#Art + Culture

Why There Is No One Like Catherine O’Hara

Catherine O'Hara

The cap Catherine O’Hara dons is a flamboyant one, each feather in it brighter than the last. To an entire 90s generation, she is the Home Alone mom who imparted such meaning to the name Kevin that it seems remiss to take it without screaming it aloud. And for those who got a taste of her talent only recently, every mention of Catherine O’Hara will henceforth invariably be a glorious invocation of Moira Rose, her kooky, outlandish Schitt’s Creek persona.

Father-son creator duo Eugene and Dan Levy may have called it a wrap on the Canadian sitcom last year in April after six thunderingly successful seasons that left a glittering trail of awards for the cast to pick on the way out. Yet no one’s really ready to let go of the naive, fussy, nouveau poor Rose family. Least of all of Moira.

Her sense of high fashion or refined lexicon may evade most of us who can only but be in awe of her (and her million wigs she calls her “girls”). But that’s what makes it easier to sign off with surety on the prediction that Moira Rose is going down in history as the stuff of legends.

And we have Catherine O’Hara to thank for that. But then again, we have her to thank for a lot more.

Catherine O’Hara: Mistress Of All Trades

The comedian-actor has had a long career spanning over five decades, which began first in the 1970s in Canada and seems to have nicely come full circle back there in the last five years with her award-winning sitcom.

Her brushes with the vibrant entertainment industry in Toronto as a teen manifested in O’Hara becoming part of the comedy improv troupe The Second City in 1974. She made a mark with her appearances on sketch comedy show Second City Television, alongside colleagues and now long-time friends Eugene Levy and John Candy.

catherine o'hara and eugene levy

Pictured: Catherine O’Hara and Euegene Levy

(Yes, that’s how long O’Hara and Levy have known each other. No, she has admitted a romance never blossomed there.)

After several cartoon voice-over projects and television works, she starred in a few films like Double Negative and Nothing Personal before stepping next door into Hollywood in the 80s. She made her debut in the American film industry with Martin Scorsese’s After Hours, but real recognition came to her with Delia Deetz, the wacky artist, in Tim Burton’s 1988 comedy Beetlejuice. 

Through the 80s and 90s, Catherine O’Hara cemented her place in the industry as a woman for whom no dream was too big, no wall too high to climb, and definitely, no comedic timing too tough to master. Her on-screen son Dan ‘David’ Levy has noted how writing for O’Hara’s characters is and should always be a challenge for writers. Her performances, through the highly successful Waiting for Guffman, Heartburn, and (it goes without saying) Home Alone exude an effortless ease that never discounts the underlying profundity of her characters.

Okay, we have to stop and talk about it now.

In Home Alone, Chris Columbus’ 1990 Christmas classic, O’Hara was unforgettable as the forgetful Kate McCallister who leaves her eight-year-old son Kevin (played by Macaulay Culkin) behind in Chicago as the family flies off to Paris over the holidays. 30 years on, Kate refuses to leave O’Hara’s shadow. Thankfully.

The actor too, obliging to the nostalgia of the film that made her her, breathes life into it from time to time. Fondly recalling in an interview of her reunion with her dear, now-grown Kevin, she said, “I ran into Macaulay once and he said, ‘Mom!’ and I said, ‘Baby!’ He looked great and was doing well, and I was happy to see him.”

Most recently, she recreated the second-time around iconic scene from Home Alone 2 where she screams “KEVIN!” for having forgotten her son back home yet again. The clip went viral last year in December, the Christmas month that belongs wholly to her and her big, boisterous McCallister family.

Watch Catherine O’Hara’s recreation of herself below: 

On Queer Love And The Now-Evergreen Moira

Schitt’s Creek took some time to take off when it premiered in 2015 on television. But when it did, courtesy its Netflix streaming space, it boomed. What drew acclaim to it was the guileless eccentricity of its characters, led by the formerly rich Rose family, confined within a town called Schitt’s Creek, where phenomena of queer love, bad parenting and grand dreams all floated together in one giant community pool.

When the show swept the Emmys last year, it was a universal nod to everything Schitt’s Creek stands for; most prominently, inclusivity. This can be credited in large part to Levy junior, an LGBTQIA+ icon whose presence in and behind sets and scripts brought a vision of maturity to the theme of same-sex love, weaving it into the cross-sections of the sitcom with sobriety that’s rare on screen.

O’Hara shares his insight – as should everyone – both on-screen and off. As Moira, she is relatively the more accepting of two parents still “learning to be parents,” as she puts it. As Catherine, she says squarely: “Dan never said to me… ‘We’re going to treat people this way on the show.’ We all just sort of knew that’s the way it would be… And, you know, Daniel wants to live in this world and so do I.”

Conversely, Levy never misses a beat in hyping O’Hara every chance he gets and has often gushed about the layers she brings to Moira. By writing for her character, he has said, he hoped to break the norm of how older women are represented. “Networks down the line have pigeonholed or diminished the idea of what an older female character can be… for Catherine O’Hara at this point in her life and show the world that there is nothing sexier, nothing more hysterical than a woman over 50—that was the joy.”

A joy Moira actualised in bringing a long-awaited Emmy, well-deserved Golden Globe and a universe of love home to Catherine O’Hara.

Views expressed are the author’s own.