The charming and talented Hollywood icon Maureen O’Hara died today. If you’re already a fan of this redheaded jewel, you’re likely to be familiar with her more famous roles; and even if her name doesn’t sound familiar, you may recognize her from such legendary films as How Green Was My Valley, Miracle on 34th Street or Disney’s The Parent Trap (1961).
I first fell in love with Ms. O’Hara when I was just a young girl. I happened to be watching late night television when I spotted the gorgeous actress as the charming gypsy Esmeralda in the 1939 production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. In fact, I credit her and the movie with the birth of my affection for cinema, especially the tragedies.
I’ve since seen the movie at least three dozen times and to this day, Maureen’s performance still brings tears to my eyes. The storyline itself is incredibly touching [more so, I dare say, than Victor Hugo’s novel] and covers most of my favorite literary and cinematic themes: isolation, redemption, loss, and unrequited love. Most, including myself, would argue that the RKO production is the best adaptation of the novel because it focuses on the bizarre love triangle of Esmeralda, Quasimodo, and Frollo. That said, it is Maureen O’Hara and Charles Laughton who are the catalysts that make this version the masterpiece it is.
I loved the movie so much that, while I was studying for my Bachelors Degree in Literature, I forced myself to read the novel even though it was not required for my major. While I never fell in love with the French epic, Notre-Dame de Paris is legitimately an important piece of literature. Years after the fact, I can now confess that once I became an English teacher, I included the English translation of Victor Hugo’s novel in my curriculum mostly just so I could make my students watch the film! Thankfully, and to my great surprise, even my most contentious students were always moved by the RKO production. In fact, one year my class insisted that I replay the “Sanctuary” scene over and over while they heartily cheered in unison as Quasimodo rescued his heart’s desire. Now, if jaded and churlish high school students can fall in love with Maureen O’Hara’s Esmeralda, I know you can, too.
Thank you Maureen O’Hara. Because of your enormous talent and beauty in film, your light will shine through the ages. May the Light Perpetual now shine upon you.