Friday, August 13, 2010

For the Weekend: Child Star Power

It's August, and that means it's "Summer Under the Stars" month on TCM, where they dedicate each day's programming to a different star.  There have already been some good days, like Warren Beatty, Ingrid Bergman, and Errol Flynn.  This Sunday is all about one of my favorite young actresses of Golden Hollywood, Margaret O'Brien.  So, here are some great films of hers for you not to miss.

First up at 12:30pm EST is "Journey for Margaret" (1942), the film that made her an instant success.  Only 5 at the time, she had made only one other film before this one (a small one-minute bit part in "Babes on Broadway" (1941)).  Born Angela Maxine O'Brien, MGM saw her potential immediately and put her in "Journey" opposite Robert Young (and changed her name to her character's).  In the film, little Margaret plays a young girl orphaned during the Blitz.  When Young, an American reporter living in London at the time, finds her, he becomes entranced with the youngster, and is determined to get her to America and adopt her.  Based on the real-life story by William L. White, it became a huge success thanks to O'Brien's amazing performance as the traumatized little girl, instantly making her a huge child star.

Next up, check out "Little Women" (1949) at 5:45pm EST.  One of many film versions of Louisa May Alcott's classic book, it is my favorite thanks to its impressive cast, which includes O'Brien, June Allyson, Janet Leigh, Elizabeth Taylor, and Peter Lawford.  O'Brien plays the tragic Beth (the youngest Marsh girl in this version). Allyson, who was actually 31 years old when she played Jo March (who's supposed to be 15 years old), really enjoyed working with O'Brien and the rest of the cast.  She considered this one of her favorite movies ever.  However, when she had to film O'Brien's death scene, young Margaret's performance affected her so much that Allyson had to be sent home early to recover.  She even had to stop a couple of times on the drive home because she was still crying so hard.

Finally, don't miss Margaret's last film for MGM, 1949's "The Secret Garden."  O'Brien plays the lead character Mary Lennox from Frances Hodgson Burnett's classic childhood tale about a lonely orphan who discovers a hidden garden.  Her costar in "Garden" is another child star of the time, Dean Stockwell.  One of the best adaptations of this novel (even using the "Wizard of Oz" technique of shooting the garden scenes in color), it unfortunately was not a success at the box office.  Many critics felt the material was too dark for youngsters, something that actually seems quiet tame in today's limelight.  After leaving MGM, O'Brien only made one more film ("Her First Romance" (1951), on at 10:45am EST) before she retired from films.  She would later make many television and stage appearances, but she never had the same fame she had as a child.

So, be sure to flick on the television this Sunday and watch these great films by one of the best child actors ever to grace the screen.  Only "Little Women" can be rented on DVD so try not to miss this chance.  Also, check out O'Brien's most famous film, "Meet Me in St. Louis" (1944), at 3:45pm EST, for I will be talking about it very, very soon (you know, as in Monday).  Have a great weekend, everyone!

(Post-tidbit:  Even though she wasn't as successful in adult roles, Margaret O'Brien still made quite a few appearances, including on the game show "What's My Line?" a couple of times.  So, for your video treat for the day, you can watch an adult O'Brien in one of those fun episodes below.)


  1. Nice! That's a cool clip from the show. She is coming to Chicago for an autograph signing next month. I hope to get a chance to meet her.

  2. Oh, that's awesome! Keep me posted if you do meet her. :)