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Margaret O'Brien

Margaret O'Brien

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Also Known As: Maxine O'Brien, Angela Maxine O'Brien Died:
Born: January 15, 1937 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Los Angeles, California, USA Profession: actor, model, jewelry designer

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

This child star of the 1940s was best known for her natural, emotional style and her startling facility for tears. As Maxine O'Brien (her birth name), she first appeared in a civil defense film starring James Cagney, then in a bit in "Babes on Broadway" (both 1941). Sensing her potential, MGM signed her, changed her first name to Margaret and starred her in the tour de force "Journey for Margaret" (1942), as a terrified London war orphan who "adopts" reporter Robert Young. It was an adult, intelligent and slightly scary performance which made her an overnight star. The studio didn't quite know what to do with her after that as she wasn't an adorable Shirley Temple type. She was loaned out to Fox for "Jane Eyre" (1944) and was pretty much wasted in such MGM films as "Dr. Gillespie's Criminal Case", "Lost Angel" and "Madame Curie" (all 1943), although she had a slightly better part in "The Canterville Ghost" (1944), opposite Charles Laughton.O'Brien's next big showcase came with "Meet Me in St. Louis" (1944). As Tootie Smith, the feisty but fragile little sister of Judy Garland, she was a bright point in a very good film, especially in her musical numbers with Garland and during a Halloween sequence in...

This child star of the 1940s was best known for her natural, emotional style and her startling facility for tears. As Maxine O'Brien (her birth name), she first appeared in a civil defense film starring James Cagney, then in a bit in "Babes on Broadway" (both 1941). Sensing her potential, MGM signed her, changed her first name to Margaret and starred her in the tour de force "Journey for Margaret" (1942), as a terrified London war orphan who "adopts" reporter Robert Young. It was an adult, intelligent and slightly scary performance which made her an overnight star. The studio didn't quite know what to do with her after that as she wasn't an adorable Shirley Temple type. She was loaned out to Fox for "Jane Eyre" (1944) and was pretty much wasted in such MGM films as "Dr. Gillespie's Criminal Case", "Lost Angel" and "Madame Curie" (all 1943), although she had a slightly better part in "The Canterville Ghost" (1944), opposite Charles Laughton.

O'Brien's next big showcase came with "Meet Me in St. Louis" (1944). As Tootie Smith, the feisty but fragile little sister of Judy Garland, she was a bright point in a very good film, 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. Her next two features, "Music for Millions" (1944) and the drama "Our Vines Have Tender Grapes" (1945) were also impressive, but her luck pretty much wore out after that. Her last MGM films were generally unimpressive: the Western "Bad Bascombe" and the comedy "Three Wise Fools" (both 1946) and the melodrama "The Big City" (1948). Two good roles came her way in 1949, as the tragic Beth in an otherwise unremarkable remake of "Little Women" and as Mary Lennox in "The Secret Garden."

O'Brien left MGM after that and her film career pretty much tapered off. She played her first love scene (at age 14) in the appropriately-titled low-budget "Her First Romance" (1951) for Columbia and had ingenue roles in "Glory" (1955) and in the all-star Western "Heller in Pink Tights" (1960). Her only other films to date have been the Disney-produced period drama "Amy" (1981) and a cameo in the direct-to-video horror spoof "Sunset After Dark" (1994).

But as soon as her film contract had ended, the teenaged actress plunged into "the Golden Age of Television". Deluged with offers, O'Brien acted on such anthology series as "Studio One", "The Lux Video Theater", "Ford Television Theater", "Playhouse 90" and "The June Allyson Show". O'Brien reprised her big screen role of Beth in a TV musical version of "Little Women" (CBS, 1958), alongside Florence Henderson, Jeanie Carson and Joel Grey. A pilot for her own series, the domestic sitcom "Maggie" (CBS, 1960), did not fly. But as she aged from teen to slightly plump young lady and into svelte, lovely middle age, O'Brien continued to appear on the small screen from time to time, turning up in such longforms as the "Ironside" TV-movie "Split Second to an Epitaph" (NBC, 1968) and the miniseries "Testimony of Two Men" (syndicated, 1977) and making guest appearances on such series as "Love, American Style" (1968), "Adam-12" (1971), "Marcus Welby, M.D." (1972) and "Murder, She Wrote" (1991). O'Brien has also appeared onstage in summer stock and cruise ship productions of "Barefoot in the Park", "Under the Yum-Yum Tree", "A Thousand Clowns" and others.

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

1.
2.
 Amy (1981) Hazel Johnson
3.
 Heller in Pink Tights (1960) Della Southby
4.
 Glory (1956) Clarabel Tilbee
5.
 Her First Romance (1951) Betty Foster
6.
 Little Women (1949) Beth [March]
7.
 The Secret Garden (1949) Mary Lennox
8.
 Big City (1948) Midge [also known as Mary Ellen Rachel O'Donnell Andrews Feldman]
9.
 Tenth Avenue Angel (1948) Flavia Mills
10.
 The Unfinished Dance (1947) [Margaret] "Meg" Merlin
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

1941:
Made debut in civil defense film
1941:
Feature film debut, "Babes on Broadway"
1941:
Under contract to MGM
1942:
First starring role, "Journey for Margaret"
1944:
Had memorable role as Tootie in "Meet Me in St. Louis"; received honorary Oscar
1949:
Played Beth in a remake of "Little Women"
1951:
First non-MGM film, "Her First Romance"
1954:
Miniature Oscar stolen from her
1958:
Played Beth in TV musical version of "Little Women"
1960:
Last film for 11 years, "Heller in Pink Tights"
1960:
Filmed busted pilot "Maggie"
1977:
Trust fund from childhood acting career turned over to her
1977:
TV miniseries debut "Testimony of Two Men"
1981:
Returned to features with one shot appearance in "Amy" (released in 1984)
1994:
Had supporting role in direct-to-video release "Sunset After Dark"
1995:
Made headlines when stolen Oscar was returned to her after more that twenty years
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Notes

O'Brien's miniature Oscar was stolen from her in 1954. Twenty-one years later it was returned to her when it was located in a swap meet.

On her life as a child star: "I had a wonderful time. I really enjoyed it. I took it like a job, took it seriously. I had a mother who was really watching out for me. I think it's what you make of it. It could be something horrible if that's the way you want to look at it, but it was not. . . My mother saw that I had friends to play with; kids who were not in the movies." --Margaret O'Brien quoted in Classic Images, August 1993.

"How they really got me to cry is kind of interesting. June Allyson also did a lot of dramatic films, we 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." --Margaret O'Brien quoted in Classic Images, August 1993.

Companions close complete companion listing

husband:
Harold Allen Jr. Artist. Married in August 1959; divorced in 1968.
husband:
Ray Thorsen. Married in June 1974; divorced.

Family close complete family listing

father:
Lawrence O'Brien. Circus performer. Died before O'Brien was born.
mother:
Gladys O'Brien.
daughter:
Mara Thorsen. Born c. 1977.

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