O'Brien in 2013
Angela Maxine O'Brien
January 15, 1937
San Diego, California, U.S.
Harold Allen, Jr.
(m. 1959; div. 1968)
Margaret O'Brien (born Angela Maxine O'Brien; January 15, 1937) is an American film, radio, television, and stage actress. Beginning a prolific career as a child actress in feature films for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer at the age of four, O'Brien became one of the most popular child stars in cinema history and was honored with a Juvenile Academy Award as the outstanding child actress of 1944. In her later career, she appeared on television, on stage, and in supporting film roles.
Life and career
Margaret O'Brien was born Angela Maxine O'Brien. Her name was later changed following the success of the film Journey for Margaret (1942), in which she played the title role. Her father, Lawrence O'Brien, a circus performer, died before she was born. O'Brien's mother, Gladys Flores, was a well-known flamenco dancer who often performed with her sister Marissa, who was also a dancer. O'Brien is of half-Irish and half-Spanish ancestry. She was raised Catholic.
O'Brien made her first film appearance in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's Babes on Broadway (1941) at the age of four, but it was the following year that her first major role brought her widespread attention. As a five-year-old in Journey for Margaret (1942), O'Brien won wide praise for her quite convincing acting style, unusual for a child of her age. By 1943, she was considered a big enough star to have a cameo appearance in the all-star military show finale of Thousands Cheer. Also In 1943, at the age of seven, Margaret co-starred in "You, John Jones," a "War Bond/Effort," short film, with James Cagney and Ann Sothern (playing their daughter), in which she dramatically recited President Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address." She played Adèle, a young French girl, and spoke and sang all her dialogue with a French accent in Jane Eyre (1943).
Arguably her most memorable role was in Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), opposite Judy Garland. As Tootie Smith, the feisty but fragile little sister of Judy Garland, she was a bright point, especially in her musical numbers with Garland and during a Halloween sequence in which she confronts a grouchy neighbor. For her performance, she was awarded a special juvenile Oscar in 1944.
Margaret and June Allyson were known as "The Town Criers" of MGM. "We were always in competition: I wanted to cry better than June, and June wanted to cry better than me. The way my mother got me to cry was if I was having trouble with a scene, she'd say, 'why don't we have the make-up man come over and give you false tears?' Then I'd think to myself, 'they'll say I'm not as good as June,' and I'd start to cry."
Her other successes included The Canterville Ghost (1944), Our Vines Have Tender Grapes (1945), Bad Bascomb (1946) with Wallace Beery, and the first sound version of The Secret Garden (1949). She played Beth in the 1949 MGM release of Little Women, but she was unable to make the transition to adult roles.
O'Brien later shed her child star image in 1958 by appearing on the cover of Life magazine with the caption "The Girl's Grown", and was a mystery guest on the TV panel show What's My Line?. O'Brien's acting appearances as an adult have been sporadic, mostly in small independent films and occasional television roles. She has also given interviews, mostly for the Turner Classic Movies cable network.
O'Brien gave credit to television for helping her reform and modify her public image. In an interview in 1957, when she was 20, she said: "The wonderful thing about TV is that it has given me a chance to get out of the awkward age — something the movies couldn't do for me. No movie producer could really afford to take a chance at handing me an adult role."
On December 22, 1957, O'Brien starred in "The Young Years" on General Electric Theater. She played the role of Betsy Stauffer, a small-town nurse, in "The Incident of the Town in Terror" on television's Rawhide. She appeared in an episode of Wagon Train in 1958. She made a guest appearance on a 1963 episode of Perry Mason as Virginia Trent in "The Case of the Shoplifter's Shoe." In 1967, she made a guest appearance on the World War II TV drama Combat!. Also, in a 1968 two-part episode of Ironside ("Split Second to an Epitaph") O'Brien played a pharmacist who (quite the opposite of her usual screen persona) was involved in drug theft and was accessory to attempted murder of star Raymond Burr's Ironside. Another rare television outing was as a guest star on the popular Marcus Welby, M.D. in the early 1970s, reuniting O'Brien with her Journey for Margaret and The Canterville Ghost co-star Robert Young.
While O'Brien was growing up, her awards were always kept in a special room. One day in 1954, the family's maid asked to take O'Brien's Juvenile Oscar and two other awards home with her to polish, as she had done in the past. After three days, the maid failed to return to work, prompting O'Brien's mother to discharge her, requesting that the awards be returned. Not long after, O'Brien's mother, who had been sick with a heart condition, suffered a relapse and died. In mourning, 17-year-old O'Brien forgot about the maid and the Oscar until several months later when she tried to contact her, only to find that the maid had moved and had left no forwarding address.
Several years later, upon learning that the original had been stolen, the Academy promptly supplied O'Brien with a replacement Oscar, but O'Brien still held on to hope that she might one day recover her original Award. In the years that followed, O'Brien attended memorabilia shows and searched antique shops, hoping she might find the original statuette, until one day in 1995 when Bruce Davis, then executive director of the Academy, was alerted that a miniature statuette bearing O'Brien's name had surfaced in a catalogue for an upcoming memorabilia auction. Davis contacted a mutual friend of his and O'Brien's, who in turn phoned O'Brien to tell her the long-lost Oscar had been found.
Memorabilia collectors Steve Neimand and Mark Nash were attending a flea market in 1995 when Neimand spotted a small Oscar with Margaret O'Brien's name inscribed upon it. The two men decided to split the $500 asking price hoping to resell it at a profit and lent it to a photographer to shoot for an upcoming auction catalogue. This led to Bruce Davis' discovery that the statuette had resurfaced and, upon learning of the award's history, Nash and Neimand agreed to return the Oscar to O'Brien. On February 7, 1995, nearly 50 years after she had first received it, and nearly 40 years since it had been stolen, the Academy held a special ceremony in Beverly Hills to return the stolen award to O'Brien. Upon being reunited with her Juvenile Oscar, Margaret O'Brien spoke to the attending journalists:
For all those people who have lost or misplaced something that was dear to them, as I have, never give up the dream of searching—never let go of the hope that you'll find it because after all these many years, at last, my Oscar has been returned to me.
In February 1960, O'Brien was honored with two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one for motion pictures at 6606 Hollywood Boulevard, and one for television at 1634 Vine St. In 1990, O'Brien was honored by the Young Artist Foundation with its Former Child Star "Lifetime Achievement" Award recognizing her outstanding achievements within the film industry as a child actress. In 2006, she was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the SunDeis Film Festival at Brandeis University.
She has been married twice, to Harold Allen, Jr. from 1959 to 1968, and later to Roy Thorsen. The latter marriage produced her only child, Mara Tolene Thorsen, born in 1977.
|1941||Babes on Broadway||Maxine, Little Girl at Audition||Uncredited|
|1942||Journey for Margaret||Margaret White|
|1943||You, John Jones!||Their daughter||Short film|
|Dr. Gillespie's Criminal Case||Margaret|
|Thousands Cheer||Customer in Red Skelton Skit|
|Madame Curie||Irene Curie (at age 5)|
|1944||Jane Eyre||Adèle Varens|
|The Canterville Ghost||Lady Jessica de Canterville|
|Meet Me in St. Louis||'Tootie' Smith||Academy Juvenile Award|
|Music for Millions||Mike|
|1945||Our Vines Have Tender Grapes||Selma Jacobson|
|Three Wise Fools||Sheila O'Monahan|
|1947||The Unfinished Dance||'Meg' Merlin|
|Tenth Avenue Angel||Flavia Mills|
|1949||Little Women||Beth March|
|The Secret Garden||Mary Lennox|
|1951||Her First Romance||Betty Foster|
|1952||Futari no hitomi||Katherine McDermott||US title: Girls Hand in Hand|
|1958||Little Women||Beth March||CBS musical TV movie|
|1960||Heller in Pink Tights||Della Southby|
|1962||Dr. Kildare||Nurse Lori Palmer||"The Dragon"; Season 1, Ep. 20, aired Feb. 15, 1962|
|1963||Perry Mason||Virginia Trent||"The Case of the Shoplifter's Shoe"; Season 6, Ep. 13, aired Jan. 3, 1963|
|1965||Agente S 3 S operazione Uranio|
|1967||Combat!||Marianne Fraisnet||"Entombed" Season 5, Ep. 16, aired Jan. 3, 1967|
|1970||Adam-12||Mrs. Pendleton||"Log 85: Sign of the Twins"; Season 3, Episode 12, aired Dec. 26, 1970|
|Diabolique Wedding||AKA Diabolic Wedding|
|That's Entertainment!||Herself and archive footage|
|1977||Testimony of Two Men||Flora Eaton||Television miniseries|
|1981||Amy||Hazel Johnson||AKA Amy on the Lips|
|1991||Murder, She Wrote||Florence||Episode: "Who Killed J.B. Fletcher?"|
|1996||Sunset After Dark|
|1998||Creaturealm: From the Dead||Herself||Segment: Hollywood Mortuary|
|2000||Child Stars: Their Story||Herself||AKA Child Stars|
|2002||Dead Season||Friendly Looking Lady|
|2004||The Mystery of Natalie Wood||Herself|
|2009||Dead in Love||Cris|
|2009–2011||Project Lodestar Sagas||Livia Wells|
|2010||Elf Sparkle and the Special Red Dress||Mrs. Claus (voice)|
|2017||Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde||Ms. Stevenson|
|2017||Halloween Pussy Trap Kill! Kill!||Bridgette's Grandmother|
|2018||This Is Our Christmas||Mrs. Foxworth|
Select radio credits
|Year||Program||Episode||Airdate||Writer (original story)||Character Role||Notes||mp3|
|1943||The Screen Guild Theater||"Journey for Margaret"||5 April 1943||William Lindsay White||Margaret Davis (girl)||The Lady Esther Presents The Screen Guild Players. Related movie: Journey for Margaret.||mp3|
|1947||Philco Radio Time (with Bing Crosby)||28 May 1947||self (as guest)||mp3|
|1948||Lux Radio Theatre||"Bad Bascomb"||1 March 1948||Emmy (girl)||Western radio drama involving a Mormon emigrant wagon train. Related movie: Bad Bascomb.||mp3|
|1948||Philco Radio Time (with Bing Crosby)||"St. Patrick's Day Program"||17 March 1948||self (as guest)||Saint Patrick's Day special.||mp3|
|1948||Suspense||"The Screaming Woman"||25 November 1948||Ray Bradbury||Margaret Leary (girl)||Thanksgiving themed radio drama.
Agnes Moorehead as the screaming woman.
Considered one of the best episodes of Suspense and old-time radio overall.
|1949||The MGM Theater of the Air||"The Youngest Profession"||25 November 1949||Ira Marion (adaption to radio)||Joan Lyons||Classical tale of the teenagers, the autograph hounds, who also get their names.|
|1950||Lux Radio Theatre||"Little Women"||13 March 1950||Beth March||The familiar story about four sisters growing up during the Civil War.|
|Academy Award||Juvenile Award for Outstanding Child Actress of 1944||Honored|||
|Hollywood Walk of Fame||Star of Motion Pictures – 6606 Hollywood Blvd.||Inducted|||
|Star of Television – 1634 Vine Street.||Inducted|
|Young Artist Award||Former Child Star Lifetime Achievement Award||Honored|||
Box office ranking
For a time O'Brien was voted by exhibitors as among the most popular stars in the country.
- TCM.com - "Biography for Margaret O'Brien", March 3, 2011.
- LIFE. 26 February 1945 ISSN. 0024-3019
- What's My Line? - Margaret O' Brien; Peter Ustinov (panel) (Nov 24, 1957)
- Ewald, William (December 5, 1957). "TV Gives Margaret O'Brien Chance To Get Out Of The Awkward Age". The Bristol Daily Courier. p. 38. Retrieved April 14, 2015 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Margaret O'Brien In GE Drama". The Sandusky Register. December 12, 1957. p. 46. Retrieved April 14, 2015 – via Newspapers.com.
- Zamichow, Nora (March 7, 1995). "Fairy Tale End for Stolen Oscar". LATimes.com. Retrieved July 12, 2011.
- "An Interview with Margaret O'Brien". Hollywoodland. Retrieved July 12, 2011.
- "Actress Gets Stolen Oscar Back". SFGate.com. June 23, 2011. Retrieved July 12, 2011.
- "Margaret O'Brien's Stolen Oscar". Hollywoodland. Archived from the original on July 29, 2012. Retrieved July 12, 2011.
- "Margaret O'Brien – Hollywood Walk of Fame". WalkofFame.com. Retrieved March 31, 2011.
- "11th Youth in Film Awards". YoungArtistAwards.org. Archived from the original on April 9, 2014. Retrieved March 31, 2011.
- The Digital Deli Too: The Definitive Screen Guild Radio Programs Log
- "Those Were the Days". Nostalgia Digest. 39 (1): 32–41. Winter 2013.
- The Digital Deli Too: The Definitive Philco Radio Time Radio Log
- Steven Lewis - Philco Radio Time 1947-48
- Frank M. Passage log: Suspense
- Old Time Radio Review: Suspense - episode review of "The Screaming Woman"
- OTR Plot Spot: Suspense - plot summaries and reviews.
- "17th Academy Awards". Oscars.org. Retrieved March 31, 2011.
- "CROSBY AGAIN LEADS IN FILM BOX OFFICES". The New York Times, 27 Dec 1946: 13.
- "Bing's Lucky Number: Pa Crosby Dons 4th B.O. Crown" By Richard L. Coe. The Washington Post (1923-1954) [Washington, D.C] 03 Jan 1948: 12.
- Best, Marc. Those Endearing Young Charms: Child Performers of the Screen (South Brunswick and New York: Barnes & Co., 1971), p. 203–208.
- Dye, David. Child and Youth Actors: Filmography of Their Entire Careers, 1914–1985. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 1988, pp. 170–171.
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