RIP Quinn O’Hara
A “red-headed gasser,” Quinn O’Hara certainly lived up to that description and became very popular with teenage audiences during the sixties. A former Miss Scotland, this titan-haired beauty began on television before appearing in minor film roles with major stars such as Jerry Lewis and Jack Lemmon. Younger audiences remembered her best for her two back-to-back starring roles in two beach-party movies. O’Hara exuded a natural sex appeal that had every boy’s heart racing either playing the good girl as in A Swingin’ Summer (1965) or the vixen as in The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini (1966). She should have become a major star however, disenchanted with the roles being offered her, Quinn fled to England in the late sixties where she worked on stage, TV and an occasional film.
Quinn O’Hara was dramatically born in a hospital’s elevator going up in Edinburgh, Scotland on Jan. 3, 1941 to a Welsh father and a Scottish-Irish mother who named the impatient newborn Alice Jones. Most of her childhood was spent in a convent boarding school in Wales. When she turned fourteen, she and her mother moved to Quebec, Canada where the blossoming teenager learned to speak French. After three years, they upped and moved to Long Beach, California where the red haired beauty stood out from the myriad of California blondes. Her European origins prevented her from competing in the Miss California contest but she was dubbed Miss Scotland by the Royal Order of her home country.
With all the newfound attention she was receiving and with the acting offers coming in, Alice Jones morphed into the more appropriate name for a titan-hair Scottish lass, Quinn O’Hara. Her big screen debut was in a bit part in The Errand Boy (1961) starring Jerry Lewis. O’Hara would go on to work with Lewis again in The Patsy (1964) playing the minor role of a cigarette girl and in Who’s Minding the Store? (1963), though her scenes were cut.
O’Hara’s first taste of fame came when she was selected to appear with Vic Damone in his 1962 Emmy-nominated summer series The Lively Ones. The popular show brought O’Hara notoriety and she became very much in demand on TV but she wasn’t having much luck with films. Only her hand was on display in The Caretakers (1963) where she played a nurse. Good Neighbor, Sam (1964) featured all of Quinn in the small role of a curvy secretary to recently promoted ad man Jack Lemmon. O’Hara kept persevering. She began getting press in all the movie rags of the time and she was chosen by Photoplay to be photographed on a pre-arranged “date” with teen idol Fabian. But surprisingly, the duo hit it off and it developed into a relationship that lasted a year.
Quinn’s Notable Quotable About Working with titan-haired witch Jill St. John in Who’s Minding the Store?
“[She] was an unbelievably cruel person who I am not fond of in the least.”
In 1965 Quinn O’Hara co-starred in one of the better Beach Party knockoffs A Swingin’ Summer with William Wellman, Jr. and James Stacy. Though it was not her first color movie it was her first lead role. She looked terrific in her mod swimsuits and more than held her own with rising superstar, Raquel Welch.
Quinn’s Notable Quotable About Working with diva-in-training Raquel Welch in A Swingin’ Summer
“I had no trouble with Raquel. But everybody else did—including the cameraman and make up person. Lori Williams, who was such a nice girl, also had a terrible time with Raquel. I wasn’t on the set but I heard that Lori had the same color bikini on as Raquel and she told the director to go make Lori change her bathing suit! When we went to do promotion for the film in conjunction with Suzuki, Raquel and I both showed up wearing pink. I said to somebody, ‘If she thinks I’m going to change, she’s crazy.’ Raquel didn’t say a word and went and changed her outfit.”
Quinn next auditioned at AIP for the role of the sexy though bumbling Sinistra in what was then titled Bikini Party in a Haunted House. It was not her first encounter with the studio. The producers and director Don Weis originally wanted her for a role in Pajama Party (1964) but she declined because “I didn’t want to be just one of the beach girls so I turned it down.” AIP decided they needed to pump new life into their beach-party genre so they came up with an idea of combining it with a horror angle, which had worked so well for them with the series of Edgar Allan Poe films. Bikini Party in a Haunted House featured Tommy Kirk, Deborah Walley and Patsy Kelly as heirs to a fortune who gather at the creepy mansion of dead millionaire, Hiram Stokely, to hear the reading of his will. O’Hara played the bumbling daughter of crooked attorney Basil Rathbone who instructs the vixen to off Kelly’s interfering nephew Aron Kincaid. But her nearsightedness keeps getting in her way.
The head honchos at AIP decreed that Bikini Party in a Haunted House was not releasable. To salvage the film, scenes with Boris Karloff as the recently departed Hiram Stokely and Susan Hart as his long-dead wife, Cecily, were added and the film was re-titled The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini. Though the film was not a big moneymaker, AIP was so impressed with O’Hara that they offered her another film. However, it was the laughable low-budget sci-fi flick In the Year 2889 (1967), co-starring Paul Petersen of The Donna Reed Show and directed by self-described “schlockmeister” Larry Buchanan. Much better was the Academy Award-nominated short film, Prelude (1968) starring O’Hara as the bitchy wife of meek John Astin who meets his fantasy girl Karen Jensen in a supermarket.
It was shortly thereafter that Quinn O’Hara departed Hollywood for London to work on the stage. One of the films Quinn O’Hara did while in Europe was a small role as a “witch wench” in the AIP horror film Cry of the Banshee (1970) starring Vincent Price. O’Hara’s last movie was Rubia’s Jungle (1971), which was shot in the Netherlands.
During her time in England, O’Hara made periodical trips back to Hollywood to maintain her working status. She could be seen on TV in To Rome with Love, The Smith Family and Ironside, and on the big screen in the cult sex comedy The Teacher (1974). Then Quinn disappeared from show business. On a trip to Africa to visit her father who was working there she met an Italian guy there. She accompanied him back to Italy where they were suppose to marry but didn’t. When she returned to Hollywood in the late seventies she found it surprisingly difficult to get work. Her friend, director Don Weis, gave her a part in an episode of CHiPs and she landed two small roles on One Day at a Time. Unfortunately, that was all she could muster.
Like a number of her contemporaries, O’Hara took up real estate to make ends meet. After a short-lived marriage Quinn met Bill Kirk who is twenty years her junior in 1981. They married, divorced, and have since reconciled.
In 2008, I attended The Hollywood Show and finally met Quinn in person. A guy bought my Drive-in Dream Girl book and asked for Quinn to autograph near her chapter. She then said the author is here too and can autograph. The guy said no thanks, grabbed the book, and walked away. I laughed but Quinn was so angry and thought that was so rude of him. I said a sale is a sale. That is how caring she was.
Looking back at her beach party days, Quinn said, “Beach movies reflected the times. I think that is important that people look back on these films and remember them for what they were. It was good clean fun not like the smut you see today on the Internet. I am proud to have been a part of it.”