Margaret O’Brien was a legendary child star and considered to be the greatest little actress of all times. She was an extremely gifted and talented performer who is best remembered for her roles in some of the top movies of the 1940s.
O’Brien’s original name was Angela Maxine O’Brien and she was born on January 15, 1937 in San Diego, California. She was the daughter of a circus performer named Lawrence and her mother, Gladys – a flamenco dancer. Her father died before she was born.
Angela’s parents changed her name to Margaret after her success in playing the title role of Margaret in the film, Journey for Margaret. She was only five years old when she played the part, but achieved high praise for her performance.
Margaret was literally an overnight sensation. She was considered a child genius in the business and was instantly signed to a seven-year contract by MGM.
O’Brien was a frequent guest on the popular radio show, Command Performance. She appeared on the broadcast with Dorothy Lamour and Bob Hope. During a Christmas performance in 1945, she hosted Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor and Bing Crosby as her guests.
In 1948, Margaret appeared on a Suspense Radio Thanksgiving airing of Screaming Woman and would also appear with Judy Garland in a radio adaptation of the award winning moving, Meet Me In St. Louis. She had previously starred in Suspense in 1945 in The Cricket.
The film, Meet Me In St. Louis, locked in O’Brien’s place as a child queen of the box office. She received a juvenile Oscar from Bob Hope and was so thrilled when it was announced that she forgot her carefully prepared speech and said instead, “Oh, Mr. Hope, it’s so wonderful to see you…and thank you for my Oscar!”
Sadly, a maid in Margaret’s home stole her Oscar and two other awards. Shortly after the awards were stolen, her mother, Gladys passed away. O’Brien was only 17 years old at the time and because of her intense grief, she forgot about the stolen awards until years later.
Her efforts to track down the maid were futile, but she kept trying to find them, even after the Academy presented her another Oscar to replace the missing one. Bruce Davis found her lost award in a catalogue for a memorabilia auction and it was finally returned to O’Brien.
O’Brien also appeared in the 1943 film, Lost Angel, with James Craig. Margaret played the part of Alpha, a little orphan girl who ends up being a genius. Craig played the part of a newspaper reporter who takes her out of the confining child psychology institution to show her what life was like in the outside world.
Lost Angel was later adapted as a radio play and aired in 1944 and 1945 on Lux Radio Theater and Academy Award Theater. Each production starred Margaret O’Brien in the radio roles. Margaret O'Brien can also be heard on RUSC in episodes of Cavalcade of America, Lux Radio Theater and Edgar Bergan Charlie McCarthy Show.
She appeared in many episodes of Family Theater including a wonderful Christmas story in 1948 entitled Blessed Are They, Life Is A Circus in 1948 and The Holdout Heart in 1951.
Margaret O’Brien married twice, once to Harold Allen, Jr and later to Roy Thorsen. Her marriage to Thorsen produced a daughter named Mara who was born in 1977.