Maureen O'Sullivan

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Maureen O'Sullivan
O'Sullivan in the 1930s
Maureen Paula O'Sullivan

(1911-05-17)17 May 1911
Died23 June 1998(1998-06-23) (aged 87)
Resting placeMost Holy Redeemer Cemetery, Niskayuna, New York
  • Actress
  • singer
Years active1930–1994
Known forJane Parker in Tarzan films
(m. 1936; died 1963)
James Cushing
(m. 1983)
Children7, including Patrick, Mia, Prudence, and Tisa Farrow
RelativesRonan Farrow (grandson)

Maureen O'Sullivan (May 17, 1911 – June 23, 1998) was an Irish actress who played Jane in the Tarzan series of films during the era of Johnny Weissmuller. She starred in dozens of feature films across a span of more than half a century and performed with such actors as Laurence Olivier, Greta Garbo, Fredric March, William Powell, Myrna Loy, Marie Dressler, Wallace Beery, Lionel Barrymore, the Marx Bros. (Groucho, Harpo and Chico) and Woody Allen. In 2020, she was listed at number eight on The Irish Times list of Ireland's greatest film actors.[1]

O'Sullivan was born in Boyle, County Roscommon, Ireland. After attending schools in Dublin, England, and France, she moved to Hollywood to work for Fox Film Corporation. O'Sullivan's film career began in the 1930s, and she eventually signed a contract with MGM. She is best known for playing Jane Parker in six Tarzan films between 1932 and 1942, alongside Johnny Weissmuller.

O'Sullivan also appeared in films such as The Thin Man (1934), Anna Karenina (1935), A Day at the Races (1937), Pride and Prejudice (1940), and Maisie Was a Lady (1941). She took a break from acting to care for her family but later returned to the screen in films directed by her husband, John Farrow. She continued to work in film and theater throughout her life, including appearances in Woody Allen's Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), Coppola's Peggy Sue Got Married (1986), and in Stranded (1987).

O'Sullivan was married twice, first to John Farrow, with whom she had seven children, including actress Mia Farrow, and later to businessman James Cushing. She became a U.S. citizen in 1947 and was a Catholic and Democrat. O'Sullivan died in 1998 at the age of 87. She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and is remembered for her contributions to the art of film, including receiving the George Eastman Award in 1982.

Early life[edit]

O'Sullivan was born in Boyle, County Roscommon, Ireland, on 17 May 1911,[2] the daughter of Mary Eva Lovatt (née Frazer)[3] and Charles Joseph O'Sullivan, an officer in the Connaught Rangers who served in World War I.[4][5] Maureen O'Sullivan returned to Boyle in 1988 to be honoured by the town.

As a child, O'Sullivan attended a convent school in Dublin, then the Convent of the Sacred Heart at Roehampton, England (now Woldingham School). One of her classmates there was Vivian Mary Hartley, the future Academy Award-winning actress Vivien Leigh. After attending finishing school in France, O'Sullivan returned to Dublin to work with the poor.

In October 1929, she sailed to New York with her mother on the British steamer RMS Baltic, on the way to Hollywood to work for the Fox Film Corporation.

Film career[edit]

O'Sullivan's film career began when she met motion picture director Frank Borzage, who was doing location filming on Song o' My Heart (released in 1930) for 20th Century Fox. He suggested she take a screen test which won her a part in the movie that starred Irish tenor John McCormack. She travelled to the United States to complete the movie in Hollywood. She appeared in six movies at Fox, then made three more at other studios.

In 1932 she signed a contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. After several roles there and for other studios, she was chosen by Irving Thalberg to appear as Jane Parker in Tarzan the Ape Man, with costar Johnny Weissmuller. One of MGM's more popular ingenues through the 1930s, she appeared in a number of other productions with various stars. She played Jane in six Tarzan features between 1932 and 1942.[6]

In Pride and Prejudice, 1940

She was featured with William Powell and Myrna Loy in The Thin Man (1934) and played Kitty in Anna Karenina (1935) with Greta Garbo, Fredric March, and Basil Rathbone. After costarring with the Marx Brothers in A Day at the Races (1937), she appeared as Molly Beaumont in A Yank at Oxford (1938), written partly by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

She appeared in Pride and Prejudice (1940) with Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson, and supported Ann Sothern in Maisie Was a Lady (1941). After appearing in Tarzan's New York Adventure (1942), O'Sullivan asked MGM to release her from her contract so she could care for her husband, John Farrow, who had just left the Navy with typhoid. She retreated from show business, devoting her time to her family. In 1948, she reappeared on the screen in The Big Clock, directed by her husband for Paramount Pictures. She continued to appear occasionally in her husband's movies and on television.

With Eric Linden in The Voice of Bugle Ann (1936)

In 1958, Michael Farrow, eldest son of John Farrow and Maureen O'Sullivan, died in a plane crash in California.[7]

By 1960, O'Sullivan believed she had permanently retired. However, actor Pat O'Brien encouraged her to take a part in summer stock, and the play A Roomful of Roses opened in 1961. It led to her Broadway debut in Never Too Late with costar Paul Ford. Shortly after it opened, Farrow died of a heart attack.

O'Sullivan stuck with acting after Farrow's death; she was the Today Girl for NBC for a while, then made the movie version of Never Too Late (1965) for Warner Bros. She was also an executive director of a bridal consulting service, Wediquette International.

In June and July 1972, O'Sullivan was in Denver, Colorado, to star in the Elitch Theatre production of Butterflies are Free with Karen Grassle and Brandon deWilde. The show ended on July 1, 1972.[8][9]

When her daughter, actress Mia Farrow, became involved with Woody Allen both professionally and romantically, she appeared in Allen's Hannah and Her Sisters, playing Farrow's mother. She had roles in Peggy Sue Got Married (1986) and the science fiction oddity Stranded (1987). In 1994, she appeared with Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers in Hart to Hart: Home Is Where the Hart Is, a feature-length made-for-TV movie with the wealthy husband-and-wife team from the popular weekly detective series Hart to Hart.

Personal life[edit]

Wedding of Maureen O'Sullivan and John Farrow (1936)

O'Sullivan's first husband was Australian-American writer, award-winning director and Catholic convert John Villiers Farrow, from September 12, 1936, until his death on January 27, 1963. She and Farrow had seven children: Michael Damien, Patrick Joseph (Patrick Villiers Farrow), Maria de Lourdes Villiers (Mia Farrow), John Charles,[10] Prudence Farrow, Stephanie Farrow and Theresa Magdalena "Tisa" Farrow. Mia Farrow gave two of her children, Dylan and Ronan, the middle name of O'Sullivan.

Twenty years after the death of Farrow, O'Sullivan married James Cushing, a wealthy businessman, on August 22, 1983, and they remained wed until her death in 1998. O'Sullivan became a U.S. citizen on October 22, 1947 (Petition for Naturalization #133033) in Los Angeles, California.[11]

O'Sullivan was a Catholic,[12] and as an ardent Democrat, she supported Adlai Stevenson during the 1952 presidential election.[13]


O'Sullivan died in Scottsdale, Arizona, of complications from heart surgery, on June 23, 1998, at age 87.[14]


O'Sullivan has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6541 Hollywood Boulevard, facing the star of Johnny Weissmuller.[15] A black plaque marks her home on Main Street in Boyle, County Roscommon, Ireland. Just around the corner from there, opposite King House, is a tree, ceremonially planted by O'Sullivan to mark her return to her birthplace.[16]

In 1982, O'Sullivan received the George Eastman Award, given by George Eastman House for distinguished contribution to the art of film.[17]


Feature films

Year Title Role
1930 So This Is London Elinor Worthing
Song o' My Heart Eileen
Just Imagine LN-18
The Princess and the Plumber Princess Louise
1931 A Connecticut Yankee Alisande / Woman in Mansion
Skyline Kathleen Kearny
The Big Shot Doris Thompson
Tarzan the Ape Man Jane Parker
The Silver Lining Joyce Moore
Fast Companions Sally
Strange Interlude Madeline
Skyscraper Souls Lynn Harding
Okay, America! Sheila Barton
Payment Deferred Winnie Marble
Robbers' Roost Helen Herrick
1933 The Cohens and Kellys in Trouble Molly Kelly
Tugboat Annie Patricia 'Pat' Severn
Stage Mother Shirley Lorraine
1934 Tarzan and His Mate Jane Parker
The Thin Man Dorothy Wynant
Hide-Out Pauline Miller
The Barretts of Wimpole Street Henrietta Barrett
1935 David Copperfield Dora
West Point of the Air 'Skip' Carter
Cardinal Richelieu Lenore di Brissac
The Flame Within Linda Belton
Woman Wanted Ann Gray
Anna Karenina Kitty
The Bishop Misbehaves Hester
1936 The Voice of Bugle Ann Camden Terry
The Devil-Doll Lorraine Lavond
Tarzan Escapes Jane Parker
1937 A Day at the Races Judy Standish
The Emperor's Candlesticks Maria Orlich
Between Two Women Claire Donahue
My Dear Miss Aldrich Martha Aldrich
1938 A Yank at Oxford Molly Beaumont
Hold That Kiss June Evans
Port of Seven Seas Madelon
The Crowd Roars Sheila Carson
Spring Madness Alexandra Benson
1939 Let Us Live Mary Roberts
Tarzan Finds a Son! Jane Parker
1940 Sporting Blood Linda Lockwood
Pride and Prejudice Jane Bennet
1941 Maisie Was a Lady Abby Rawlston
Tarzan's Secret Treasure Jane Parker
1942 Tarzan's New York Adventure Jane Parker
1948 The Big Clock Georgette Stroud
1950 Where Danger Lives Julie
1951 No Resting Place Nan Kyle
1952 Bonzo Goes to College Marion Gateson Drew
1953 All I Desire Sara Harper
Mission Over Korea Nancy Slocum
1954 Duffy of San Quentin Gladys Duffy
The Steel Cage Gladys Duffy
1957 The Tall T Doretta Mims
1958 Wild Heritage Emma Breslin
1965 Never Too Late Edith Lambert
1970 The Phynx Maureen O'Sullivan
1985 Too Scared to Scream Inez Hardwick
1986 Hannah and Her Sisters Norma
Peggy Sue Got Married Elizabeth Alvorg
1987 Stranded Grace Clark
1988 Good Old Boy: A Delta Boyhood Aunt Sue

Short subjects

  • Hollywood Extra: The First Step (1936) as Herself
  • Hollywood – The Second Step (1936)
  • Unusual Occupations: Film Tot Holiday (1947)
  • Screen Snapshots: Hollywood Shower of Stars (1955)
  • Mandy's Grandmother (1978) as Grandmother

Television work[edit]

The handprints of Maureen O'Sullivan in front of The Great Movie Ride at Walt Disney World's Disney's Hollywood Studios theme park
Year Title Role Notes
1953 Jukebox Jury
1957 Crossroads Mrs. Day Episode: "The Man Who Walked on Water"
Playhouse 90 Julia Williams Episode: "The Edge of Innocence "
1963 Candid Camera Self Episode: "19 May 1963"
1965 What's My Line? Contestant Episode: "14 November 1965"
1972 The Crooked Hearts Lillian Stanton TV movie
1976 The Great Houdini Lady Conan Doyle TV movie
1982 Morning's at Seven Esther Crampton TV movie
1983 All My Children Olive Whelan
1984 Guiding Light Miss Emma Witherspoon
1985 Search for Tomorrow Elaine Descot
1992 With Murder in Mind Aunt Mildred TV movie
The Habitation of Dragons Helen Taylor TV movie
1994 Hart to Hart: Home Is Where the Hart Is Eleanor Biddlecomb Final film role

Radio appearances[edit]

Year Program Episode/source
1941 Philip Morris Playhouse Night Must Fall[18]
1944 Suspense The Black Shawl


  1. ^ Clarke, Donald; Brady, Tara (13 June 2020). "The 50 greatest Irish film actors of all time – in order". The Irish Times. Retrieved 18 June 2020.
  2. ^ Slide, Anthony (1988). The Cinema and Ireland. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland. p. 89. ISBN 9780899503226; Monush, Barry (2003). Screen World Presents the Encyclopedia of Hollywood Film Actors: From the Silent Era to 1965. New York: Applause Theatre & Cinema Books. p. 570. ISBN 9781557835512.
  3. ^ "Maureen O'Sullivan genealogy, showing mother's true maiden name".
  4. ^ Profile, Retrieved 22 September 2015.
  5. ^ "Mia Farrow's Interactive Family Tree". Finding Your Roots. PBS. 9 March 2016. Archived from the original on 23 January 2017. Retrieved 28 December 2016.
  6. ^ Child, Ben (28 December 2011). "Chimp claimed as Cheetah from the Tarzan films dies". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 8 January 2012.
  7. ^ "Plane crash kills Michael Farrow". 1958.
  8. ^ "Remembering Word on the Elitch Theatre". Archived from the original on 16 January 2013.
  9. ^ McLean, Patrisha, All Fall Down, The Brandon deWilde Story c. 2012, Faces, Incorporated, pp. 170, 173; ISBN 978-1936447121
  10. ^ "Free Family Tree, Genealogy and Family History – MyHeritage".
  11. ^ O'Sullivan Petition for Naturalization #133033, Retrieved 22 September 2015.
  12. ^ Myrna Oliver (24 June 1998). "From the Archives: Maureen O'Sullivan; Film and TV Actress Played Jane in 'Tarzan' Films of 1930s, '40s". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2 December 2018.
  13. ^ Motion Picture and Television Magazine, November 1952, page 33, Ideal Publishers
  14. ^ "Maureen O'Sullivan, Movie Tarzan's 'Jane,' Dies at 87". The New York Times. 24 June 1998.
  15. ^ Winn, Christopher (2015). I Never Knew That about the Irish. Penguin Random House. p. 33. ISBN 9780091960254.
  16. ^ Cooney, Ian (28 June 2020). "Mia Farrow Contemplates Moving Back To Roscommon". Roscommon Herald. Archived from the original on 13 June 2021. Retrieved 2 September 2022.
  17. ^ Dolan, Anne (2009). "O'Sullivan, Maureen Paula". Dictionary of Irish Biography. Archived from the original on 9 July 2022. Retrieved 2 September 2022.
  18. ^ ""Playhouse" Star". Harrisburg Telegraph. 18 October 1941. p. 27. Retrieved 21 July 2015 – via Open access icon

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