The Info List - Margaret O'Brien

Margaret O'Brien (born Angela Maxine O'Brien; January 15, 1937)[1] 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.[2] O'Brien's mother, Gladys Flores, was a well-known flamenco dancer who often performed with her sister Marissa, also a dancer. O'Brien is of half-Irish and half-Spanish ancestry.


Margaret O'Brien in Journey for Margaret (1942)
Orson Welles, Margaret O'Brien and Joan Fontaine in Jane Eyre (1943)
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 convincing acting style. 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 as "Tootie" in Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), opposite Judy Garland. As she told the true story on a Turner Classic Movie special, Margaret was known as one of "the Best Cryers" on the MGM lot, but she was having a tough time crying, so to get Margaret to cry during a crucial emotional scene in the movie, her mother told her that "June Allyson, (another one of MGM's Best Cryers), is a better cryer than you!!" No surprise, she cried, and was wonderful in the role of "Tootie."

O'Brien had by this time added singing and dancing to her achievements and was rewarded with an Academy Juvenile Award the following year as the "outstanding child actress of 1944."[3] 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?.[4] 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 television credit for helping her to change 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."[5]

On December 22, 1957, O'Brien starred in "The Young Years" on General Electric Theater.[6] She played the role of Betsy Stauffer, a small-town nurse, in "The Incident of the Town in Terror" on television's Rawhide. 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?".

Academy Award

An image of Margaret O'Brien in Eiga no Tomo (November 1952)
O'Brien in Eiga no Tomo (November 1952)
A photo of Margaret O'Brien in 2013
O'Brien in 2013

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.[7] After three days, the maid failed to return to work, prompting O'Brien's mother to discharge her, requesting that the awards be returned.[8] Not long after, O'Brien's mother, who had been sick with a heart condition, suffered a relapse and died.[7] 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.[7][8]

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.[7][8] 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.[7] 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.[7][8]

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.[9] 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.[7] 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.[7] On February 7, 1995, nearly 50 years after she had first received it, the Academy held a special ceremony in Beverly Hills to return the stolen award to O’Brien.[7][9] 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.[10]

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.[11] 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.[12] In 2006, she was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the SunDeis Film Festival at Brandeis University.

Personal life

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.


"Who Killed J B Fletcher" Florence

Year Film Role Other notes
1941 Babes on Broadway Maxine, Little Girl at Audition uncredited
1942 Journey for Margaret Margaret White
1943 You, John Jones! Their daughter short subject
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 McDermott Girls Hand in Hand US title
1956 Glory Clarabel Tilbee
1958 Little Women (CBS Musical) Beth March
1960 Heller in Pink Tights Della Southby
1963 Perry Mason (TV series) Virginia Trent The Case of the Shoplifter's Shoe; Season 6, Ep. 13, aired Jan. 3, 1963
1965 Agente S 3 S operazione Uranio
1974 Annabelle Lee
1974 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
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
2005 Boxes Herself short subject
2006 Store Herself
2009 Dead in Love Cris
2009–2011 Project Lodestar Sagas Livia Wells

Select radio credits

Year Program Episode Airdate Writer (original story) Character Role Notes mp3
1943[13] The Screen Guild Theater[13] "Journey for Margaret"[13][14] 5 April 1943[13] William Lindsay White Margaret Davis (girl) The Lady Esther Presents The Screen Guild Players.[13] Related movie: Journey for Margaret. mp3
1947[15] Philco Radio Time[15] (with Bing Crosby)[15] 28 May 1947[15] self (as guest)[15] 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[15] Philco Radio Time[15][16] (with Bing Crosby)[15] "St. Patrick's Day Program"[14] 17 March 1948[15][16] self (as guest)[15][16] Saint Patrick's Day special. mp3
1948[17][18] Suspense[17][18][19] "The Screaming Woman"[17][18][19] 25 November 1948[17][18] Ray Bradbury[18][19] Margaret Leary (girl) Thanksgiving themed radio drama.
Agnes Moorehead[17] as the screaming woman.[18]
Considered one of the best episodes of Suspense and old-time radio overall.[18]


Year Award Honor Result Ref.


Academy Award Juvenile Award for Outstanding Child Actress of 1944 Honored [3]


Hollywood Walk of Fame Star of Motion Pictures – 6606 Hollywood Blvd. Inducted [11]
Star of Television – 1634 Vine Street. Inducted


Young Artist Award Former Child Star Lifetime Achievement Award Honored [12]

Box office ranking

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

  • 1945 - 9th
  • 1946 - 8th[20]
  • 1947 - 19th[21]


  1. ^ http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0639684/
  2. ^ TCM.com - "Biography for Margaret O'Brien", March 3, 2011.
  3. ^ a b "17th Academy Awards". Oscars.org. Retrieved March 31, 2011. 
  4. ^ What's My Line? - Margaret O' Brien; Peter Ustinov (panel) (Nov 24, 1957)
  5. ^ 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.  open access publication – free to read
  6. ^ "Margaret O'Brien In GE Drama". The Sandusky Register. December 12, 1957. p. 46. Retrieved April 14, 2015 – via Newspapers.com.  open access publication – free to read
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i Zamichow, Nora (March 7, 1995). "Fairy Tale End for Stolen Oscar". LATimes.com. Retrieved July 12, 2011. 
  8. ^ a b c d "An Interview with Margaret O'Brien". Hollywoodland. Retrieved July 12, 2011. 
  9. ^ a b "Actress Gets Stolen Oscar Back". SFGate.com. June 23, 2011. Retrieved July 12, 2011. 
  10. ^ "Margaret O'Brien's Stolen Oscar". Hollywoodland. Archived from the original on July 29, 2012. Retrieved July 12, 2011. 
  11. ^ a b "Margaret O'Brien – Hollywood Walk of Fame". WalkofFame.com. Retrieved March 31, 2011. 
  12. ^ a b "11th Youth in Film Awards". YoungArtistAwards.org. Archived from the original on April 9, 2014. Retrieved March 31, 2011. 
  13. ^ a b c d e The Digital Deli Too: The Definitive Screen Guild Radio Programs Log
  14. ^ a b "Those Were the Days". Nostalgia Digest. 39 (1): 32–41. Winter 2013. 
  15. ^ a b c d e f g h i j The Digital Deli Too: The Definitive Philco Radio Time Radio Log
  16. ^ a b c Steven Lewis - Philco Radio Time 1947-48
  17. ^ a b c d e Frank M. Passage log: Suspense
  18. ^ a b c d e f g Old Time Radio Review: Suspense - episode review of "The Screaming Woman"
  19. ^ a b c OTR Plot Spot: Suspense - plot summaries and reviews.
  20. ^ CROSBY AGAIN LEADS IN FILM BOX OFFICES New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 27 Dec 1946: 13.
  21. ^ 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, p. 170-171.

External links