I recently watched Raquel of Out of the Past’s classic film book haul video and thanks to her I came up with several titles that I wanted to read. The first book I decided to pick up was Maureen O’Hara’s autobiography entitled ‘TIS HERSELF. I knew I was in for a ride when I read on the first pages the lines, “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 I stood toe-to-toe with the best of them and made my mark on my own terms…”
Maureen O’Hara shares with us the story of her entrance into Hollywood, her first roles with Charles Laughton, finding her way through the studio system, making enemies among the powers that be, and her turbulent relationship with John Ford. This book does not go into great detail about more historical aspects of O’Hara’s life. Often many of the films she made are mentioned in passing, sometimes warranting nothing more than a sentence or two, especially if O’Hara was less than thrilled with the production. She is not hesitant to share her sometimes unflattering opinion of other actors and directors, such as John Farrow, Rex Harrison, and Howard Hughes. She is also very giving with her compliments of people she loved and respected such as John Wayne, Olivia de Havilland, Natalie Wood, and Alfred Hitchcock. If you are looking for a very in-depth autobiography then you will find this somewhat lacking. Maureen O’Hara even addresses this at the very end, lamenting that she hasn’t told half of the stories she wanted to. I think it is because there are four men who feature prominently in this book and she wanted to use this platform to share her stories about them.
The first is, not surprisingly, John Wayne. Maureen O’Hara uses her book to share her wonderful and meaningful friendship with the man she called “The Duke”. She also sets straight many rumors and stories about their supposed romantic relationship. In short it never happened. Second, is her third husband Charlie Blair, the man who gave her true love and died under tragic and mysterious circumstances. Third is Will Price, her second husband, an abusive alcoholic. Her relationship with Price takes up a good section of the book, as she struggles to survive him and tries to save their marriage even as he is trying to destroy it. Finally, there is John Ford. Maureen O’Hara had a complex and turbulent relationship with director John Ford and in this book she shares more details than were perhaps known before. The picture she paints is not all together flattering, John Ford appearing to be a troubled, angry, unhappy, at times kind but often manipulative artist. His behavior toward her, especially before, during, and after the filming of THE QUIET MAN is shocking and at times disturbing.
I think that Maureen O’Hara was using this chance to share the stories about things that had happened in her life that she had never been able to before. To finally share the abuse she suffered at the hands of Will Price, studio heads who refused to allow her to be more than window dressing in her films, and John Ford. To share her questions and theories about the truth behind her husband’s death. And to finally set the record straight about some rumors that she had been hearing for years. Because of this she could not write a complete and thorough autobiography, rather choosing to focus on having her say instead of writing her life story.
I have read several reviews that spoke disparagingly about Maureen O’Hara and her ego. They said that she is arrogant and full of herself. In fact Maureen O’Hara starts her book by saying “…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 kinsman 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.” I have to say that after reading this book I disagree with the sentiment that she is arrogant. I think she is a strong, self possessed, and confident woman. She was a great actress and a beautiful one. She fought for what she believed in no matter who she had to face, be it actors, directors, the United States Government, or her own family and friends. So why shouldn’t she say that? Why is it arrogant of her to say “I was beautiful” or “I was the greatest lady swashbuckler”? Would we prefer false modesty? Why is it more acceptable for a man to say these things than a woman? Why is a man powerful and confident if he thinks highly of himself, but a woman is full of herself? Maureen O’Hara tells it as she sees it and I love her for it!
I enjoyed this book and felt like I got a chance to hear the stories Maureen O’Hara felt it was important to share. This is most likely not the most objective look back on a life you can find, autobiographies always run that risk, but I don’t feel like it is untruthful. And I think that it is amazing that it took all these years for a strong woman like Maureen O’Hara to feel comfortable to share these stories with the rest of the world, to share her experiences with abuse and powerlessness. Reading this book not only gave me a deeper appreciation for Maureen O’Hara and her amazing life and career, but it also made me proud to be an Irishwoman (well, 50%) myself! Definitely a recommended read for other classic film fans!