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Maureen O'Sullivan as Jane

Actress Maureen O'Sullivan of 'Tarzan' fame dead at 87

Hope: Tarzan's Jane was 'a lovely leading lady'

Web posted on: Wednesday, June 24, 1998 2:20:57 PM

PHOENIX, Arizona (CNN) -- Irish-born actress Maureen O'Sullivan, who rose to fame in the 1930s playing Jane in several Tarzan movies, died Monday night at the age of 87, according to her family and a hospital spokesman.

A L S O :

List of O'Sullivan's film and stage performances

A scene from "Tarzan and His Mate"

600k QuickTime movie

O'Sullivan appeared in more than 60 films from 1930 to 1986, and was the mother of seven children, including actress Mia Farrow.

Neither Scottsdale Healthcare Osborne in suburban Phoenix nor her family would give a cause of death, though one daughter, Stephanie Farrow, said she passed away from old age. O'Sullivan kept a winter home in Phoenix with husband James Cushing.

"Tarzan and Her Mate"

"Anna Karenina"

"A Day at the Races"

"The Thin Man"

"The Big Clock"

"Hannah and Her Sisters"

"Peggy Sue Got Married"

'A lovely leading lady'

"The world lost a lovely leading lady," legendary entertainer Bob Hope said in a statement.

Born in the small town of Boyle, County Roscommon, Ireland, in 1911 and educated at convent schools in London, O'Sullivan was discovered by Hollywood director Frank Borzage at Dublin's International Horse Show and lured to Hollywood.

Soon, she was starring opposite the famous Irish tenor John McCormack in the 1930 musical "Song o' My Heart," and later opposite Will Rogers in "A Connecticut Yankee."

Her first appearance as the scantily clad Jane to Johnny Weissmuller's Tarzan was in "Tarzan the Ape Man" (1932). She would eventually make six Tarzan movies in all under the MGM banner, among them "Tarzan and his Mate" (1934), and "Tarzan's Secret Treasure" (1941).

Edgar Rice Burroughs, who created the noble ape man character, thought the two made a lovely couple and sent her a complete collection of his Tarzan books.

Jane, and the 'furor'

"It was a lovely and innocent concept, and yet very sexy," she once said of the role. "And they tried different things to make Jane look sexy. We made a costume and it wasn't that bad at all, there was a little leather bra and the thongs on the side." But O'Sullivan's scanty Jane outfits shocked some audiences.

"It started such a furor," O'Sullivan once said. "Letters starting coming in. It added up to thousands of women objecting to my costume. In those days, they took those things seriously."

O'Sullivan's career was not limited to the Tarzan series. She also appeared in more prestigious productions, including "Anna Karenina" (1935); "Cardinal Richelieu" (1935); "Pride and Prejudice" (1940); and "The Big Clock" (1948), which was directed by her husband, screenwriter and director John Farrow.

She was in the first of the popular "Thin Man" movies that starred William Powell and Myrna Loy and played the lead of the romantic subplot in the Marx Brothers' classic "A Day at the Races" (1937).

'One-track mind'

O'Sullivan retired in 1942 to raise the seven children she had with Farrow. But she returned to acting in 1948, appearing in Farrow's "The Big Clock."

"I seem to have a one-track mind," she said. "When I was having babies, I did nothing else. When I do pictures, I go all out. I really think it is easier to manage my seven. You can't afford to humor each one of them. They have to learn to do things when they are told."

One of O'Sullivan's last appearances on the silver screen was with daughter Mia in Woody Allen's 1985 film "Hannah and Her Sisters," playing the mother of her daughter's character.

She also was active in Broadway and touring theater productions in the 1960s and '70s, was briefly a regular on the "Today" show in 1964, and acted in television shows such as "The Guiding Light," 1984, and "The Great Houdinis," 1976.

After John Farrow's death in 1963, O'Sullivan married businessman Cushing, who survives her along with six children, 32 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.

Correspondent Sherri Sylvester and Reuters contributed to this report.

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