Margaret O’Brien is an American film and stage actress. Although her film career as a leading actress was brief, she was one of the most popular child actors in cinema history. In her later career, she appeared on television, stage, and in supporting film roles.
Margaret O’Brien was born Angela Maxine O’Brien on January 15, 1937 in San Diego, California. Her father Lawrence O’Brien, a circus performer, died before she was born. 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. She made her first film appearance in “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. It was after the success of “Journey for Margaret” that she chose as her professional first name Margaret, after the lead role she played in the movie. O’Brien was considered a big enough star to have a cameo appearance in the all-star military show finale of “Thousands Cheer” (1943). In 1944 she played a young French girl, and spoke and sang all her dialogue with a French accent, in “Jane Eyre”. Her most memorable role was as “Tootie” in “Meet Me in St. Louis” (1944), opposite Judy Garland. 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.” Her other successes included “The Canterville Ghost” (1944), “Our Vines Have Tender Grapes” (1945), “Little Women” (1949), and the first sound version of “The Secret Garden” (1949). Although O’Brien was one of the most popular child actresses in cinema history she was unable to make a successful transition to adult roles. Her acting roles as an adult became few and far between, mostly in small independent films.
Through the years, O’Brien has remained active on TV and on the dinner-theater circuit. In 1958 she appeared 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?”. In 1959, she starred in a national stage tour of “The Young And The Beautiful” by author Sally Benson (creator of the book that became O’Brien’s most famous film, Meet Me in St. Louis (1944). Co-starring opposite O’Brien in the stage play of “The Young And The Beautiful” was Dirk Wayne Summers, who later became an award winning writer and director in films and television. Also in 1959 she played the role of Betsy Stauffer, a small town nurse, in “The Incident of the Town in Terror” on television’s “Rawhide” in 1959. Among her other more notable television appearances are: “Playhouse 90” in 1957 and 1959, “The DuPont Show with June Allyson” in 1960, “Dr. Kildare” in 1962, “Perry Mason” in 1963, “Ironside” in 1968, “Marcus Welby, M.D.” in 1972, and “Murder, She Wrote” in 1991. She does occasional interviews, mostly for the Turner Classic Movies cable network.
Margaret O’Brien has been married twice. The first time to Harold Allen, Jr. in 1959. They were divorced in 1968. In 1974 O’Brien married Roy Thorsen. They have one child together, a daughter, Mara Tolene Thorsen, born in 1977. They are still married.
O’Brien’s special Academy Award as Outstanding Juvenile Performer for “Meet Me in St. Louis” (1944) was stolen and she was unable to regain it for nearly fifty years when two antique collectors came across it in an antique shop and managed to give it back to O’Brien.
O’Brien has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The first for Motion Pictures at 6608 Hollywood Boulevard and the second for television at 1620 Vine St. In 2006, she was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the SunDeis Film Festival at Brandeis University.