she ably held her own against the likes of child stars (just ask Natalie Wood, not to mention Hayley Mills) and the Duke himself.  John Wayne was a tough nut for his leading ladies, and while Marlene Dietrich goes a long way toward bringing him to life in The Seven Sinners, it's her show from start to finish; O'Hara  played opposite him as an equal. "I made John Wayne sexy; I take credit for that," she said.  Over the course of sixty-some films, some extraordinary (The Quiet Man, Miracle on 34th Street, How Green was My Valley) and some outright hard work (Father was a Fullback sounds like a pip, but it might be fun to see her as bonny Lolita O'Shea in They Met in Argentina, no?), from 1938 to the turn of this century, she was rarely less than fascinating, and always of a beauty that seemed to radiate from deep within.

And now she's gone.

As Café regulars might expect, my thoughts today turn toward a fine old private garden in the heart of Paris. The October sun warms a quiet corner, just outside a pair of wide French doors open to catch the light Sunday air. A heavy armchair has been carried outside, and in it sits a stout but still-elegant woman of great age and once-great beauty, her white hair as fine and gleaming as the soft angora throw around her shoulders.  Around her neck are several ropes of dove-grey pearls, and she toys with them as she looks out at the fading greenery, thinking thoughts increasingly distant, mysteries hard to fathom even by her most faithful retainer, waiting just within.

Why, for example, she would ask for that particular book, on this particular afternoon; some sort of datebook or guestbook from the look of it?  It lays now in her lap, the pages riffling in the breeze.  So few names left, she thinks, fewer than take up a page, and her own name one of the very last among them.  But not yet, no. Almost absent-mindedly, still thinking her enigmatic thoughts, she takes up a pen with a hand surprisingly sure even after all these years and quickly strikes out a name.  Such a lovely girl this last name was, she thinks, that hair, those eyes.

Slowly, the fabled brown eyes, still clear, still those that once saw a balsawood Atlanta burn, drift shut.  Perhaps she'll doze a while; such lovely dreams she has these days, like the pages turning in the book, Paris and Hollywood and back, back, even back to Japan when she and her sister were two tiny girls in white starched pinafores.  In a while the kind nurse ventures out, gently lifts the old book from the sleeping woman's lap, pages idly through the pages of names unknown to her. The light will fail soon, and time to take her charge indoors...


  1. I suspect she has a copy of this list (and she's quite proud of being named the oldest living TRUE MOVIE STAR alive)!

  2. Whoops -- forgot the link!

  3. Great list - and I just discovered that Valentina Cortese is still with us. I once had a phone conversation with a very testy Signorina Cortese, who was deeply offended she wasn't invited to a funeral I was helping produce (P.S. - she got invited, pronto).

  4. So Miss Rainer handed over the book to Miss De Havilland... Jx

    1. Indeed... it was something in the line of being a bequest.

    2. Whoops - wrong link! Here is where to find, as Paul Harvey would say, the rest of the story...