In the western world, the myth and imagery of a pirate is a specific one. We may conjure up the image of Tyrone Power in one of the swashbuckling action films from the days of old Hollywood or Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. A woman, especially a woman of color is not usually what we picture.
Pirate Women: The Princesses, Prostitutes, and Privateers Who Ruled the Seven Seas, by Laura Sook Duncombe was published in 2019. In the book, Duncombe breaks through the idea of who and what we think a pirate is. She takes the reader through history, introducing them to female privateers who they may or may not have heard of. Using both proved historical facts and legends that have been circulating throughout the centuries, she tells the stories of women who broke the mold, but have not been given their place in the historical spotlight.
This book is fabulous. Though these women are few in number compared to male pirates, their contribution cannot be overlooked. What Duncombe does well is differentiate fact from fiction, pointing out where history ends and folklore begins. She also makes a very point in linking the actions of these women to the modern feminist movement.
Throughout human history, pirates have been enshrined as rebellious heroes who have fought against conformity. During the 1930’s and 1940’s, films about pirates and their adventures were the rage.
In 1942, The Black Swanwas released. Upon taking the oath of office as Governor of Jamaica, Henry Morgan (Laird Cregar) announces that pirating is now illegal. He turns to former collaborators to clean up the Caribbean. One of his collaborators, Jamie Waring (Tyrone Power) does not exactly follow the new governor’s orders.
He kidnaps Lady Margaret Denby (Maureen O’Hara). He expects her to be a shrinking violet. But Lady Margaret is not what she seems to be. While their relationship quickly develops into a love/hate relationship, Jamie joins the rebels who are not so eager to give up pirating.
Part of me loves this movie. It’s a great action flick, with plenty of adventure and thrills to keep the audience in their seats. Power and O’Hara have great chemistry. I love that Margaret has a fire and an energy that few female characters (especially in this genre) were allowed to posses in that era.
The other part of me wishes that I had a time machine to go back in time and make certain changes. Margaret is the only female character, kept in the box of the love interest. The other issue is that pirating, especially in 17th and 18th centuries, was not as glamorous as this film makes it out to be.
With her red hair, peaches and cream complexion and fiery tongue, she played against some of the most masculine and iconic actors of her day: John Wayne, Tyrone Power and Errol Flynn.
Two of my favorite movies of hers are diametrically opposite.
The first is The Quiet Man (1952). Sean Thornton (John Wayne) is an American boxer returning to his family’s ancestral Irish village. He is attracted to Mary Kate Danaher (Maureen O’Hara), and is eager to marry her. But before Mary Kate will agree to marry Sean, he must obtain her dowry from her hard headed brother, who is refusing to part with it.
One of my favorite qualities of her character is in this movie is that Mary Kate is no shrinking violet. She knows what she wants and has no problem speaking her mind to get what she wants.
My other favorite Maureen O’Hara movie is Only The Lonely (1991). Danny Muldoon (the late John Candy) is a single man whose life is dominated by loving, but overbearing mother, Rose (Maureen O’Hara). It is only when he meets Theresa Luna (Ally Sheedy), that Danny could possibly stop his mother from treating him like a child.
It is obvious that Rose loves her son, like a parent should. But like some parents, they forget that their adult children have their own minds and are capable of making their own decisions.
When we think of swashbuckling movie pirates, Errol Flynn or Tyrone Power usually come to mind.
Geena Davis is not one of those actors, though she tried.
In 1995’s Cutthroat Island, Davis plays Morgan Adams, a pirate’s daughter who is fighting to recover the treasure that was taken from her by her less than trustworthy uncle, Dawg (Frank Langella). Assisting Morgan in her quest is Shaw (Matthew Modine), a man she purchased from slavers.
While I very much appreciate a strong female protagonist like Morgan in a role that is usually played by a man, this movie does not do anything for me. It is unfortunately, like many movies of this genre, short on plot and character and long on explosions and special effects.
Maureen O’Hara is a movie legend. The list of her leading men include John Wayne, Henry Fonda and Tyrone Power.
Aubrey Malone’s biography, Maureen O’Hara: The Biography follows Ms’ O Hara’s life from her childhood in Dublin through her decades long movie career to her present retired state.
Born in 1920 in the suburbs of Dublin, she made her screen debut in the late 1930’s. The movies she made are all very different: family classics (The Parent Trap, 1961, Miracle on 34th St, 1947), technicolor pirate and sword and sandal adventures (The Black Swan, 1942, Sinbad The Sailor, 1947) and Westerns (The Redhead From Wyoming, 1953, McClintock, 1963).
The book not only sheds light on her career, but on her private life. Unlike many of her colleagues, Ms. O’Hara lived a very quiet life, keeping her personal life out of the headlines. Compiling press clippings, movie reviews and film journals, Mr. Malone presents a complete picture of a performer whom many did not know about outside of her films.
I recommend this book.
On a related note, if there is one movie of her vast career that I would recommend, it would be Only The Lonely .
Made in 1991, Ms. O’Hara took herself out of retirement for this movie. She plays Rose Muldoon, the very overprotective mother to her son Danny (the late John Candy). Danny has sacrificed himself for his mother and brother (Kevin Dunn). When Danny meets Theresa Luna (Ally Sheedy) and starts fall in love with her, he finds himself torn between his mother and his girlfriend. Very sweet movie that just tugs at the heart strings.