O'Sullivan, Maureen Paula (1911–98), actress, was born 17 May 1911 at Boyle, Co. Roscommon, one of the five children of Major Charles Joseph O'Sullivan of the Connaught Rangers, and his wife, Mary Lovatt (née Fraser). Educated briefly at a convent in Dublin, she also attended the Convent of the Sacred Heart at Roehampton in London. She completed her education at a convent in Boxmoor and at a finishing school in Paris.
Strikingly attractive, O'Sullivan was discovered in 1929 at the Dublin horse show ball by an American director, Frank Borzage, who was in Dublin casting actors for the film Song o’ my heart (1930), a musical starring John McCormack (qv). Signed by Twentieth Century Fox, she had minor roles in four more films before being dismissed by the studio in 1930. Following some films for independent studios, she signed for MGM in October 1931, embarking on her most famous role, of Jane to Johnny Weissmuller's Tarzan in Tarzan the ape man (1932). Her second appearance as Jane, in Tarzan and his mate (1934), provoked an outcry from the Catholic Legion of Decency. Her provocative costumes were subsequently altered for later films such as Tarzan escapes (1936), Tarzan finds a son! (1939), and Tarzan's secret treasure (1941). Throughout her career her supporting roles were generally superior to her more major parts, and she was critically acclaimed for her performances as Henrietta in The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1934), Dora Splenlow in David Copperfield (1935), Kitty in Anna Karenina (1935), Judy Standish in A day at the races (1937), and Jane Bennett in Pride and prejudice (1940). During the war she appeared in war shorts and advertisements for the Canadian government and travelled to various American cities to promote British and Greek war relief. In 1941 she was honoured at the ninth naval district's governor's day. After her sixth Tarzan film, Tarzan's New York adventure (1942), she retired from the cinema for four years, devoting her time instead to radio broadcasts and local charities.
O'Sullivan returned to the screen in 1948 in The big clock. In 1949 she formed an independent film company devoted to films of a family theme, and in the 1950s she began a career in television drama that lasted for forty years. She also wrote a series of short stories for children which were later broadcast on radio. Theatre roles predominated in the 1960s and 1970s, and were only briefly punctuated by a short and unsuccessful period as co-host of The today show in 1964. She made periodic returns to the cinema in the 1980s and was highly praised for her brief role in Woody Allen's Hannah and her sisters (1986). Allen dismissed her from his film September in 1987 and courted her public displeasure five years later when he separated acrimoniously from her daughter Mia Farrow. Celebrated throughout her career by various catholic guilds, she was honoured at George Eastman House at the 1982 Festival of Artists. In 1983 she received an honorary doctorate from Sienna College and in 1988 she was honoured by a parade in her native Boyle. Altogether she appeared in over seventy feature films, and numerous television dramas.
She married on 12 September 1936 John Neville Villiers Farrow, an Australian film director and producer; she was his second wife. They had seven children, two of whom, Mia and Tisa, became actors. He died in January 1963, and she had an affair with the actor Robert Ryan in the late 1960s. On 22 August 1983 she married James E. Cushing, a building contractor. She died 22 June 1998 at Phoenix, Arizona.