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Saturday, 11th October 2008

June 1998:

Maureen O'Sullivan:

Gallaher, Shots from Famous Films [1935, 48 cards] #10, depicted with Weissmuller in Tarzan and his mate.

Gallaher, My Favourite Part #48

t the age of 87 the woman most famous for being Jane to Johnny Weissmuller's (Players, Film Stars, 1st series [1934] Tarzan passed away.

Born 17, May, 1911 at Roscommon her father retired wounded from the British Army at the age of 28 after which her mother had a series of nervous breakdowns. Despite this it was not a poor unbringing.

She went to a convent school in Dublin which was not a pleasant experience, finding the nun's somewhat sinister. Funded by a rich Uncle she went to the Sacred Heart at Roehampton which again was an unhappy experience which culminated in her putting ink into the holy water.

Details from Card
Gallaher, My Favourite Part (# 48) card shown
Maureen O'Sullivan
During the filming of 'A Yank at Oxford' I was able to go back to my own country - Ireland- and renew a lot of old friendships. I have always loved England, too, and re-visiting it to make a film was an unexpected pleasure. So no wonder 'Yank' was my favourite film!
Born: Boyle, Ireland Films Include: Tarzan Escapes, The Emporeor's Candlesticks, A Day at the Races, Between Two Women, My Dear Miss Aldrich, Port of Seven Seas, A Yank at Oxford, Hold that Kiss, The Crowd Roars.

She came second in a prettiest girl at the school competition, top honours being scooped by a girl two years her junior, Vivien Leigh. Gallaher, My Favourite Part [1939/48 cards] #15, a set which actually shows both of them, which is fitting.

Once schooling was over she went to finishing school at Versailles and on her return to Dublin attempted working with the poor. This failed as she found the poor 'disagreeable and ungrateful'.

She was discovered by Frank Borsage, the Hollywood director, and spirited away to California. It was at this time she discovered she had been living in a thatched cottage and speaking Gaelic according to the publicity. Not an uncommon affliction for new entrants in Hollywood which was forever looking for an 'angle' by which they could launch their new product.

Her first film was 1930, Song o' My Heart. John McCormack sang 11 songs in it, which is about all that can be said.

Four more films were churned out that year, each more dire than the last. 'Just Imagine' was a musical which only proved she was not capable of singing.

Eventually she was sacked by 20th Century Fox as a failure.

Not prepared to give up she spent her last $150 on some photo's which portrayed her in a more 'flattering' light and set of for MGM. It was at this point she determined that being pretty and doing what you were told was the way to get ahead.

It was then she was given a screen test for the Tarzan movie.

Tarzan and the Ape Man (1932) was the big break. The sequel Tarzan and his Mate [1934] just proved the point. In 1995 Sky judged the film to be worthy of inclusion in its 100 great movie series, so that just goes to prove something. Certainly there was a time when I was woken every morning to an endless beating of jungle drums and wailing natives as the Tarzan movies were played at about 5am every morning. It was a surreal time as the televisions in the house beat to this jungle rhythm.

In these two films Jane was fitted out in some pretty racy fashions for a jungle woman and there was a seven minute scene of her (or at least her double) swimming underwater, in the nude. This was cut from the eventually released film but sixty years later was reinstated.

Hays Code:

Took, 'excessive and lustful kissing, lustful embracing, suggestive postures and gestures on screen' off the screen. This rather put the mockers on 'Jane' but four further films were made:

Tarzan Escapes [1936]

Tarzan Finds a son [1939]

Tarzan's secret Treasure [1941]

Tarzan's New York Adventure [1942]

Maureen was having trouble with some of the actors on the set though which was souring the films for her. Cheetah the Chimp was the main problem, having taken something of a shine to Weissmuller, Cheetah took to biting Maureen.

Tarzan was not her only filming success.

In 1932 she starred along side Charles Laughton in Payment Deferred and Clark Gable in Strange Interlude.

It was during this time she was stepping out with Leslie Howard, a married fellow.

Although she played some good supporting roles from some reason she never really made it too lead role status and the films in which this was achieved are largely forgettable.

However her film roles in support found her working with some of the best actors of the day. and in A Yank at Oxford [1937] she worked with Vivien Leigh, sharing top billing and coming off second best (again). Despite this Maureen cites this as her Favourite Part in the Gallaher set of that name.

In 1936 she married John Farrow, a womaniser whom she seemed successfully to tame. They had seven children (the third being Mia Farrow).

The pressures of motherhood drastically reduced her film output.

I mention for no particular reason her fifth and final outing with John Wayne in Big Jake in 1971 as an example of some of her later work.

She was working as late as 1986 in Peggy Sue Got Married and also Hannah and Her Sisters.