Maureen O'Sullivan (1911 - 1998)

Maureen O'Sullivan
Maureen O'Sullivan
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Maureen O'Sullivan was a fresh-faced beauty with flowing brunette locks, and an often bikini-clad curvaceous figure. In a long acting career of 64 years and comprising over 60 films,her best known role by far was as the heroine, Jane, in six of Johnny Weismuller's Tarzan films during the 1930's and early 1940's. She also became well known as the mother of Mia Farrow and so for a short time, the mother-in-law of Frank Sinatra and Woody Allen.


Maureen O'Sullivan was born Maureen Paula O'Sullivan in Boyle, County Roscommon, Ireland, on 17th May, 1911. After schooling in Dublin, Paris and London, (where she was a classmate of Vivien Leigh) Maureen returned to Ireland.

Her early ambition was to be a pilot but she had always been interested in acting and it seemed like fate when she was spotted by director Frank Borzage when both were at a horse show. At his suggestion she took a screen test and and was given the substantial role of Eileen O'Brien in the film'Song o' My Heart' which Borzage was filming on location in Ireland at the time. In 1930 she travelled to Hollywood to complete the movie and was immediately given another part in the film 'So This is London' in 1930.

Early Hollywood Career

She was then swiftly shuffled through a series of movies with 20th Century Fox including musicals such as 'Just Imagine' in 1930 and 'A Connecticut Yankee' in 1931. She was becoming noticed in Hollywood and in 1932 she was offered a contract with MGM. After several minor roles she landed what was destined to be her signature role as Jane Parker in 'Tarzan the Ape Man' in 1932.

Freshly beautiful, O'Sullivan's Jane looks as comfortable in Paris fashion jungle outfits as the minimal skin bikini of 'Tarzan and His Mate' in 1934. Her relationship with Johnny Weissmuller's Tarzan is complex; sexual but also maternal, because Jane is as intrepid in protecting her man from emotional complexities he is unequipped to deal with, as he is in defending her from rampaging wildlife, head hunting natives, and evil white hunters.

Over the next ten years Maureen played Jane in five more Tarzan movies, finally slipping out of the franchise after'Tarzan's Secret Treasure, in 1941 and 'Tarzan's New York Adventure' in 1942. Censorship gradually tamed the series and Jane appeared in numerous non-Tarzan films during this period, although rarely getting the quality of part her acting deserved. After'The Cohens and Kellys in Trouble' in 1933, she was the supporting female lead in the classic'The Thin Man' with the highly popular Myrna Loy and William Powell, and 'The Barretts of Wimpole Street' in 1934 and the following year she was again the second female lead in'Anna Karenina' with Greta Garbo and Basil Rathbone.

She supported the Marx Brothers in'A Day at the Races' in 1937 and then had an important role in'A Yank at Oxford' with Robert Taylor and Vivien Leigh, after her part was rewritten by F. Scott Fitzgerald who had reputedly developed a romantic admiration for Maureen. The trend of good supporting roles in all her non-Tarzan films continued with'Pride and Prejudice' in 1940 with Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson, and'Maisie Was a Lady' the following year.

Family Break

She had a six year break from movie making between 1942 and 1948 whilst she cared for her husband, John Farrow, who had been invalided out of the Canadian Navy in January 1942 with typhoid fever, and raised their young family of seven children. Maureen returned to the movie business in 'The Big Clock' in 1948 and the noir thriller,'Where Danger Lives' in 1950, both directed by her husband. For most of the 1950's she continued making occasional, unheralded movies such as'Bonzo Goes to College' in 1952,'Men Behind Bars' in 1954,'The Tall T' in 1957 and 'Wild Heritage' the following year, after which she decided to retire from movie making.

On movie retirement she began another career on the stage in 1961 with the play'A Roomful of Roses' and the following year she made her Broadway debut at the Playhouse Theatre in'Never too Late', co- starring with Paul Ford. The play ran for over 1,000 performances until April 1965 when Maureen was persuaded to return to the big screen to make the movie version of the play. She also starred on Broadway in the British comedy'No Sex Please, We're British' in 1973.

Television Career

She continued with her successful career in television which she had started in 1952 in an episode of'Hollywood Opening Night' and for the rest of her career she made frequent appearances in programs such as'Lux Video Theater', The Ford Television Theater','Ben Casey' right up to 1994 in'Hart to Hart'. She also briefly hosted a television show, called'Irish Heritage'.

Career End

Maureen made a surprise cameo appearance in a very forgettable horror film in 1985, called'Too Scared to Scream', starring Mike Connors and Ian McShane and the following year appeared in her last two movies'Peggy Sue Got Married' and, with her daughter, Mia Farrow,'Hannah and Her Sisters'.


Maureen was a beautiful, highly intelligent girl with a lively, engaging personality, and she was romantically involved with several actors before her marriage, including Dick Haymes and James Dunn. She also had a brief affair with her Tarzan co-star, Johnny Weissmuller in 1932.

She married twice. Her first husband was the Australian writer and award-winning film director, John Farrow, with whom she had seven children, two of whom, Mia Farrow and Tia Farrow, became actresses. The marriage ended with John Farrow's death in 1963. Later in the decade she became involved with actor Robert Ryan but with wedding plans in the air he fell ill and died in 1973.

Maureen married again in 1983, to James Cushing, a building contractor. The marriage ended with her death.

Maureen O'Sullivan died in Scottsdale, Arizona of a heart attack, on June 23, 1998. She was 87 years old.

Maureen O'Sullivan Academy Awards

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Maureen O'Sullivan Filmography

So This Is London
Song o' My Heart
Just Imagine
Princess and the Plumber
The Yankee at King Arthur's Court
The Big Shot
Tarzan the Ape Man
The Silver Lining
Fast Companions
Skyscraper Souls
The Penalty of Fame
Payment Deferred
Strange Interlude
Robbers' Roost
The Cohens and Kellys in Trouble
Tugboat Annie
Stage Mother
Tarzan and His Mate
The Thin Man
The Barretts of Wimpole Street
David Copperfield
West Point of the Air
Cardinal Richelieu
The Flame Within
Woman Wanted
Anna Karenina
The Bishop's Misadventures
The Voice of Bugle Ann
The Devil-Doll
Tarzan Escapes
A Day at the Races
The Emperor's Candlesticks
Between Two Women
My Dear Miss Aldrich
A Yank at Oxford
Hold That Kiss
Port of Seven Seas
The Crowd Roars
Spring Madness
Let Us Live
Tarzan Finds a Son!
Sporting Blood
Pride and Prejudice
Maisie Was a Lady
Tarzan's Secret Treasure
Tarzan's New York Adventure
The Big Clock
Where Danger Lives
No Resting Place
Bonzo Goes to College
All I Desire
Eyes of the Skies
Men Behind Bars
The Steel Cage
The Little Lamb: A Christmas Story (short) (uncredited)
The Tall T
Wild Heritage