HOLLYWOOD -- Though she left the movie business 17 years ago, Maureen O'Hara can never really leave Hollywood. Too many of her films are classics and TV staples, including a certain holiday perennial about a gent named Kris Kringle.
Reminiscing about "Miracle on 34th Street" (1947), O'Hara says, "We knew we were making a good movie -- the script was so wonderful, and there was such rapport among the cast -- but no one had any idea that the film would be with us, well, forever."
Indeed, just weeks ago, as O'Hara walked home from church in New York City, a child asked her: "Aren't you the lady who knows Santa Claus?' "
O'Hara, whose auburn hair and flashing green eyes helped earn her the title "the Queen of Technicolor," made more than 50 films, including "How Green Was My Valley" (1941) and "The Quiet Man" (1952). In her last roles -- in "Big Jake" (1971) and the TV movie "The Red Pony" (1973) -- she was cast opposite John Wayne and Henry Fonda, respectively.
She is now back before the cameras as John Candy's possessive Irish-American mother.
In "Only the Lonely," produced by John Hughes and directed by Chris Columbus (the "Home Alone" team), O'Hara meddles destructively in the romance between Candy and the shy daughter (Ally Sheedy) of a local mortician. Meanwhile, she must fend off the romantic advances of a Greek neighbor (Anthony Quinn, in their fourth film together).
When Columbus went in search of the actress, says O'Hara, "He couldn't find me, I'd completely dropped out. I didn't even have an agent." The director contacted a newspaper targeted for Irish-Americans, who in turn sent him to O'Hara's producer-brother, Charles Fitzsimons, which led to O'Hara.
So does this mean she's back in the business?
"Oh, goodness, no," says O'Hara, who makes her home on the island of St. Croix, where she's been involved in numerous business ventures. "This film was something special."
Married three times (her third husband died in 1978) and the mother of five, the 69-year-old O'Hara has eight grandchildren who are quite impressed by her "new" stature.
"They think it's absolutely terrific that I'm working with 'Uncle Buck.' "