Excerpt: 'Tis Herself: A Memoir'

You already know that I am an actress and movie star. Some see me as a former screen siren, while others remember me as the dame who gave as good as she got with Duke. To some I'm the first woman swashbuckler, while others think of me as a pirate queen. I've done as many tearjerkers as I have movies with crazy stunts. I was once called "Frozen Champagne" and "Window Dressing," which still annoys me. I much preferred "Big Red" or "the Queen of Technicolor." Many women have written to me over the years and said that I've been an inspiration to them, a woman who could hold her own against the world. That's lovely. The great director John Ford paid me my favorite compliment by saying I was the best "effin' " actress in Hollywood. Much of this story, though, is part of a public persona that was carefully sewn together, like a magnificent quilt, by the powerful Hollywood studio system. An entire publicity team had to see to it that at least one item about me was published every day. Many were total lies or studio publicity department inventions. Hollywood gossip queens like Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper then built on these myths in their daily columns, which were read as Gospel by millions. Of course, my loved ones know me in a far more intimate way. To them I'm just Mammy, Gran', or Auntie Maureen — a lousy cook but one helluva cleaning lady.

I am and have been all of these things throughout my personal and professional lives, but no one of them defines me. Above all else, deep in my soul, I'm a tough Irishwoman.

Being an Irishwoman means many things to me. An Irishwoman is strong and feisty. She has guts and stands up for what she believes in. She believes she is the best at whatever she does and proceeds through life with that knowledge. She can face any hazard that life throws her way and stay with it until she wins. She is loyal to her kinsmen and accepting of others. She's not above a sock in the jaw if you have it coming. She is only on her knees before God. Yes, I am most definitely an Irishwoman. My heritage has been my grounding, and it has brought me peace. Being tough and strong have always been my most dominant characteristics, like a fire that burns deep within me. I have always believed that I can do anything I set my mind to, as long as I'm willing to make the necessary sacrifices. I have called upon this fire to achieve my goals and survive whenever I felt my world come crashing down around me. In this way, I am like many of the women I've played on-screen. And yet you will soon read about two events in my life that caused me to stumble and do exactly the opposite of what you and I would expect Maureen O'Hara to do. They involve my first two marriages and may jolt you. One was a comedy of youth, but the other was a tragedy of inexperience.

Still, if the events of our youth shape us into who we become, then one incident in particular had the greatest impact on me. It happened when I was a young schoolgirl at the Irish Sisters of Charity school in Milltown.

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