Maureen O’Sullivan — The Mystery of Maureen (1935) 🇺🇸

Maureen O’Sullivan — The Mystery of Maureen (1935) |

August 16, 2023

Hollywood is so intense. Every one connected with pictures is highly keyed, overambitious, eager about the present and anxious about the future. Nothing is unqualified — everything is the “greatest,” the “biggest,” or the “lousiest.” Superlatives fly through the air like confetti on New Year’s Eve.

by Mabel Duke

That’s why it is rare to meet a movie-ite who is casual about the whole darn business. One who doesn’t think the industry would be permanently disabled if she ceased making pictures, and who doesn’t feel her life would be blighted if ber place on the screen were lost to another.

That’s the impression Maureen O’Sullivan gave me. Accustomed to meeting, among the stars, glamour girls and personality fellows who project their types with intensity, it is difficult to describe this girl who is vivid without effort, friendly but reserved in manner, earnest in her screen efforts and yet careless of her screen future. But let me tell you about her.

I first met Maureen last fall in Texas when she was on location with West Point of the Air, shooting at Randolph Field in San Antonio. Her father, Major Charles J. O’Sullivan, was visiting America at that time and had accompanied his daughter to Texas, welcoming the location trip as an opportunity to see more of this vast country where his daughter has won fame and fortune.

Major O’Sullivan, a retired army man in his native Ireland, is small, wiry, sharp-witted, and humorous. Maureen is obviously devoted to him. An artificial arm was mute evidence of the major’s war years, and Maureen buttered his rolls and assisted him during the meal. Maureen was silent most of the meal, seldom taking part in our discussion. Once she laughed and exclaimed:

“Father, you’ll never realize the difference between Britain and the United States so much as when you want tea in this country. Try going into a restaurant and ordering tea. Of course, in our country,” she explained to me, “that means a pot of tea with bread and butter or cake. The girl takes your order with no questions and brings you whatever they serve. But over here, tea isn’t a meal — it’s only a beverage. They invariably say, ‘Do you want black or green or orange pekoe? And what do you want with it? A ham sandwich?“

Major O’Sullivan laughed merrily and even those at the next table were amused at Maureen’s imitated Yankee accent.

After lunch Maureen and I crossed the field to her “dressing room,” which had been hurriedly set up in the kitchen of an unoccupied house on the field. The furnishings in the otherwise empty house consisted of a dresser and mirror in the pantry, and a cook stove, kitchen table and one straight chair in the kitchen.

The famous Texas wind was doing its stuff that day and Maureen’s naturally curly hair was so blown and tossed that her maid had to resort to artificial means to keep it presentable for her camera scenes. Maureen perched nonchalantly on the kitchen table as the maid heated irons on the stove and curled the wind-blown ends of her long bob.

An incongruous setting for a pampered screen star, I thought.

But Maureen ignored the inappropriate environment and neither complained nor joked about the inconveniences. She disregarded them as completely as if she were comfortably settled in her attractive dressing room in Culver City. Her maid hovered anxiously over her and appeared much more interested in the actress’s appearance than did Maureen herself.

“How does that look now, Miss O’Sullivan?” the girl urged.

“Fine! It’s perfectly all right,” she said, jumping down from the table, hardly glancing at the mirror the maid held before her.

As she hurriedly changed from the bathing suit she had worn for the morning shooting into a sports suit for her afternoon scenes, she showed me her wardrobe for the picture — several sports outfits and a couple of evening frocks. I exclaimed over them for they were all unusually attractive.

Adrian’s?” I asked her.

“Heavens, no!” she laughed. “It’s only the stars who get Adrian. We leading ladies shop for our things ready-made. A girl from the wardrobe department and I set out one afternoon and collected these in the Hollywood and Los Angeles shops for this picture.”

“They’re darling, all of them, especially this green. It’s lovely,” I exclaimed.

She eyed it critically. “Yes, I liked it a lot at first. You know, I don’t understand myself about my picture clothes. I love pretty things and become attached to frocks in my personal wardrobe and never want to stop wearing them. But I get so tired of my picture clothes. When I go shopping for my next film, I fall in love with everything I pick out and promise myself I’ll have duplicates made for my personal wardrobe. But by the time the picture’s finished, I hate everything I’ve worn in it and I’m glad to get rid of them all. Only one thing I’ve ever kept from a picture wardrobe. That’s this.” She held up a little dove-gray silk draw-string bag which held her make-up.

“I carried this in The Barretts and I’ve kept it because it’s so convenient to carry on the set.”

I remembered the sentiment of Joan Crawford and other stars who retain mementoes of every big part they play. Janet Gaynor still has the shoes she wore in Seventh Heaven, and she keeps many frocks from her pictures as reminders of the big moments of her career. Maureen’s unconcern, which seemed to reflect an unconcern for her work as well, seemed odd.

As a matter of fact, Maureen is a rather unusual person. With the appearance of a standardized ingénue she has never accomplished anything particularly outstanding in pictures, and yet her popularity has steadily increased. Whereas several ingénues who entered pictures when she did have disappeared from the Hollywood scene, Maureen has managed to remain, giving consistently good performances with sometimes a glimpse of brilliance, as in The Barretts of Wimpole Street and David Copperfield. But it’s only a glimpse. She returns to stereotyped leading lady parts that could as easily be played by any one of several girls on the lot.

It’s as if she had the capacity to do something outstanding, if only she cared enough to exert herself. Maureen in reality isn’t just a sweet and girlish ingénue. Seldom have I met a girl of her years with as definitely a mind of her own. She could be, I firmly believe, one of the important dramatic actresses of the screen. But since meeting and talking with her, I doubt that she ever will be.

In the first place, she hasn’t the consuming desire that spurs on girls like Joan Crawford, Norma Shearer, or Ginger Rogers. She’d rather be married to her Johnny — Farrow’s the name, in case you don’t know [John Farrow].

In the second place, she insists she’s lazy and that her entrance into and progress in pictures can all be attributed solely to luck.

This she told me the second time we met. It was in Hollywood, when we had lunch together one day. It was then that she gave fate full credit for everything she’s ever accomplished.

“I’ve just been lucky, that’s all. I guess I’ll continue in pictures as long as my luck holds out, and I’m going to collect while it does last,” she declared.

“It’s strange about luck, isn’t it?” she considered reflectively. “I believe definitely that the reason some of us are successful in Hollywood and others aren’t is because Fate smiles on some of us and not on others. And yet, I’m convinced, too, that we have something to do with our own luck. Take for example, how I got a start in pictures. I might easily have missed my chance.

“I was going out an awful lot in Dublin — every night to a show or a dance or party. Mother thought I was going out too much and should stay at home more. One night she put her foot down and definitely stated that I shouldn’t go out that particular night. I suppose I’ve always been pretty headstrong, so I put my foot down and said that I should go, but that I’d stay home the next night if she really wished it. So I went.

“That was the night I attended the dance where Frank Borzage saw me and offered me a contract, and the next night, instead of staying home as I had agreed, we were all madly packing for my trek to Hollywood.

“I didn’t deserve a chance in pictures — I had done nothing to merit a contract, had seldom even thought of acting, but luck brought it to me. And yet, by such a small margin, I might have missed it altogether. Strange, isn’t it? I can’t figure it out.”

It’s pretty obvious in talking to Maureen that life right now isn’t exactly as she would have it. She declares emphatically that she thinks a woman is happier at home than engaged in professional work, and that she’d rather be married than starred in pictures. But because of their religion, she and Mr. Farrow can’t yet be married because of some technicality in his former divorce. The luck that has been so kind professionally seems to have deserted her in her personal affairs.

“I like making pictures, and I like living in Hollywood, but I certainly wouldn’t be happy if I thought I’d spend the rest of my life here,” she declared. “No one can have roots in Hollywood. Everything is constantly changing here. The people you meet and like one day are perhaps gone tomorrow. I’ve lived in a trunk since I’ve been in California. I don’t feel settled enough to buy a house. When Johnny and I marry — if it is ever possible — we want to buy a house, perhaps in the California hills, but preferably back in Devonshire.

“Of course, as long as I am in pictures Hollywood will be the only place to live, but Johnny, being a writer, can fortunately live anywhere. His work is not limited by geographical locations. In Devonshire we would be near my family. I have three young sisters, you know, and a brother. We can have roots and raise a family and feel settled. That’s what I’d like, I think.” She looked off wistfully in the distance.

Educators say that it is only the things we give our full attention to and work earnestly for in which we achieve satisfying success. Without doubt, that is the principal reason why Maureen O’Sullivan is still a leading lady instead of a star. But how can she concentrate entirely on screen romances in the transitory environment of Hollywood, when she’d rather be securely settled in her own home in Merrie England, living a real-life romance?

Maureen O’Sullivan — The Mystery of Maureen (1935) |

Maureen says that by the time a picture is finished she hates the clothes she has worn in it and is glad to get rid of them all.

Photo by: McNulty

Maureen O’Sullivan — The Mystery of Maureen (1935) |

Miss O’Sullivan hasn’t the consuming ambition that spurs on Joan Crawford, Norma Shearer, and Ginger Rogers. She says she’d rather be married than starred. And that explains why she is casual toward her career.

Maureen O’Sullivan — The Mystery of Maureen (1935) |

Henry Fonda, highly regarded stage actor and former husband of Margaret Sullavan, is with Janet Gaynor in The Farmer Takes a Wife.

Collection: Picture Play Magazine, July 1935