After completing Rio Grande (1950) director John Ford started preparations for his magnum opus The Quiet Man (1952), his personal tribute to Ireland which he had wanted to make for a long time. In the fall of 1950, Ford left for Ireland developing his story and seeking locations, while his preferred leading lady Maureen O'Hara flew to Australia to make the film Kangaroo (1952). It was at a stopover in Honolulu where O'Hara received a strange letter from Ford addressed to "Herself", the first of many letters which surprised and confused her. In her 2004 autobiography 'Tis Herself, O'Hara described the moment when the letters, apart from confusing her, also started to worry her: "I hadn't been overly concerned about these letters up to this point, but now I was. Over the next several weeks, more letters arrived for Herself. By the end of February , I had received a stack of them. I couldn't keep dismissing them as John Ford eccentricities or as harmless whims during a drunken stupor. I could no longer deny that, for whatever reason, John Ford was sending me love letters."
|John Ford and Maureen O'Hara in Ireland-- above they are pictured with Ford's secretary and script supervisor Meta Sterne and below with John "Duke " Wayne.|
Trying to figure out why John Ford was sending her these letters, Maureen O'Hara came to realise that it was not hér Ford was in love with, but the character Mary Kate Danaher she was going to play in The Quiet Man. O'Hara believed that Ford (who was born in the USA to Irish immigrants and wanted to get in touch with his Irish roots) was so absorbed in writing his script that she became his ideal Irish woman through Mary Kate and that the letters were all part of Ford's creative process as he was preparing The Quiet Man. Naturally, when filming finally began, O'Hara was curious to see how Ford would behave towards her, not having seen him since receiving the letters. In her autobiography 'Tis Herself she recalled:
And she hastened to add:Obviously, I was eager to see how John Ford was going to act toward me on and off the set. His letters had me confused and curious, but not overly concerned. I wanted to know if he was still playing this Quiet Man romance-fantasy of me in his head. I was relieved to see that he was no different from how he had always been. He never mentioned the letters to me, and it was strange, as if they had never existed. On the set, he was the typical Mr. Ford-- happy at times, irritated at others, sometimes insulting, at times abusive, acerbic with his wit, a bastard, but always in control-- and so I felt everything was normal. I later learned, after the picture was finished, that he was still clinging to these fantasies about me. But while we were making the movie, he managed to hide that from me.
With that said, let me get this out of the way once and for all: I did not have an affair with John Ford while we were making The Quiet Man, or at any other time. The man was old enough to be my father! I've heard the rumors that have been thrown around. These stories and assumptions are spewed out in interviews and end up printed in books about John Ford as though they are fact. I'm sorry, guys, but you have it wrong. You should have asked me. Ford did not assign me to a room at Ashford Castle that was adjacent to his, as one person alleged. What Ford did do, however, was deliberately assign me to a room that was very beat up, with holes in the worn-out carpet and wallpaper peeling off the walls. Duke, on the other hand, had a gorgeous suite. I thought, Oh, that old bastard. He did this on purpose, just so I'll make a fuss and complain. But I never said a word. I would never have given him the satisfaction.
Whether it was indeed as Maureen O'Hara believed (i.e. John Ford not really being in love with hér but with her character) -- well, who knows ... At any rate, in the years following The Quiet Man the relationship between O'Hara and Ford grew more difficult with an embittered Ford often verbally assaulting O'Hara, especially during production of The Long Gray Line (1955). (O'Hara once said about Ford's bitterness: "He wanted to be born in Ireland and he wanted to be an Irish rebel. The fact that he wasn't left him very bitter".) Still, O'Hara respected Ford and considered him a friend. She also felt that he was the best director she had ever worked with, having made a total of five films with him (i.e. How Green Was My Valley (1941), Rio Grande (1950), The Quiet Man (1952), The Long Gray Line (1955) and The Wings of Eagles (1957)).
|Maureen O'Hara as the feisty Mary Kate Danaher in The Quiet Man (of all the films she had done, it was her favourite film); pictured below with co-star John Wayne as Sean Thornton in the film's romantic rain scene.|
And now to the letters!
Seen below are two of John Ford's letters to Maureen O'Hara. The first one is part of a letter, not the whole letter, probably written in late 1950. The second letter was written in January 1951 in Korea, where Ford was making the documentary This is Korea! before returning to Ireland. (Incidentally, Ford signed his letters with "Sean", Irish for John, which was also the name for his male protagonist in The Quiet Man.)
[darling Maisín, I have a great need of you- a great physical urge- not the bay but the heart- if I could only see you, just to hear you laugh]
I'm sorry about the mail business- the distance makes things tough but I'm not expecting too much. You've a job to do- that comes first. You know my dear, that whatever you feel like doing or do is OK with me. I'm so grateful for the few weeks happiness you've given me (few weeks! it was a lifetime!) You're still my darling loyal girl- come hell or high water- I'll always love + revere you- please think kindly of me- not much- a little bit.
BUSINESS: I think honestly we're getting a great story. The girl's part is simply terrific! It's the best part I've ever read for a gal- dramatic- comedic- wistful- pathetic- yet full of hell + fire- passionate + sweet. For goodness sake + your family's sake, bend every effort to get it. This is my farewell to movies + I want it good. It will be only great if you play it for I [sic] written it- guided it- slanted for you. As my last picture- if the shootin' war holds off. I can only force myself to enthusiasm if you + Duke are present—
frankly- before I pass on, I want to see you established as a great actress (which you are) with a great performance to your credit. Our personal friendship- past or present- doesn't enter into it. Altho' I'm selfishly professional in my attitude and you can't blame me, on my last pro. effort I still feel as tho' you're part of me- the things I love, I couldn't or wouldn't do it with anyone else. Something would be missing- They say "There's no fool like an old fool"+ I'm in love for the first time- and proud as all bloody hell about it- So you can see- Maisin [....] how important you are to the picture- (and you're important to me- will you laugh!
Source: 'Tis Herself (2004) by Maureen O'Hara with John NicolettiKoreaMy darlin' my loved one my heart-Maisín!Oh God-at last-at long last-I hear from you! And such lovely letters (Oh thank you my heart) the last dated Jan 6. And here I was moping like a gossoon-about my last & only love— Irish like- an' all the time you were writing regularly! And thru' it all I got the impression you were still fond of me. Darling-you've made me so happy! I looked at the letters for a whole day—afraid to open them—then I said, "I'll read one a day." Then like a drunk & his bottle I read them all-word for word-inflection for inflection-I thought I would have a heart attack- frankly, I damn near fainted several times. I've read them over a hundred times, each time they're different. Again my love thanks. You've made me so happy!!! I love you-I love you-I love you! I kiss you a million times! I'm delirious with happiness.Oh Maisín agrad, why can't we just chuck it & go back to our lovely Isle-the three of us? Life is so different there-the people-our people-are nicer. We can social climb a bit and say we're peasants.Did you like the "houseen"? It's at Ballyconnelly (Hell-I already told you) but it's lovely & lovely-so beautiful—Brian Hurst and I have paid two years rent on Michael Killanin's church cottage (church of Ireland ol' dear) in Spiddal. Nice fishing-bathing- plain but comfortable- but too near my relations- Ballyconnelly is away up in Connemara-near Ballylahunch-(Gawd what am I raving about! And me old enough to be your grandfather!) But a guy can dream can't he? And I'm in love-for once. Ireland was so pretty my darling-oh how I love it-and you.I hope this letter makes sense. I'm writing by candlelight out in the boondocks. (I think I'll knock off a while and rest my eyes & hands & re-read your letters a couple of times-I feel sensual- all aglow & warm with love-I can feel your arms around me-and your lips pressed to mine and your red hair-oh my love).Sleep tight my sweet. I hope I'm still y'fella- think kindly of me my love for I love you with all my heart & soul.Séan