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Happy Birthday, Margaret O'Brien


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Today is the 80th birthday of Margaret O'Brien, who was one of filmdom's most remarkable child stars.

 

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On March 15, 1945, O'Brien received a special Juvenile Academy Award as the Outstanding Child Actress of 1944. One of her films that year was "Meet Me in St. Louis," in which her performance as the irrepressible Tootie Smith almost upstaged the great Judy Garland.

 

 

 

O'Brien, pictured below with Robert Osborne and Robert Wagner at Osborne's 2006 Hollywood Walk of Fame ceremony, has been a longtime supporter of Turner Classic Movies.

 

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http://2014.filmfestival.tcm.com/programs/special-guests/margaret-obrien/

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I can't think she's had a very happy life since her career must have peaked when she was 12 years old.

 

I remember seeing her on TV in the late fifties and early sixties trying to relaunch her career. She wasn't bad, but nobody had any interest.

 

Her gimmick as a child was to be precocious and quite brilliant in her memorization, as well as her ability to cry on cue.

 

Funny because Natalie Wood could do the same things and she had a great career - - but there are so many other elements that are involved and then too when it comes to movies you usually had to be beautiful in those days.

 

But I think the main thing that I always disliked about Margaret O'Brien's acting was that it seemed pretentious and over-directed by adults for effect - - I never cared for child actors like that, for example like the child actors in Family Affair.

 

Whereas, I think Natalie Wood's success came from the spontaneity and the fundamental natural quality of her acting ability - - something she never lost.

 

The last time I saw Margaret O'Brien working was in Murder She Wrote-- Angela Lansbury's TV show was a 1-woman cottage industry for every Broadway, Hollywood, TV, and British actor that she knew who still wanted to work.

 

Margaret was middle-aged, and well let's just say, more than middle-aged and heavy-- I say that because she looked older than the other Hollywood types who were on the show, like Gloria De Haven, Kathryn Grayson or even June Allyson and they were older than her.

 

As a child, I heard that she toured the country and featured her death scene from Little Women.

 

In retrospect, for some reason, I always felt sorry for Margaret O'Brien after she became an adult and she couldn't resurrect her career. She was a good actress as an adult, but without a gimmick, her career in Show Business was virtually over.

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I can't think she's had a very happy life since her career must have peaked when she was 12 years old.

I remember seeing her on TV in the late fifties and early sixties trying to relaunch her career. She wasn't bad, but nobody had any interest.

Her gimmick as a child was to be precocious and quite brilliant in her memorization, as well as her ability to cry on cue.

Funny because Natalie Wood could do the same things and she had a great career - - but there are so many other elements that are involved and then too when it comes to movies you usually had to be beautiful in those days.

But I think the main thing that I always disliked about Margaret O'Brien's acting was that it seemed pretentious and over-directed by adults for effect - - I never cared for child actors like that, for example like the child actors in Family Affair.

Whereas, I think Natalie Wood's success came from the spontaneity and the fundamental natural quality of her acting ability - - something she never lost.

The last time I saw Margaret O'Brien working was in Murder She Wrote-- Angela Lansbury's TV show was a 1-woman cottage industry for every Broadway, Hollywood, TV, and British actor that she knew who still wanted to work.

Margaret was middle-aged, and well let's just say, more than middle-aged and heavy-- I say that because she looked older than the other Hollywood types who were on the show, like Gloria De Haven, Kathryn Grayson or even June Allyson and they were older than her.

As a child, I heard that she toured the country and featured her death scene from Little Women.

In retrospect, for some reason, I always felt sorry for Margaret O'Brien after she became an adult and she couldn't resurrect her career. She was a good actress as an adult, but without a gimmick, her career in Show Business was virtually over.

I gotta say that I take issue with most of what you've written here. I understand that she may not be everyone's cup of tea but I saw her on the TCM Cruise a couple of years ago and she seemed to be a very content person. She had a very active life on the stage after her childhood stardom. She was very tiny as well. She told a story about appearing at an auction in Belgium where there was a sale of Michael Jackson's collection of memorabilia. He had purchased the coat she wore in Meet Me in St. Louis at some point. The auction house had invited her to appear. She said that when she looked at the coat she said that she thought she could still get in the coat. Besides the fact that the arms were short, it fit her across the shoulders & body. I saw her later that day on the pool deck and standing next to her I felt like a giant. And I'm only 5 ft 3 in on my best day. She asked me where she could get a hot dog.
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I gotta say that I take issue with most of what you've written here. I understand that she may not be everyone's cup of tea but I saw her on the TCM Cruise a couple of years ago and she seemed to be a very content person. She had a very active life on the stage after her childhood stardom. She was very tiny as well. She told a story about appearing at an auction in Belgium where there was a sale of Michael Jackson's collection of memorabilia. He had purchased the coat she wore in Meet Me in St. Louis at some point. The auction house had invited her to appear. She said that when she looked at the coat she said that she thought she could still get in the coat. Besides the fact that the arms were short, it fit her across the shoulders & body. I saw her later that day on the pool deck and standing next to her I felt like a giant. And I'm only 5 ft 3 in on my best day. She asked me where she could get a hot dog.

 

Your information about Margaret O'Brien is more current than mine. I may be talking about decades ago. Especially before TCM and all the personal interest in these old movies which, of course, may have given her additional Fame and income that she didn't have back in the sixties, seventies,or eighties. And apparently, according to you she's lost a lot of weight since she appeared with Angela Lansbury in Murder She Wrote.

 

I'm glad she's doing better and she deserves to have some recognition.

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I've always loved her.

 

She had a remarkable 18-film career at MGM.

 

And everyone of these films is worth a visit.

 

She made a remarkable film about childhood trauma, "The Unfinished Dance", which, unfortunately, has fallen into obscurity.

 

Her last two films for MGM, "Little Women" and "The Secret Garden" could never be forgotten.

 

MGM should never have let her go.

 

I think that her problem might have been that she looked too much like Elizabeth Taylor.

 

Anyway, for a time, she moved to Peru, worked in TV there and made two horror films there.

 

They were "Diabolical Wedding" and "Annabelle Lee".

 

Has anybody seen them?

 

(George Cukor resurrected her career, but only momentarily, in 1960's "Heller In Pink Tights".)

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Not everybody's cup of tea for sure.  I know a lot of people who could never stand her.  But so go the fortunes of fate.

 

Now, in comparison to Natalie Wood, Both Margret and SHIRLEY TEMPLE were extremely talented child "stars" too.  But when they got older, their film careers started to wane into simply disappearing.  While on the other hand, MICKEY ROONEY,  JACKIE COOPER,  ELIZABETH TAYLOR  and others including Ms. Wood went on to have long and fruitful careers in film and other venues.

 

The reason for this is vague, but it happens.  And those I mentioned were as "beloved" as child actors as O'Brien and Temple.  Could it be that the child characters they often portrayed were more engaging than the others?  Well, that's subjective.  But I can't think of much anything else.

 

 

Sepiatone

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Not everybody's cup of tea for sure.  I know a lot of people who could never stand her.  But so go the fortunes of fate.

 

Now, in comparison to Natalie Wood, Both Margret and SHIRLEY TEMPLE were extremely talented child "stars" too.  But when they got older, their film careers started to wane into simply disappearing.  While on the other hand, MICKEY ROONEY,  JACKIE COOPER,  ELIZABETH TAYLOR  and others including Ms. Wood went on to have long and fruitful careers in film and other venues.

 

The reason for this is vague, but it happens.  And those I mentioned were as "beloved" as child actors as O'Brien and Temple.  Could it be that the child characters they often portrayed were more engaging than the others?  Well, that's subjective.  But I can't think of much anything else.

 

 

Sepiatone

 

I'm going to be blunt here;  To me the main reason Natalie Wood became a big adult star was that her transition from a child star to and adult star included some major teen roles for her and Natalie was a looker;   Natalie was stunning.   Same with a Liz Taylor.

 

For a less than stunning female child star to make it pass the teen \ young adult stage they have to have super major talent like Judy Garland.  

 

Big fan of O'Brien but she does 'come off' as a adult in many of her child performances because she was so polished and professional.   But I also connected with her emotionally and that is what counts,       

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I'm going to be blunt here;  To me the main reason Natalie Wood became a big adult star was that her transition from a child star to and adult star included some major teen roles for her and Natalie was a looker;   Natalie was stunning.   Same with a Liz Taylor.

 

For a less than stunning female child star to make it pass the teen \ young adult stage they have to have super major talent like Judy Garland.  

 

Big fan of O'Brien but she does 'come off' as a adult in many of her child performances because she was so polished and professional.   But I also connected with her emotionally and that is what counts,       

 

Are you saying O'Brien was not stunning?

 

I will be equally blunt-- I like many of the films in which she appeared during the 1940s but I never watch those films to see her. Does that make sense?

 

One of the main problems I have with all the MGM child stars during the 30s, 40s and early 50s is that someone at the studio thought they had to teach these kids to bawl buckets of tears in order to be good on screen. Seldom do they give restrained or subtle performances. Even Natalie Wood who worked primarily at Fox during these years poured on the waterworks in picture after picture. At least some of the ones who transitioned successfully into adult roles (including Natalie) learned to tone it down.

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I'm going to be blunt here;  To me the main reason Natalie Wood became a big adult star was that her transition from a child star to and adult star included some major teen roles for her and Natalie was a looker;   Natalie was stunning.   Same with a Liz Taylor.

 

For a less than stunning female child star to make it pass the teen \ young adult stage they have to have super major talent like Judy Garland.  

 

Big fan of O'Brien but she does 'come off' as a adult in many of her child performances because she was so polished and professional.   But I also connected with her emotionally and that is what counts,       

 

Always thought besides the whole "cutesy" aspect to Miss O'Brien, she possessed a rather odd and somewhat "unnatural" cadence to her line readings, and something which didn't seem to change once she reached adulthood.

 

I noticed this a few months back as I caught a performance of hers on an old rerun of Perry Mason on MeTV. It seemed to me as if while she had physically grown to adulthood, she still gave off a rather childlike vibe in her scenes on that program.

 

And so, perhaps her failure to achieve as much success as an adult actress as did her fellow childhood actresses such as Wood and Taylor, both of whom by the their late teens would be able to project a more "earthy" and mature on-screen presence than did O'Brien, and even though she would grow to be an attractive adult, albeit not as stunningly beautiful as the aforementioned other two. 

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Always thought besides the whole "cutesy" aspect to Miss O'Brien, she possessed a rather odd and somewhat "unnatural" cadence to her line readings, and something which didn't seem to change once she reached adulthood.

 

I noticed this a few months back as I caught a performance of hers on an old rerun of Perry Mason on MeTV. It seemed to me as if while she had physically grown to adulthood, she still gave off a rather childlike vibe in her scenes on that program.

 

And so, perhaps her failure to achieve as much success as an adult actress as did her fellow childhood actresses such as Wood and Taylor, both of whom by the their late teens would be able to project a more "earthy" and mature on-screen presence than did O'Brien, and even though she would grow to be an attractive adult, albeit not as stunningly beautiful as the aforementioned other two. 

 

Yes, I think you're on to something. They're almost too precocious, having to be cutesy during those years when they are child stars. That when it's time to grow up, they almost can't do it-- I don't know if they're afraid to be more mature, or if it's because like Jack Nicholson puts it, they were "already psychologically formed" and can't change. 

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In my fantasies where I actually make the time and effort to participate in the Programming Challenge, I've thought about devoting a night to "Awkward Transitions to Teen Roles" (there's a freebie for anyone who needs an idea). Looking at O'Brien's imdb resume, I see a curiosity made at Columbia in 1951 called Her First Romance. Looking at the cast photo of her, I see a resemblance a bit to Teresa Wright. As O'Brien was only 14 at the time, it seems maybe a year or two too early to be trying to force her into teen romance roles (even comedic ones, as this appears to be), but it's interesting to see someone was trying to figure out a genre they could switch her to that would enable her to remain relevant. I'd like to check it out sometime, even if it's terrible. It has aired on TCM a handful of times, but the last time was seven years ago.

 

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0043632/?ref_=nm_flmg_act_53

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In my fantasies where I actually make the time and effort to participate in the Programming Challenge, I've thought about devoting a night to "Awkward Transitions to Teen Roles" (there's a freebie for anyone who needs an idea). Looking at O'Brien's imdb resume, I see a curiosity made at Columbia in 1951 called Her First Romance. Looking at the cast photo of her, I see a resemblance a bit to Teresa Wright. As O'Brien was only 14 at the time, it seems maybe a year or two too early to be trying to force her into teen romance roles (even comedic ones, as this appears to be), but it's interesting to see someone was trying to figure out a genre they could switch her to that would enable her to remain relevant. I'd like to check it out sometime, even if it's terrible. It has aired on TCM a handful of times, but the last time was seven years ago.

 

 

That 'transition to teen roles' is a great idea for theme programming.   Great! .

 

Let's hope a programmer at TCM sees your post!

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