Margaret O'Brien

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Margaret O'Brien
Margaret O Brien.jpg
O'Brien as a child star
Maxine O'Brien

(1937-01-15) January 15, 1937 (age 86)
Years active1941–present
Known for Meet Me in St. Louis
Harold Allen, Jr.
(m. 1959;div. 1968)

Roy Thorsen
(m. 1974)

Angela Maxine O'Brien (born January 15, 1937) [1] is an American film, radio, television, and stage actress, and is one of the last surviving stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood cinema. Beginning a prolific career as a child actress in feature films for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer at age 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 Maxine O'Brien. She used that name in 1941, when she appeared in a WWII civil defense film and made a minor appearance in her first feature film, after which she became a contract player with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which changed her first name and cast her in the title role of the film Journey for Margaret . [2] O'Brien's mother, Gladys Flores, was a 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. [3]


Margaret O'Brien in Journey for Margaret (1942)
Orson Welles, Margaret O'Brien and Joan Fontaine in Jane Eyre (1943)
Meet Me In St Louis Judy Garland Margaret O'Brien 1944.jpg
Margaret O'Brien and Judy Garland in Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)

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." [4]

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, appearing on a 1958 cover of Life magazine with the caption "How the Girl's Grown", [5] and was a mystery guest on the TV panel show What's My Line? . [6] 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." [7]

On November 20, 1950, she co-starred with Cecil Parker in "The Canterville Ghost", on Robert Montgomery Presents on TV. [8] She appeared as the mystery guest on "What's My Line" November 24, 1957. On December 22, 1957, O'Brien starred in "The Young Years" on General Electric Theater . [9] 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.

In 1991, O'Brien appeared in Murder, She Wrote , season 7, episode "Who Killed J.B. Fletcher?", reuniting O'Brien with her Tenth Avenue Angel co-star Angela Lansbury.

Academy Award

O'Brien in Eiga no Tomo ("Film Friend" magazine; November 1952) Eiganotomo-margaretobrien-nov1952.jpg
O'Brien in Eiga no Tomo ("Film Friend" magazine; November 1952)

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. [10] After three days, the maid failed to return to work, prompting O'Brien's mother to discharge her, requesting that the awards be returned. [11] Not long after, O'Brien's mother, who had been sick with a heart condition, suffered a relapse and died. [10] 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. [10] [11]

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. [10] [11] 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. [10] 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. [10] [11]

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. [12] 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. [10] 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. [10] 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. [10] [12] 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. [13]

Additional honors

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. [14] 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. [15] In 2006, she was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the SunDeis Film Festival at Brandeis University.

Personal life

O'Brien has been married twice, to Harold Allen, Jr. from August 9, 1959, [16] to 1968, [17] and in 1974 to steel-industry executive Roy Thorvald Thorsen. [18] The later marriage produced her only child, Mara Tolene Thorsen, born in 1977. [18] [19]


YearFilmRoleOther notes
1941 Babes on Broadway Maxine, Little Girl at AuditionUncredited
1942 Journey for Margaret Margaret White
1943 You, John Jones! Their daughterShort film
Dr. Gillespie's Criminal Case Margaret
Thousands Cheer Customer in Red Skelton Skit
Madame Curie Irene Curie (at age 5)
Lost Angel Alpha
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
1946 Bad Bascomb Emmy
Three Wise Fools Sheila O'Monahan
1947 The Unfinished Dance 'Meg' Merlin
1948 Big City Midge
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 McDermottUS title: Girls Hand in Hand
1956 Glory Clarabel Tilbee
1957 What's My Line? Mystery GuestSeason 8, aired Nov. 24, 1957
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
1965Agente 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
1974Annabelle Lee
Diabolique WeddingAKA Diabolic Wedding
That's Entertainment! Herself and archive footage
1977Testimony of Two MenFlora EatonTelevision miniseries
1981 Amy Hazel JohnsonAKA Amy on the Lips
1991 Murder, She Wrote FlorenceEpisode: "Who Killed J.B. Fletcher?"
1996Sunset After Dark
1998Creaturealm: From the DeadHerselfSegment: Hollywood Mortuary
2000Child Stars: Their StoryHerselfAKA Child Stars
2002Dead SeasonFriendly Looking Lady
2004 The Mystery of Natalie Wood Herself
2005 Boxes HerselfShort film
2009Dead in LoveCris
2009–2011Project Lodestar SagasLivia Wells
2010Frankenstein Rising
2010Elf Sparkle and the Special Red DressMrs. Claus (voice)
2017Dr. Jekyll and Mr. HydeMs. Stevenson
2017 Halloween Pussy Trap Kill! Kill! Bridgette's Grandmother
2018Prepper's GroveGigi
2018This Is Our ChristmasMrs. Foxworth
2018Impact EventAmanda

Select radio credits

YearProgramEpisodeAirdateWriter (original story)Character RoleNotesmp3
1943 [20] The Screen Guild Theater [20] "Journey for Margaret" [20] [21] 5 April 1943 [20] William Lindsay White Margaret Davis (girl) The Lady Esther Presents The Screen Guild Players. [20] Related movie: Journey for Margaret . mp3
1947 [22] Philco Radio Time [22] (with Bing Crosby) [22] 28 May 1947 [22] self (as guest) [22] mp3
1948 Lux Radio Theatre "Bad Bascomb"1 March 1948Emmy (girl) Western radio drama involving a Mormon emigrant wagon train. Related movie: Bad Bascomb . mp3
1948 [22] Philco Radio Time [22] [23] (with Bing Crosby) [22] "St. Patrick's Day Program" [21] 17 March 1948 [22] [23] self (as guest) [22] [23] Saint Patrick's Day special. mp3
1948 [24] [25] Suspense [24] [25] [26] "The Screaming Woman" [24] [25] [26] 25 November 1948 [24] [25] Ray Bradbury [25] [26] Margaret Leary (girl) Thanksgiving themed radio drama.
Agnes Moorehead [24] as the screaming woman. [25]
Considered one of the best episodes of Suspense and old-time radio overall. [25]
1949 The MGM Theater of the Air "The Youngest Profession"25 November 1949Ira Marion (adaption to radio)Joan LyonsClassical tale of the teenagers, the autograph hounds, who also get their names.
1950 Lux Radio Theatre "Little Women"13 March 1950Beth MarchThe familiar story about four sisters growing up during the Civil War.
1950 The Big Show (NBC Radio) 31 December 1950self (as guest)Performs scene from Romeo and Juliet with Jose Ferrer




Academy Award Juvenile Award for Outstanding Child Actress of 1944 Honored [27]


Hollywood Walk of Fame Star of Motion Pictures – 6606 Hollywood Blvd. Inducted [14]
Star of Television – 1634 Vine Street. Inducted


Young Artist Award Former Child Star Lifetime Achievement Award Honored [15]

Box office ranking

For a time O'Brien was voted by exhibitors as among the most popular stars in the country.

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  1. "UPI Almanac for Friday, Jan. 15, 2021". United Press International . January 15, 2021. Archived from the original on January 15, 2021. Retrieved March 19, 2021. … actor Margaret O'Brien in 1937 (age 84)…
  2. "Margaret O'Brien". Turner Classic Movies. Archived from the original on January 30, 2021. Retrieved March 19, 2021. As Maxine O'Brien (her birth name), she first appeared in...; Also Known As Maxine O'Brien, Angela Maxine O'Brien
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  17. Houseman, Victoria (1991). Made in Heaven: The Marriages and Children of Hollywood Stars. Los Angeles, California: Bonus Books. p. 234. ISBN   978-0929387246. Allen divorced her in 1968, saying that she preferred her career to...
  18. 1 2 Ellenberger, Allan R. (2000). Margaret O'Brien: A Career Chronicle and Biography. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland Publishing. p. 39. ISBN   978-0786408856. On June 6, 1974, O'Brien married Scandinavian steel executive Roy Thorvald Thorsen.... In 1976, Margaret announced that she was expecting her first child, a daughter that she named Mara Tolene.
  19. Photo caption in "News Makers". San Antonio Express . Texas. Associated Press. December 20, 1976 via Five-month-old Mara Tolene Thorsen is held by her mother, one-time child actress Margaret O'Brien, after Mara's christening...(subscription required)
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