Elton John once sang that Saturday night’s alright for fighting, but over in Hollywood no fisticuffs were headed in my direction. I was but one of several hundred movie buffs waiting at the El Capitan Theatre to check out John Ford’s feature “How Green Was My Valley” at the TCM Classic Film Festival. Maureen O’Hara, the strong willed and talented beauty whose credits include “The Quiet Man” and “Miracle on 34th Street,” was on hand to introduce the film.
I unabashedly love TCM host Robert Osborne’s interviewing skills as well as his even handed reverence for the films of yesteryear. Many journalists and hosts come off as sycophantic during interviews, and thankfully Osborne doesn’t belong in that camp. After a Maureen O’Hara brief tribute clip finished, Osborne introduced the actress, who immediately received a standing ovation.
After noticing a tear on O’Hara’s cheek from the warm reception, the TCM host dished out his first question.
Osborne: So Maureen, tell us about John Ford (and) what he meant to you?
O’Hara: I thought I was here to talk about me.
The crowd erupted in laughter, giving the actress another round of effusive applause. Osborne, who always seems to know exactly what to say, interjected, “What I meant was, what did John Ford mean to Maureen O’Hara?”
With much respect to Mr. Ford’s classic, most of the moviegoers’ goals was shower O’Hara with their undying affection. Since most of the TCM Classic Film Festival attendees are diehard cinephiles, many of them had already seen “How Green Was My Valley.”
The “you had to be there” cliche certainly applies regarding that evening, especially since the 93-year-old actress knows how to spin a tale or two.
“I’ll tell you something that’s wonderful,” said O’Hara to a rapt audience. “To walk up and down the street once here in this area. . . they always used to say when we were little that the ghosts of the dead Irish were here in this little village somewhere and they walked up and down the street. If you walked up and down, too, they’d see to it that you’d get a chance to make a second walk.”
Osborne then jokingly described the story as “Irish blarney,” to which O’Hara replied: “Well if it is Irish blarney, what do you want?”
We get to the part of the evening which got me a bit teary eyed, as she regaled the crowd with a mixture of spirituality, sentiment, and humor.
“I just hope that it’s true that we do live way beyond the years that God gives us on Earth,” she added. “And that way we can have Saturday night every weekend! Don’t laugh and applaud and think it means nothing. Believe me, God is listening all the time. And he’s listening to see if he can catch you doing something that you shouldn’t be doing!”
Osborne later replied, “We thank you for coming you and letting us show you our affection for you.” To which O’Hara interjected, “Well, don’t be fooled into thinking I do magical things.”
Osborne: “You really do. You’ve done magical things up there on the screen.”
The crowd once again erupts in applause, and the actress shares another thought on the afterlife.
O’Hara: “So many of us have passed, who are in heaven. So many of us are looking towards heaven – and so many of us are seeing what our life is going to be like in the time to come.”
After someone in the theater coughed, O’Hara asked that person to stand up so God would bless them. When the unidentified joked that Osborne gave her the allergy, O’Hara looked at the TCM host, “Got an allergy for ya, I hope I don’t think it means what I think it does!”
And with that, Osborne and the audience thanked O’Hara for her time, and the screening of “How Green Was My Valley” started.
The words “movie magic” is often thrown around like useless glitter, that one wonders if such a concept exists anymore. Once in a blue moon, when Maureen O’Hara is on the silver screen, that notion rings true.
Here’s the video of the pre-screening conversation between O’Hara and Osborne:
As for “How Green Was My Valley,” I’m embarrassed that it took me 42 years to watch this cinematic treasure. O’Hara, who landed the role over screen sirens Gene Tierney and Katherine Hepburn, was just one of many actors who gave wonderful performances in the feature (the movie also stars Walter Pidgeon and Roddy McDowall). Considering the movie centers on a Welsh coal mining family who navigate through life by faith and perseverance, “How Green Was My Valley” served as the perfect pairing to O’Hara’s appearance at the TCM Classic Film Festival.