‘Tis Herself by Maureen O’Hara: A BOOK REVIEW

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!


Spending Time with Turner Classic Movies: TROUBLE FOR TWO (1936)

There are certain movies that I want to see simply based on the synopsis, and then there are certain movies that I want to see simply based on who is starring in them.  TROUBLE FOR TWO was a film I wanted to see for both reasons.  Rosalind Russell and Robert Montgomery tangling with a suicide club?  How could I say no?

Prince Florizel (Robert Montgomery) of Carovia is bored and unhappy.  He is entertaining himself by having a traveling circus teach him to balance on stilts, but his spirits cannot be raised.  He is set to be married to Princess Brenda of Irania, a woman he hasn’t seen since childhood.  Florizel’s father, the King of Carovia, decides that his son needs a holiday in London in order to clear his head before the wedding.  Florizel goes off under the assumed name of Mr. Theopholus Godall, along with his faithful right hand man Colonel “Gerry” Geraldine (Frank Morgan).

The boat voyage to England starts off quite normally and Florizel is bored again in no time.  But then, several days into the journey, Florizel meets an enchanting and mysterious young woman named Miss Vandeleur (Rosalind Russell).  Miss Vandeleur asks Florizel to hide some papers for her which he agrees to do.  Later Florizel seeks Miss Vandeleur out in her cabin where they are confronted by a shady individual who is searching for the very papers Florizel is hiding.  The would be robber leaves empty handed and Gerry is feeling a little less enthused about Florizel’s vacation from home.  Florizel for his part is having a great time and welcomes the change of pace.

Once the boat docks Florizel goes in search of his new crush but finds that the cabin Miss Vandeleur was occupying were listed as empty on the ship’s log.  What’s more, the papers he was guarding for her were simply blank pieces of paper.  Florizel resigns himself to never knowing the truth about the mysterious woman from the boat.  He and Gerry go off to eat dinner at a local tavern.  While they are enjoying their meal a young man enters with a tray of cream puffs, yes cream puffs.  He offers up his tray of sweets to the tavern as he has no more need of such earthly delights as has decided to end his own life.  Florizel and Gerry are quite shocked, as you might imagine, and invite the young man to eat with them.  While they eat the cream puffs the young man, whose name is Cecil Barnley, relates his story of a misspent youth.  Rather than cause his family more shame by continuing on living, Cecil has resolved to end his life by joining a suicide club and thereby sparing his family’s honor.  The suicide club works in a unique way allowing the members to die but not by their own hand, rather at the hand of another.  Florizel, much to Gerry’s shock, then proposes joining Cecil and becoming a member of the suicide club himself.  Cecil is delighted to have fellow members with him and escorts Florizel and Gerry to the club’s meeting place so they might speak with the club president.  As they leave Gerry demands to know just what Florizel is thinking.  The young prince wants to save Cecil and believes that if he joins the suicide club with him, he might be able to talk him out of going through with it.  Neither Gerry nor Florizel notice Miss Vandeleur eavesdropping in a booth nearby, and neither notice when she follows their carriage to the suicide club.

Once at the club Florizel and Gerry talk to the President of the club (Reginald Owen).  They are allowed to become members, after paying a hefty admission fee and explaining their reasons for wanting to die.  The men begin to mingle with the other club members when the door opens and Miss Vandeleur enters.  Florizel tries to make his way over to speak with her but the President calls the meeting to order.  The members assemble around a table and draw cards from the deck.  Cecil draws the Ace of Spades, which signifies that he will be the victim, while Miss Vandeleur draws the Ace of Clubs, which signifies she will be the executioner.  These two then leave the room to receive their instructions from the club President while the other members return to their homes.  Florizel remains behind, hoping to run into Miss Vandeleur before she leaves but he is stymied once again.  He is not overly concerned however, as he still believes that the suicide club is a big joke.  The joke seems to be on him the next morning when the paper runs the story of Cecil’s death.

Gerry wants to go home but Florizel is determined to find Miss Vandeleur again.  And so it is that the next night the two men return to the suicide club.  Once again the members assemble and draw cards.  Once again Miss Vandaleur draws the card of the executioner, but this time her victim will be…Florizel.  Gerry is horrified as his young master and the woman who might as well be a black widow, are lead off by the club President.  The two are escorted to a waiting carriage and head off to a secluded spot.  Specifically they go off to the zoo, even more specifically they go off to the lion cages.  Florizel attempts to talk to Miss Vandeleur but she isn’t very forthcoming.  Finally he gives up, just as they reach the lions.  Miss Vandeleur then turns to him and begins to unlock the cage door.

I really enjoyed this film, it was such a pleasant surprise.  Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell have such great chemistry together, they make what could have been a pretty bland B-picture come alive with a terrific energy.  I love Robert Montgomery, I would like to throw out an appeal for someone to write a biography about him, and he has such a twinkle in his eye during this film.  His prince never comes off as spoiled or petulant, rather as a lovable rascal who you would really love to get to know.  And you can never go wrong with Frank Morgan, who is terrific as the put upon friend/servant to Robert Montgomery.  Also, this happens:

Rosalind Russell makes any film she is in exponentially better just by being there.  She also has this really excellent quality about her that translates into her characters.  Her women always seem to be up for anything, able to handle just as much as the men, and have fun at the same time.  She and Robert Montgomery pair up so well because they are both irrepressible and irreverent.  Their relationship and chemistry is what takes this film from being blah to being really fun and enjoyable.  I will say that Robert Montgomery is not a terribly impressive swordsman, Errol Flynn he is not, and there are a few clunky moments that made me chuckle at their awkwardness.  But all in all this was a really fun film and a very nice way to spend an afternoon.