Margaret O'Brien

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Margaret O'Brien

Margaret O'Brien in 1948
BornAngela Maxine O'Brien
(1937-01-15) January 15, 1937 (age 75)
San Diego, California, U.S.
Years active1941–present
Spouse(s)Harold Allen, Jr. (1959–1968) (divorced)
Roy Thorsen (1974–present) 1 daughter
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Margaret O'Brien

Margaret O'Brien in 1948
BornAngela Maxine O'Brien
(1937-01-15) January 15, 1937 (age 75)
San Diego, California, U.S.
Years active1941–present
Spouse(s)Harold Allen, Jr. (1959–1968) (divorced)
Roy Thorsen (1974–present) 1 daughter

Margaret O'Brien (born January 15, 1937) is an American film, television and stage actress. Beginning a prolific career as a child actress in feature films 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

She was born Angela Maxine O'Brien; her name was later changed to Margaret following the success of the film Journey for Margaret, in which she played the title role. Her father Lawrence O'Brien, a circus performer, died before she was born.[1] 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. By 1943, she was considered a big enough star to have a cameo appearance in the all-star military show finale of Thousands Cheer.

She played a young French girl, and spoke and sang all her dialogue with a French accent, in Jane Eyre (1944). Arguably 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."[2] Her other successes included The Canterville Ghost (1944), Our Vines Have Tender Grapes (1945), and the first sound version of The Secret Garden (1949), 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?. O'Brien's acting roles as an adult have been few and far between, mostly in small independent films. However, she does do occasional interviews, mostly for the Turner Classic Movies cable network. 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 1962 episode of Perry Mason "The Case of the Shoplifter's Shoe." 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.

Academy Award

O'Brien, c. 1952

Growing up, O'Brien's 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.[3] After three days, the maid failed to return to work, prompting O'Brien's mother to discharge her, requesting that the awards be returned.[4] Not long after, O'Brien's mother, who had been sick with a heart condition, suffered a relapse and died.[3] 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.[3][4]

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 onto hope that she might one day recover her original Award.[3][4] 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.[3] 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.[3][4]

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.[5] 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.[3] 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.[3] On February 7, 1995, almost fifty years after she'd first received it, the Academy held a special ceremony in Beverly Hills to return the stolen award to O’Brien.[3][5] Upon being reunited with her Juvenile Oscar, Margaret O'Brien told 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.”[6]

Additional Honors

In February 1960, O'Brien was honored with two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for Motion Pictures at 6606 Hollywood Boulevard, and for television at 1634 Vine St.[7] 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.[8] 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.


O'Brien with Judy Garland in the 1944 feature film, Meet Me in St. Louis
YearFilmRoleOther notes
1941Babes on BroadwayMaxine, Little Girl at Auditionuncredited
1942Journey for MargaretMargaret White
1943You, John Jones!Their daughtershort subject
Dr. Gillespie's Criminal CaseMargaret
Thousands CheerCustomer in Red Skelton Skit
Madame CurieIrene Curie (at age 5)
Lost AngelAlpha
1944Jane EyreAdele Varens
The Canterville GhostLady Jessica de Canterville
Meet Me in St. Louis'Tootie' SmithAcademy Juvenile Award
Music for MillionsMike
1945Our Vines Have Tender GrapesSelma Jacobson
1946Bad BascombEmmy
Three Wise FoolsSheila O'Monahan
1947The Unfinished Dance'Meg' Merlin
1948Big CityMidge
Tenth Avenue AngelFlavia Mills
1949Little WomenBeth March
The Secret GardenMary Lennox
1951Her First RomanceBetty Foster
1952Futari no hitomiKatherine McDermottGirls Hand in Hand US title
1956GloryClarabel Tilbee
1960Heller in Pink TightsDella Southby
1965Agente S 3 S operazione Uranio
1968Annabel Lee
1974Diabolique Weddingaka Diabolic Wedding
That's Entertainment!Herself and archive footage
1981AmyHazel Johnsonaka Amy on the Lips
1996Sunset After Dark
1998Creaturealm: From the DeadHerselfsegment Hollywood Mortuary
2000Child Stars: Their StoryHerselfaka Child Stars
2002Dead SeasonFriendly Looking Lady
2004The Mystery of Natalie WoodHerself
2005BoxesHerselfshort subject
2009Dead in LoveCris
2009–2011Project Lodestar SagasLivia Wells




Academy AwardJuvenile Award for Outstanding Child Actress of 1944Honored[2]


Hollywood Walk of FameStar of Motion Pictures – 6606 Hollywood Blvd.Inducted[7]
Star of Television – 1634 Vine Street.Inducted


Young Artist AwardFormer Child Star Lifetime Achievement AwardHonored[8]


External links