Margaret O'Brien (born January 15, 1937 in San Diego, California) is an American film actress, and although her career was brief, was one of the most highly regarded child actors in cinema history.
Born Angela Maxine O'Brien, her father, a circus performer, died months after her birth; Margaret's mother, Gladys Flores, was a well-known flamenco dancer who often performed with her sister Marissa, also a dancer. Margaret 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. Her other successes included The Canterville Ghost (1944), Our Vines Have Tender Grapes (1945), and the first sound film of The Secret Garden (1949), but she was unable to make the transition to adult roles.
A 1946 Looney Tunes short, Book Revue, placed a caricature of O'Brien in the role of Little Red Riding Hood.
Fans who remembered little Margaret were astonished to see her on the cover of Life Magazine in the 1958, looking quite voluptuous. "How The Girl Has Grown" was the caption.
O'Brien's acting roles as an adult have been far between, mostly in small independent films. However, she does do occasional interviews, mostly for the Turner Classic Movies cable network. One rare television outing was as a guest star on the popular Marcus Welby, M.D. in the early '70s, reuniting Margaret with her Journey for Margaret co-star Robert Young.
She has been married twice, to Harold Allen, Jr. (from 1959 to 1968), and later to Roy Thorsen (that marriage produced her only child, Mara Tolene Thorsen, born in 1977. Margaret is that rare child star who didn't wind up fighting off poverty and addictions in later life. All her memories of her child star days are happy ones, except for working with the difficult Wallace Beery, who would pinch her to the point where crew members would have to protect her.
O'Brien has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for Motion Pictures at 6608 Hollywood Boulevard, and for television at 1620 Vine St. In 2006, she was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the SunDeis Film Festival at Brandeis University.