Over the weekend I watched Rio Grande, the first of at least eight movies the late, great Irish actress, Maureen O’Hara, made with John Wayne. I began thinking of all the movies I have enjoyed in which the lovely O’Hara starred, and I was reminded of something that probably not too many Mississippians know: when she was 21, Maureen O’Hara, née, Maureen Fitzsimmons, married a Mississippi man, Lt. William (Will) Houston Price, and the wedding was held in the Magnolia State.
It was not O’Hara’s first march to the altar. At the tender age of 19 she secretly wed a British assistant film director named George Brown in London but she left for America immediately afterwards.
Apparently the two never lived as husband and wife. It was in Hollywood that she met Mr. Price, who then worked in the movie industry as a “dialog director” and an “accentologist.”
His primary job seems to have been to help non-Southern actors cast as Southerners to speak and behave as Southerners. He won special recognition in the film business for his work with Vivian Leigh, Clark Gable, and other cast members of Gone with the Wind.
The marriage between O’Hara and Brown was annulled by a Nevada court in September 1941. O’Hara traveled to McComb, Mississippi, in late December of that year to marry Price, who had grown up in that town and whose parents still lived there.
The trip was a hurried one – O’Hara was in the middle of filming a movie – but they were in McComb long enough for O’Hara to excite the local movie fans, one of whom was my late mother, who lived on the same block on which Will Price grew up, and was 16 at the time.
To this day we have a photograph of my mother with O’Hara in the Price’s yard. O’Hara and Price married in the venerable Chapel of St. Therese at St. Mary of the Pines convent in Chatawa, a few miles south of McComb, on December 29, 1941, three weeks and a day after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.
The Rev. Fr. John McNamara, pastor of St. Alphonsus Catholic Church in McComb, officiated, and a reception followed at the home of the groom’s parents.
One of the guests at the reception was the late W. T. Wynn, a Greenville, Mississippi, lawyer and long time friend of the Price family.
Afterwards, the newlyweds left for Los Angeles where the bride returned to the set of To the Shores of Tripoli, in which she was co-starring with John Payne (Payne would also play opposite O’Hara five years later in Miracle on 34th Street).
The couple had only a few weeks together before Price began his wartime career as a Marine Corps officer. Maureen and Will had a daughter, Bronwyn Bridget Fitzsimmons Price, in 1944. O’Hara told the press at that time that she loved big families and hoped to give the baby girl at least five siblings.
It was not to be. The marriage proved a rocky one, and Maureen eventually filed for divorce – again, in Nevada – in 1952. The court granted her petition. Will Price died in McComb in 1962 at the age of 48. O’Hara died at the age of 95 in Idaho in 2015.
Her only child, who had changed her name to Bronwyn Fitzsimmons and, who, too, had worked as an actress, died less than a year later in County Cork, Ireland. The old St. Therese Chapel where Maureen and Will were married 76 years ago still stands but was converted to other uses long ago. It is scarcely recognizable today for the church it used to be.
The destination wedding of the great Irish actress that took place there, though, is yet remembered in McComb, and likely will be for some time to come.
copyright 2017 James T. McCafferty