March 26, 2005 – Movie actress Maureen O'Hara doesn't spend as much time on St. Croix as she used to, but in an interview at the Hibiscus on Friday she said she is always "fighting for it and praising it." She said it is her favorite of all the islands.
She sold her house it Hermon Hill about four years ago. "It was just too enormous," she said. She still maintains a residence here, owning a condo.
However, she has been spending a lot of her time in Arizona to be close to family members. This present visit on St. Croix will last several weeks. In June she is going to Ireland. She, like all her brothers and sisters, was born in Ireland. Just last week she was honored in New York City as the Irish American Woman of the Year.(See "Irish America Magazine Names Maureen O'Hara Woman of the Year").
Her trip to Ireland is an annual one. She is the main dignitary, of course, at the Maureen O'Hara Golf Classic. She said when they organized the Classic, some people said it would not last, but this year is its 21st annual.
She remembers playing golf on St. Croix. She said she and Dolly Lincoln were the first women ever to play Buccaneer. She recalls one hole they called "heartbreak hill" because of the steepness of the hill (probably No. 15).
Sitting at the H2O Restaurant in a wicker chair she was gracious and alert as she recalled times on the island when she and her husband, Charlie Blair, owner of Antilles Airboats, entertained other movie stars on St. Croix.
She recalled getting a post card from John Wayne saying, "In the twilight of our years, when the hell are you going to invite me down to St. Croix?"
Of course, an invitation followed and Wayne came down. She said he had to rent a pickup truck because none of the cars were a comfortable size for him. When he drove through Christiansted he drove slow, stopping sometimes, admiring the old buildings.
She said, "Some youngsters behind him got mad and started yelling insults at him." He just stuck his head out the window, turned slowly to look at them and said, "Yes." O'Hara said the youngsters then fell silent and nothing more was heard from them.
O'Hara said Wayne had a great times on his visits. She said her husband and Wayne would often go flying around the islands. One time they were making a flight in a large airplane to San Juan. It was the type of plane that required a co-pilot as well as a pilot. There was not a co-pilot on board. When they arrived in Puerto Rico the Federal Aviation Authority officials were alerted and came to question what was going on.
Blair looked at the authorities and then looked toward John Wayne, then looked back at the authorities and asked, "Didn't you see The High and The Mighty?'" a popular movie of the time. The officials, according to O'Hara, apologized profusely. Wayne, who portrayed a pilot in movies, but who was never really a pilot, got a laugh out of the incident.
Wayne was not the only movie star to enjoy O'Hara's hospitality on St. Croix. Ginger Rogers was a guest as was Jason Robards, Victor Borge, and Lauren Bacall.
John Wayne was just one of many leading men she played opposite, Ward Bond, Jimmy Stewart and Henry Fonda were others. She said she like them all except Rex Harrison. A bit of movie trivia she let out in the interview was that when she was making the classic "Hunchback of Notre Dame," she was getting paid $88 a week. She counted among her friends Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. In "Only the Lonely" (1991) she played John Candy's mother. She spoke highly of Candy. She said it wasn't the weight that killed him that his family had a history of heart problems and members tended not to live long. She said she saw him just before he died and he told her he was afraid of what was coming.
She came to St. Croix because her husband lived here. She still has nothing but praise for him. She said he was the first man to fly solo over the north pole. He later wrote a book about the experience. She said he also piloted the first trans-Atlantic flight that carried passengers and mail. He started Antilles Airboats in 1964 and died in a plane crash in 1978. The company went out of business a couple of years later.
To keep her interested in St. Croix and busy, he bought the Virgin Islands magazine. She is proud of some of the writing she did in that magazine, fondly recalling an article about the contents of a handbag. The article gained the praise ofAllen H. Neuharth the founder of USA Today.
All of her memories of St. Croix are not good. She remembers getting a call in Ireland in 1989 after Hurricane Hugo. She said the caller, who never identified himself simply said, "I just called to let you know you no longer have a home on St. Croix."
She said she still remembers coming around a bend in the road and seeing the devastation from the hurricane. A three-foot statue of the Virgin Mary that her husband had bought her in Madrid, oddly stood in the midst of the wreckage without a scratch on it. The statue now occupies a prominent place on a shelf in her home in Arizona.
As O'Hara approaches her 85h birthday she is not sure about any more movies, but she added, "You can never tell. The perfect script might come along."
Her last movie to date was "Cab to Canada" (1998).
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