As Jane in the Tarzan movies (1932-1942), Maureen O’Sullivan (1911-1998) seemed the epitome of the upper-crust colonial Brit, but that was just a matter of study and accident. She was as Irish as the surname indicates, born in Boyle, County Roscommon, educated at a convent school in Dublin, and later at a finishing school in France.
In Hollywood she worked in all genres, but we take special note of her participation in several classic comedies. O’Sullivan was front and center in the Marx Brothers’ A Day at the Races (1937), and played Dora in David Copperfield (1935) with W.C. Fields. Other comedies included The Cohens and the Kellys in Trouble (1932), the last in this comic series, with George Sidney, Charles Murray, Andy Devine, Jobyna Howland and Maude Fulton; Tugboat Annie (1933) with Wallace Beery and Marie Dressler; and Maisie was a Lady (1941) with Ann Sothern.
She wasn’t funny per se, but she had pep and was an appealing ingenue. As such she was also in other classics like Strange Interlude (1932), The Thin Man (1934), The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1934), Anna Karenina (1935), Tod Browning’s The Devil Doll (1936), Pride and Prejudice (1940), and How Green Was My Valley (1941).
In 1936 O’Sullivan married director John Farrow. The pair had seven children, including actress Mia Farrow, as well as Prudence Farrow, the subject of The Beatles‘ song “Dear Prudence”. O’Sullivan began to focus on her family, although she did re-emerge periodically to appear in such oddities as Bonzo Goes to College (1952) with Ronald Reagan; Never Too Late (1965), a comedy in which her 54 year old character gets pregnant; and the all-star weirdness of The Phynx (1970).
In the mid 1980s she achieved renewed attention with her performances in Hannah and Her Sisters (1985) with daughter Mia and Woody Allen; and Francis Ford Coppola’s Peggy Sue Got Married (1986). Her last credit was the 1994 TV movie: Hart to Hart: Home is Where the Hart Is.
O’Sullivan’s grandon, the New Yorker writer Ronan Farrow is another part of her legacy: his middle name is O’Sullivan.