Fiery red-haired Hollywood actress Maureen O’Hara made many films during her long career on the silver screen, prior to her passing in October at age 95.
Her Aug. 17 birthday is the same as my own mom Peggy’s and her twin sister, my Aunt Patty.
But of all her films, one of O’Hara’s signature favorites was the 1947 Christmas movie classic “Miracle on 34th Street.”
However, this iconic movie was never launched and intended for its now favored classification as a yuletide, snowy weather chestnut of wintertime. It originally debuted in movie theaters as a summer cinema offering, intended to give audiences some holiday hope during the building years following the turmoil of World War II.
Natalie Wood, with veteran actor Edmund Gwenn as the man behind the white beard in the red suit.
The film’s studio bosses at 20th Century Fox, especially studio head Darryl F. Zanuck, insisted the $630,000-budget movie be released during the summer of 1947, rather than waiting for a December red carpet premiere, because of hopes of a better box office return.
Since traditionally summer films have always held higher earning potential with more audiences heading to the movies for relaxation and a welcome respite from the heat, the studio opted to keep the film’s Christmas theme a secret part of the plot. Even the film’s original movie posters prominently featured O’Hara and Payne, with Gwenn and Wood’s character likenesses kept in the background. The poster art is also devoid of any reference to Santa Claus and Christmas. The film opened in New York City at the Roxy Theatre on June 4, 1947 and earned fantastic box office returns during the sizzling temperature months of July and August.
The film won Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for Mr. Gwenn, as well as Oscars for Best Writing, Original Story and Best Writing, Screenplay.
It today’s world of difficult news headlines and frustrating politics, a nod to Christmas in July seems like perfect timing.
Earlier this month, readers Vita and Michael Ayala hosted their own Christmas in July party at their Munster home on July 9 for this very reason, to share good recipes, fellowship and smiles with their friends and neighbors. Christmas decorations, a food feast, gifts and a beautiful focal point decorated Christmas tree set the scene. I was invited to attend and was especially impressed with Vita’s mother-in-law’s delicious homemade potato salad, which includes the green and savory flavor hit of green olives.
Reader Diana Dedrick Mendoza of Hammond has been making this special potato salad for family gatherings for years and she said it’s always a hit.
As for actress O’Hara and her acclaim for starring opposite Santa Claus in what was lauded as a summer box office hit, not everyone was pleased. At the time of release, the Catholic Legion of Decency gave the movie a “B” grade, labeling it as “morally objectionable in part” for its rating. This was due primarily to O’Hara’s character being a divorced woman in the film. Ironically, in real life, Irish-born and raised O’Hara was a devout Catholic.
Times have certainly changed over the decades.
Columnist Philip Potempa has published three cookbooks and is the director of marketing at Theatre at the Center.
Diana’s “Seeing Green” Potato Salad
4 pounds Russet potatoes
2 cups light mayonnaise
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 cup drained green olives, halved
2 ribs of celery, chopped fine
4 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
DIRECTIONS: Peel and slice potatoes and cook until fork tender. Cool potatoes. In a large mixing bowl, add the rest of the ingredients and stir until well combined. Adjust salt and pepper to taste. Chill in refrigerator for several hours before serving. Makes 10 servings.