On Feb. 11, 1943, Rochester moviegoers went to the Time Theatre to see a local girl on the big screen.
It was the opening night locally of “Around the World,” which featured an uncredited appearance by a young actress her Rochester friends and family knew as Shirley Har.
She had graduated less than a year earlier from Rochester High School and headed straight to Hollywood, where she became Shirley O’Hara and almost immediately started landing walk-on roles in movies.
During her senior year in high school, Shirley had worked at the Time, as well as at Rochester’s two other downtown cinemas — the Chateau and the Lawler — earning 50 cents a week. The magic of movies beckoned.
“The pay wasn’t great,” she later recalled, “but I did get to see every movie that came along for free.”
Shortly after arriving in Hollywood, Shirley got a job as an elevator girl at Saks Fifth Avenue.
She made the acquaintance of movie-industry types who shopped at the luxury store, and was soon signed by RKO Studios. She was 18 years old.
“Around the World” was actually Shirley’s third movie. Her earlier appearances on film included Frank Sinatra’s movie debut, “Higher and Higher.” Not surprisingly, given his reputation as a ladies’ man, Sinatra often gave Shirley and other young actresses, who all lived in the same apartment building, a ride home from the set.
O’Hara’s first major credited role came in 1945 in “Tarzan and the Amazons,” with Johnny Weismuller as Tarzan.
Her arrival in Hollywood coincided with the final years of World War II, and she frequently worked at the Hollywood Canteen, where movie stars served snacks and danced with servicemen. She was so dedicated that the Canteen’s organizer, actress Bette Davis, gave O’Hara a “Support for America” award for her efforts.
After the war, O’Hara moved to England with her first husband and son, but continued to make appearances in Hollywood films. She also moved into television, and over the next 25 years was seen in episodes of “Perry Mason,” “Dragnet,” “Gunsmoke,” “The Twilight Zone,” “The Fugitive” and “The Bob Newhart Show.”
In 1973, O’Hara returned to Minnesota, at least on TV screens, when she played an English teacher in an episode of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” set, of course, in Minneapolis.
Later movie roles included “The Chase” and “Rocky.”
O’Hara’s second marriage was to screenwriter Milton Krims, who had received five Academy Award nominations. Together, the couple served for a time as publicists for Burbank Studios.
The Hollywood glamour was a long way from Shirley’s childhood in Rochester, where her father was a builder and contractor. The family moved several times when Shirley was a girl, living in both Northeast and Southeast Rochester.
“It was a nice place to grow up,” O’Hara once told an interviewer about her hometown.
Shirley O’Hara died in 2002 in Calabasas, Calif., of complications from diabetes. She was 78.
Thomas Weber is a former Post Bulletin reporter who enjoys writing about local history.