Actress and writer
Born March 4, 1954, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada; naturalized U.S. citizen; married Bo Welch (a production designer and art director), 1992; children: two sons.
Addresses: Agent —International Creative Management, 8942 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90211.
Actress in films, including: Nothing Personal , 1980; Double Negative , 1980; After Hours , 1985; Heartburn , 1986; Beetlejuice , 1988; Betsy's Wedding , 1990; Home Alone , 1990; Dick Tracy , 1990; Home Alone 2: Lost in New York , 1992; The Nightmare before Christmas , 1993; Wyatt Earp , 1994; A Simple Twist of Fate , 1994; The Paper , 1994; Waiting for Guffman , 1996; Pippi Longstocking , 1997; Home Fries , 1998; The Life before This , 1999; Best in Show , 2000; Speaking of Sex , 2001; Searching for Debra Winger (documentary), 2002; Orange County , 2002; A Mighty Wind , 2003; Surviving Christmas , 2004; Lemony Snicket's "A Series of Unfortunate Events," 2004; Game 6 , 2005; Chicken Little , 2005; Monster House , 2006; Over the Hedge , 2006; For Your Consideration , 2006; The Great Farrell , 2006. Television appearances include: Coming Up Rosie , CBC, 1976–77; Second City TV , CBC, and syndicated, 1976–83; SCTV Network 90 , Canadian television and NBC, 1981–83; Saturday Night Live , NBC, 1981; SCTV Channel , Cinemax, 1983–84; The Completely Mental Misadventures of Ed Grimley , NBC, 1988–89; Committed , CTV, 2001.
Comedian Catherine O'Hara has appeared in dozens of movies and television projects, but may be best known for her role as the harried mother in the Home Alone movies of the early 1990s. A later generation of fans came to appreciate her performances in the films of Christopher Guest, among them Best in Show and For Your Consideration . All of the Guest projects are improvised, a process O'Hara described as "insane" to Times of London journalist Kevin Maher. "You're in character all the time, and trying to be truthful to what you arbitrarily decide is your truth."
O'Hara was born in 1954 in Toronto, Ontario, as one of seven children in an Irish Catholic family. At the age of 19, she was hired as a waitress at Toronto's famed Second City Improv Theater, and soon joined the comedy troupe as an understudy for Gilda Radner, who would soon go on to fame as one of the "Not Ready for Prime Time Players" that made up the cast of NBC's Saturday Night Live (SNL) . O'Hara dated another Second City comic, Dan Aykroyd, who would also join the first-season cast of SNL when it debuted in 1975.
In 1976, O'Hara began appearing on a Canadian-television knock-off of SNL called Second City TV , which drew heavily from the improvisational-comedy troupe's skilled cast. Fellow members included Martin Short, John Candy, Eugene Levy, and Harold Ramis, and the series soon gained a cult following in Canada and the United States, where it was broadcast in syndication. She spent seven years on SCTV , as it was known, save for a brief week when she joined the cast of Saturday Night Live in 1981. She left SCTV in 1983, ending the run of such memorable characters as her Lola Heatherton, a vacuous nightclub singer, and deadly-earnest impersonations of Katherine Hepburn and Meryl Streep. "I lost enthusiasm," O'Hara told a writer for People , Franz Lidz, about why she decided to bow out. "I wanted to learn more about acting. I wanted a personal life."
O'Hara had appeared in feature films as far back as 1980, when she had a role in a thriller called Double Negative . Post- SCTV , she was cast in the 1985 Martin Scorsese comedy After Hours as a loony ice-cream truck driver, and followed that with a supporting role in the Meryl Streep-Jack Nicholson movie Heartburn . Up-and-coming director Tim Burton cast her in his 1988 hit Beetlejuice , but her mainstream breakout role was in Home Alone in 1990 as Kate McCallister, the frazzled on-screen mom to Macauley Culkin, who is inadvertently left behind when the family leaves for a Christmas vacation. Her face became so recognizable to the millions who saw both the first movie and its 1992 sequel that younger fans often assumed she was really the mom.
In 1996, O'Hara began a long and fruitful comic collaboration with writer-director Christopher Guest, who had scored a hit back in 1984 with This is Spinal Tap . Guest reprised that "mockumentary" formula in Waiting for Guffman , his 1996 tale of a small Missouri town and the slew of homegrown Broadway hopefuls who take part in its centennial-celebration musical. O'Hara played travel agent Sheila Albertson, who with her husband Ron (Fred Willard) are two of the more starstruck cast members. The comedy also starred fellow SCTV alum Levy, and though it failed to earn any significant dollars at the box office emerged as a cult favorite on video.
Waiting for Guffman launched several more collaborations between O'Hara, Guest, Levy, and other performers such as Parker Posey and Michael Hitchcock, among them Best in Show and A Mighty Wind . In Best in Show , released in 2000, O'Hara played Cookie Guggelman Fleck, whose long list of former dalliances makes up one of the movie's running gags; Levy played Cookie's hapless husband, who journeys with her and their beloved terrier—about whom they write songs—to the top national dog show. O'Hara also re-teamed with Levy for Guest's A Mighty Wind in 2003, another mockumentary about a reunion of folk-singing greats from the 1960s. Their fictional act, Mitch & Mickey, had a hit with a treacly ballad titled "A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow," but Levy's Mickey faded away, and by the time of the reunion is barely coherent after years of substance abuse.
O'Hara also starred in For Your Consideration , a 2006 film from Guest that starred her as an aging actress, Marilyn Hack, in a spoof of Hollywood's Oscar-centric film industry. In the fictional movie that serves as its focal point, O'Hara's character is cast as the dying matriarch of a Southern Jewish family, and a visitor to the set of Home for Purim sparks an Internet rumor that the perennially second-rate Hack's performance is actually Oscar-worthy. Reviewing it in the New York Times , critic Stephen Holden singled out O'Hara's performance as the best part of For Your Consideration . "Marilyn, a virtual unknown after nearly 30 years in show business, initially feigns nonchalance about the buzz," Holden wrote. "As she makes the rounds of talk shows, stroked and goaded by one talking head after another, you observe her seduction by the insatiable monster of television celebrity journalism. In her final act of obeisance to the system, she appears, drastically made over and destroyed, her lips plumped, her face stretched into an expressionless mask of desperate ambition."
O'Hara is a naturalized U.S. citizen, and has two sons with her husband Bo Welch, a production designer and art director who has worked on several of Tim Burton's films. Much had changed in the comedy business in the 30 years since she began her career at SCTV , when she and Andrea Martin, another cast member, took part in the writing process. "A guy at the Toronto paper had written an article about why women weren't funny," O'Hara recalled in an interview with the New York Post in 2006. "Some of the guys in the cast pinned it up on the wall. Then every time Andrea Martin or I would give an idea, they'd point to the article and be like, 'Um, excuse me.' So it makes me very happy to hear that a younger generation is interested in funny women. And I won't take advantage of them."
Back Stage West , June 28, 2001, p. 6.
Entertainment Weekly , April 25, 2003, p. 123.
New York Post , November 12, 2006, p. 36.
New York Times , November 17, 2006.
People , October 13, 1986, p. 93.
Times (London, England), January 27, 2007, p. 9.