Charles Laughton, Father of Talk magazine, Part 2

Wherein Tina Brown ambushes Maureen O’Hara.

Chatterbox salutes Talk magazine editor in chief Tina Brown for a bold attempt to solve the riddle of Talk magazine’s existence. As Chatterbox noted in an earlier item, Tina Brown would never have been born had her father, the British film producer George Brown, stayed married to the actress Maureen O’Hara. Brown met O’Hara, then a 17 year-old ingénue, while working as an assistant producer on Alfred Hitchcock’s 1939 film Jamaica Inn. The two were married, possibly in secret, possibly not. Immediately afterward, Charles Laughton, the star and producer of Jamaica Inn, whisked O’Hara and her mother off to Hollywood. The marriage was then annulled, according to Judy Bachrach’s Tina and Harry Come to America, or, possibly, ended in divorce, according to George Brown’s obituary a year ago in the Independent. This enabled George Brown to marry Tina Brown’s mother, Bettina Kohr, in 1948, which in turn allowed George and Bettina to beget Tina, which in turn allowed Tina to beget Talk magazine. But the circumstances are murky, because Maureen O’Hara has always been silent about the episode! Until now.

In the February issue of Talk, Tina Brown writes that after years of wondering, she seized the bull by the horns. O’Hara was due to appear at a New York screening of Miracle on 34th Street. Brown, her 11-year-old daughter in tow, dashed over to the theater and sat down for what O’Hara thought would be a standard interview. “I am the daughter of your first husband, George Brown,” Brown said. “You know,” she added when O’Hara fixed her with a hard stare, “you were married to him.” “Married,” O’Hara answered sternly, “for five minutes, yes.” She then explained: “The marriage was annulled. I left on the boat for America immediately. I didn’t have a choice. I was under contract to Charles Laughton. George was very hurt.” Yes, Brown asked, but why was it annulled? “Well,” O’Hara said, “it was the lies on the marriage certificate. His age and so many of the other details were untrue. And he should have sought parental consent. I was only 17 at the time. It wasn’t right.”

O’Hara’s accusations so stunned Brown (who describes her father as “the most unduplicitous gent in the world”) that she neglected to ask a few key follow-up questions, the most obvious being, “Why would a young man lie about his age?” (George Brown was 26 at the time.) Still, Brown got O’Hara on the record at last, and she had to behave in a quite un-chic (and, therefore, quite brave) manner in order to do so. Ten points for Brown (and, unavoidably, Talk).