Margaret O’Brien

Angela Maxine O’Brien

Popular child actress of the 1940s

Margaret was born Angela Maxine O’Brien on January 15, 1937 in Los Angeles, California. Her father, a circus rider, died shortly before she was born. Her mother Gladys was a flamenco dancer. Margaret found work at a tender age as a child model, often appearing on magazine covers. MGM spotted her and hired her for a bit part in Babes on Broadway (1941). She can be seen at the ripe old age of four auditioning for James Gleason, “Please, Warden, don’t send my brother to the chair!”

Gladys worked to get Margaret tested for the lead role in Journey for Margaret, which she easily won, and she was on her way to being the premiere child star of the 1940s. Margaret was not, however, a typical child performer. She displayed a pathos on the screen unlike any other child performer before her. Her presence is almost eerie at times, transcending precociousness to the point of seeming like a mature, wizened person trapped in a child’s body.

Journey for Margaret was successful, and so was Margaret. MGM signed her to a seven year contract. Unfortunately, Margaret’s acting ability was far beyond that needed for most child roles, so scripts were hard to find for her. She found small roles in films such as Thousands Cheer and Jane Eyre, before finally landing the role that vaulted her to stardom: Tootie in Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), for which she won a special Oscar, and the affection of the movie-going public.

The following year, she starred in Our Vines Have Tender Grapes and found herself at the peak of her popularity. Good roles for Margaret continued to evade MGM, but Margaret went on to play minor parts or in minor movies. Her last good roles were as Beth in Little Women (1949) and Mary Lennox in The Secret Garden (1949), opposite Dean Stockwell.

One of her best performances is in the 1948 film, Big City. Her acting is far beyond her years, and she does a number of impersonations, including one of Betty Garrett performing the number “Ok’el Baby Doll.” She’s absolutely smashing! This film, by the way, is much underrated. It’s a real charmer!

Margaret’s movie career faded in the 1950s, and she worked in touring and summer stock companies, playing in such hits as Gigi, Barefoot in the Park and A Shot in the Dark. Miss O’Brien is often seen today signing autographs at movie memorabilia shows and similar gatherings.