This year marks the 25th anniversary of the death of the legendary actress and her legacy lives on through many of those classic movies in which she graced the silver screen, as well as being the mother to one of Hollywood’s famous names, Mia Farrow, writes Ivor Casey.
With her subtle beauty and elegant demeanour, actress Maureen O’Sullivan became one of Ireland’s best-known Hollywood stars, appearing in a string of popular movies and stage performances from the 1930s up until the 1990s.
Known mostly for playing the part of Jane in a series of Tarzan films, Maureen impressed producers and audiences alike to maintain an over 60 year career, appearing in many of the classic films of her era.
Born into a financially comfortable family on 17 May 1911 in Boyle, Co. Roscommon, Maureen Paula O’Sullivan was the daughter of Mary Eva Lovett Frazer and Charles Joseph O’Sullivan, an officer in the Connaught Rangers.
As a child she was sent to the Convent of the Sacred Heart at Roehampton, now known as Woldingham School, in London, England, before being sent to France to finishing school. During this time she took an interest in becoming a pilot, or aviatrix as it was known in those days but also expressed interest in acting.
While back in Ireland at the age of eighteen and attending a dinner at Dublin’s International Horse Show at the RDS in Ballsbridge, she was approached, via a waiter, by Frank Borzage, an American born Academy Award-winning director and actor. He offered her the opportunity to appear in one of his upcoming movies and suggested that if she was interested to appear at his office the following morning.
Borzage had previously worked with a series of Irish actors including acting with Co. Carlow born actor William Desmond Taylor in Grandad (1913) and directing Co. Meath born actor Matt Moore in Back Pay (1922), The First Year (1926) and Early To Wed (1926) as well as Co. Clare born actor J. W. Johnston in The Valley of The Silent Man (1922) and Co. Cork born actor Creighton Hale in The Circle (1925) and Wages For Wives (1925).
When Maureen decided to meet with the director he subsequently cast her in Song O’ My Heart (1930) alongside the great Irish tenor John McCormack. Despite no previous acting experience, O’Sullivan played the part of Eileen O’Brien, the daughter of an old flame of a retired Irish tenor who gives up his career to settle in an Irish village with the woman he loves, only to resume his career once again to financially support the woman and her children.
Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own