O'Brien, Margaret (1937—)

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O'Brien, Margaret (1937—)

American actress who was a child star of the 1940s. Born Angela Maxine O'Brien on January 15, 1937, inLos Angeles, California; daughter of Gladys Flores (a dancer); married Harold Robert Allen, Jr. (a commercial artist), in 1959 (divorced); married a second time (separated); children: daughter.

Selected filmography:

Babes on Broadway (1941); Journey for Margaret (1942); Dr. Gillespie's Criminal Case (1943); Thousands Cheer (1943); Madame Curie (1943); Lost Angel (1944); Jane Eyre (1944); The Canterville Ghost (1944); Meet Me in St. Louis (1944); Music for Millions (1944); Our Vines Have Tender Grapes (1945); Bad Bascomb (1946); Three Wise Fools (1946); The Unfinished Dance (1947); Tenth Avenue Angel (1947); Big City (1948); Little Women (1949); The Secret Garden (1949); Her First Romance (1951); Glory (1956); Heller in Pink Tights (1960); Diabolic Wedding (Peru, 1971); Annabelle Lee (Peru, 1972); Amy (1981).

The winner of a special 1944 Academy Award as Outstanding Child Actress, Margaret O'Brien is considered by many to have been one of the most talented child stars ever to appear in film. Although never quite as popular as Shirley Temple (Black) , she was one of MGM's moneymakers during the 1940s, but like most young actors her career took a nosedive with the onset of puberty. Fortunately, the large salary she drew in her heyday was tucked away for her in a trust fund because of California's Coogan Law.

She was born Angela Maxine O'Brien in 1937 in Los Angeles, California, to dancer Gladys Flores . (Her Irish father died a few months before her birth, and her mother later married band leader Don Sylvio.) O'Brien began modeling at three and made her movie debut at age four in Babes on Broadway (1941). She subsequently appeared in a variety of roles in both musicals and dramas, exuding a heart-felt conviction unusual in one so young. "This grave little girl, who can give the screen a morning glow by simply stumping into camera range … is something out of the ordinary in performing children," wrote C.A. Lejeune of O'Brien's performance in Music for Millions (1944). "She belongs more with the Menuhins and Mozarts than with the Shirley Temples." Critic James Agee was equally enthralled after viewing the dark-eyed, pig-tailed moppet in the role of younger sister Tootie in Meet Me in St. Louis (1945). "Many of her possibilities and glints of her achievement hypnotize me as thoroughly as anything since Garbo," he wrote. That same year, O'Brien turned in one of her most sensitive performances in Our Vines Have Tender Grapes, the story of a Norwegian farming community in Wisconsin, with Edward G. Robinson.

O'Brien was precocious off-screen as well. She became a charming radio personality, guesting on popular variety shows, and trading barbs with such seasoned comedians as Edgar Bergen and Bob Hope. At the height of her popularity, she also gave numerous public readings. O'Brien continued turning in impeccable performances, but MGM used her to enhance second-rate movies with diminishing results. The best of her later films, the second screen version of Louisa May Alcott 's Little Women (1949), was an exception, although the adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett 's The Secret Garden, released the same year, fell flat. In 1951, MGM suspended O'Brien when she refused to appear in Alice in Wonderland. (The picture was never made.) When she resurfaced at Columbia in an unsuccessful debut as an adolescent in Her First Romance (1951), it marked the beginning of the end of her movie career. She went on to appear in a few foreign films, in stock, and on television, where a reprise of her role as Beth in a musical version of "Little Women" and a role in a "Studio One" production were notable. In the late 1970s, she worked as a civilian aide to Secretary of the Army Clifford Alexander. In the 1990s, she was an active fund raiser for AIDS charities. As for O'Brien's Oscar, a departing maid took it as a souvenir in 1954. It turned up at a flea market in 1995 and was re-presented to the actress. "The poor thing has been through a lot," she said.


Katz, Ephraim. The Film Encyclopedia. NY: Harper-Collins, 1994.

Lamparski, Richard. Whatever Became Of …? 2nd series. NY: Crown, 1968.

People Weekly. April 10, 2000, p. 128.

Shipman, David. The Great Movie Stars: The Golden Years. Boston, MA: Little, Brown, 1995.

suggested reading:

Ellenberger, Allan R. Margaret O'Brien: A Career Chronicle and Biography, 2000.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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O'Brien, Margaret (1937—)

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