If it weren’t for Charles Laughton, the rotund and brilliantly hammy actor best known for playing Captain Bligh in Mutiny on the Bounty, there would be no Talk magazine. To Chatterbox, this is the most interesting revelation in Judy Bachrach’s bracingly savage new book, Tina and Harry Come to America. Even though the Laughton link has been reported now and then in the past, Chatterbox was unaware of it, and he suspects most other people were unaware of it, too. It works like this: In 1939, on the eve of Britain’s entry into World War II, Tina Brown’s father, the British film producer George Brown, married the red-haired Irish ingénue Maureen O’Hara. Laughton, who had appeared with O’Hara in Alfred Hitchcock’s Jamaica Inn, immediately whisked O’Hara, then 19, off to Hollywood. Here is how Charles FitzSimons, O’Hara’s younger brother, explained it to Bachrach:
Charles Laughton literally rushed my sister from the altar of the church, where she and George were married, to the town of Southampton, where the Queen Mary was sailing to the States–and off they went. George Brown and my sister never saw each other again. InHollywood, Maureen lived with our mother in theGardenofAllah Hotel.
The details remain a bit cloudy because O’Hara refuses to speak about it. According to Bachrach, O’Hara’s mother was present at the wedding ceremony. According to George Brown’s obituary in the Independent this past January, Laughton’s wife, Elsa (Bride of Frankenstein) Lanchester claimed that O’Hara and Brown were married without Mrs. O’Hara’s knowledge and that when Mrs. O’Hara “discovered a wedding ring in O’Hara’s handbag as they were en route to America, she and Laughton confronted the actress and she admitted her marriage,” with the upshot that O’Hara divorced Brown in 1941, and that Brown married Tina Brown’s mother, Bettina Kohr, in 1948. (According to Bachrach, the Brown-O’Hara marriage was annulled.) If the Independent version is true, it would seem that Mrs. O’Hara was at least as responsible as Laughton for the creation of Talk magazine. Alternatively, if you want to take a broader historical view, you could blame it on Adolf Hitler.