Tinseltown Talks – Margaret O’Brien: From Cutie to Beauty

Tinseltown Talks - Margaret O’Brien: From Cutie to Beauty

Margaret O’Brien early publicity shot.

Throughout the 1930s, Shirley Temple sang and danced her way into the hearts of depression-weary movie audiences. A decade later, adorable Margaret O’Brien endeared herself to millions seeking Hollywood diversions as World War II came and went.

In acknowledgement of her influence on other young actors, O’Brien was presented with the Actors Fund Shirley Temple Award on Dec. 4. On Dec. 8, she will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Southern California Motion Picture Council.

Far from retired at 77, this year O’Brien completed work on a new film version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, due for release next spring (see http://socalemc.com/jekyllhyde/?p=194), which also features Mickey Rooney.

“It’s called the ‘Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,’” said O’Brien. “I’ll always cherish this movie because it’s the last film Mickey made.”

O’Brien’s connection to Rooney goes back to the 1941 film “Babes on Broadway.”

Tinseltown Talks - Margaret O’Brien: From Cutie to Beauty

Still from 1945’s Our Grapes Have Tender Vines, with screen parents Edward G. Robinson and Agnes Moorehead.

“That was my first movie when I was only three years old,” said O’Brien. “Mickey and I didn’t have any scenes together, but I can still remember him walking by and saying ‘Hello, what a cute little girl!’”

An avid reader as a child, O’Brien was thrilled to tackle roles based on the books she grew up with – “Little Women,” “Jane Eyre,” and “The Secret Garden.”

“How many children get to play a character from their favorite books?” asked O’Brien.

Starring in almost 20 films throughout the 1940s, little Margaret astonished audiences with a display of adult emotions though she was not yet even a teenager.

Tinseltown Talks - Margaret O’Brien: From Cutie to Beauty

With Judy Garland in Meet Me in St. Louis – 1944.

“I think movie kids are just a little more mature in some ways,” she said. “I knew it was a job, not playacting, and that others depended on me to know my lines. I took my work very seriously.

In her teen years, O’Brien’s cuteness blossomed into youthful beauty. At 19, a stunning photo was featured on the cover of Life Magazine. However, throughout the ‘50s, she only appeared in three feature films including the horse racing drama “Glory.” But, she says, it wasn’t because her ‘cuteness factor’ had evaporated.

“Movie contracts were ending and television came along,” she explained. “My mother thought I should get into television, so I worked on many great shows from that period.”

For much of her adult life, O’Brien has also been committed to charitable causes, including AIDS awareness and programs that assist actors.

Tinseltown Talks - Margaret O’Brien: From Cutie to Beauty

Appearance at the 2014 Golden Halo Awards. Photo Credit: Bionic Sisters Productions.

And while she considers herself conservative, O’Brien dresses flamboyantly and still sports a nose piecing acquired some years ago.

“I love creative fashion and hunting for unusual items to make jewelry from. That’s about as offbeat as I get!” she said. “My mother raised me to be pretty well-grounded, so I never had the problems that a lot of child actors faced. Acting has been a wonderful career, and still is.”

Nick Thomas teaches at Auburn University at Montgomery, Ala., and has written features, columns, and interviews for over 450 magazines and newspapers.






Tinseltown Talks - Margaret O’Brien: From Cutie to Beauty

Publicity shot in 1955 for Glory.













Tinseltown Talks - Margaret O’Brien: From Cutie to Beauty

O’Brien and Rooney on set of the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Photo by Shaun Piccinino.