Saturday, January 28, 2012

Margaret O'Brien!

in Jane Eyre
The wondrous Margaret O'Brien could jerk a tear out of Caligula's eye,a truly remarkable performer,best wishes to her.
-Facebook friend Allan Claassen

Happy Saturday! 

I hope you've all had a wonderful week and are now reaping the benefits of your labors. Those of you who are my followers and read my blog on a regular basis know that I was recently out on the West Coast. 
Palm Springs, Los Angeles, and Denver. 
And for most of that trip I was surrounded by truly legendary people. 

The words "legend" and "legendary" are tossed around these days ad nauseum. As a matter of fact, when I was in Palm Springs, I picked up a local magazine promoting the fact that "legendary" pop singer Tiffany was going to be appearing in Palm Springs! 
I'm sorry, but what has made HER legendary!?!?! When I think of legends, I think of Carol Channing, Judy Garland, Liza Minnelli, Barbra Streisand,… I could go on and on. They all have made lasting contributions to our culture. 
Somehow, I can't imagine the songs that are number one this week on the Billboard charts, the top grossing films of this week, the highest rated TV programs of this week, the best-selling books of this week, some of the shows on Broadway tonight being shown with the same reverence and adoration that we show all of the women that I've listed here 25 years from now. What happened? Where are our true legends? when I come in contact with those that have earned the mantle, I am in awe. I simply want to say thank you. Thank you for the gifts you've given the world.

at The MGM Gate
When I was in LA, I went over to the old MGM Studios, and just stood there and imagined that studio in its heyday: the days when it was a true dream factory, with the goal of excellence in film production. One of the truly legendary stars to come out of that studio is Margaret O'Brien. She has earned the right to be called legend. The first iconic images and memories that I have of Margaret O'Brien are probably the same that most people have. That is Margaret as Tootie in the classic Meet Me in St. Louis

 In 1974, I was 13 years old and That's Entertainment came out. I remember vividly the television specials, the stars appearing on the talk shows to promote this film, and the posters everywhere. There was a true wave of nostalgia. Most boys my age had posters of Farrah Fawcett hanging on the walls. I had a huge poster celebrating the stars of MGM. And in the middle of the poster was Judy Garland and Margaret O'Brien from Meet Me in St. Louis.

When That's Entertainment came to my hometown movie theater, the Holiday, I was one of three people in the audience. I truly was from a different era. How exciting for this kid to see these images on a real movie screen, the way they were meant to be seen. Of course, there are many favorite moments. I'm not going to list them here… Except for one… That is Judy Garland and Margaret O'Brien performing the cakewalk from Meet Me in St. Louis.


Look at the poise Margaret possesses! 
And why not? She was a veteran of eight films before getting to St. Louis. 
No surprise that she won a special Academy award for this film. 
If she had done nothing else, that would've been enough. But she went on continuing to make classic films, appearing on stage and television, and continues to work. I was lucky enough to meet Margaret when I was out in Palm Springs year before last, when Carol Channing received her star on the Palm Springs walk of fame. Margaret spoke at the dedication and for this kid from Conway, South Carolina, it was the thrill of a lifetime, to finally meet one of my favorites stars. And she was incredibly nice also. 

Margaret will be back in Palm Springs tomorrow night to celebrate a very special evening. A retrospective of her career and she will be joined by Joey Luft, who will talk about his mother, and Margaret will even be performing the cakewalk from Meet Me in St. Louis  with dancer/choreographer, Ken Prescott. On her way to Palm Springs last evening, Margaret and her friend Randal Malone stopped off at their favorite Thai restaurant and Margaret made time for this interview. 
Margaret still possesses that charm and that spark that has endured her to movie audiences the world over. 
You could hear the excitement in her voice as she talks about MGM, Judy Garland, and her rich legacy. 

But make no mistake about it, Margaret is very much in the present as she keeps herrself very busy with many projects. 
My greatest hope is that she will eventually sit down and write her autobiography. She obviously has a story to tell… But don't expect some jaded tell-all. This is the story of a young girl who grew up gracefully in the public eye, with no scandal. 
Imagine that? Margaret loved being at MGM. 
 She loved being under contract. She got along with everyone, including Louis B. Mayer.
Margaret O'Brien's father was a Irish-American circus performer who died before she was born; her mother was a famous flamenco dancer who had, years earlier, taught a few dance steps to a very young Rita Hayworth. O'Brien's mother had enough show-business savvy to recognize her daughter's talent, and young Margaret was working as a model by the time she was three years old.
 At four, she had a tiny, uncredited role in Babes on Broadway.

Margaret O'Brien with Carol Channing and Rhonda Flemming at recent Veterans Day tribute to Spirit of 45 WWII Veterans

Gladys O'Brien worked to get Margaret tested for the lead role in Journey for Margaret, which she easily won, and she was on her way to being the premiere child star of the 1940s. Margaret was not, however, a typical child performer.
She displayed a pathos on the screen unlike any other child performer before her. Her presence is almost eerie at times, transcending precociousness to the point of seeming like a mature, wizened person trapped in a child's body.
 
 Margaret's mother was not a stage mother in the sense of a mama Rose or an Ethel Gumm. She recognized that Margaret had the talent and the stage presence but she never exploited, Margaret and she always looked after Margaret's best interest.
Mrs. O'Brien was very well respected by everyone in the studio.
She was always welcomed and was always on Margaret's sets. She never got in the way.
She let the professionals do what they knew how to do.


Margaret did share with me, however, that she almost didn't get St. Louis.
It came down to, as it always does, money. Because of the size of the role and the amount of time that would go into it, Mrs. O'Brien thought, rightfully so, that Margaret deserved more than Mr. Mayer was willing to pay. 
Mrs. O'Brien told Mr. Mayer that if he was not willing to pay Margaret what she deserved, they would go to New York.
Mr. Mayer said that was fine with him.
Promo from early NBC Radio appearance

He would cast someone else in the role. This was a usual ploy of Mr. Mayor to get what he wanted.  Also, in those days, all the stars had standbys.
So Mrs. O'Brien and Margaret took off for New York. And Margaret's standby was told that she would be playing Tootie in meet me in St. Louis.
The standbys family was ecstatic, costume fittings were begun, and they imagined their lives with a star in the family.
The standby happened to be the daughter of one of MGM's lighting guys.
MGM, or should I say Mr. Mayer, eventually came to their senses and Mrs. O'Brien and Margaret returned to MGM and Meet Me in St. Louis and history was made. Unfortunately, the father of the misplaced daughter was so distraught that he almost dropped a light on Margaret.

We are talking one of those huge movie lights! Fortunately for all concerned, it was a miss!
Margaret has very fond memories of working on this film and especially of working with Judy Garland. Judy was at a very happy point on this film
She was in love with Vincente Minnelli, and he was in love with her… and it showed, both on-screen and off.
Judy was always on time and it was a very positive working atmosphere. Margaret said Judy also loved children and treated her with so much kindness and love. They spent a lot of time playing and talking between takes. They remained close and Margaret has remained close to Judy's children, as a matter of fact, as I said earlier, Joey Luft be appearing with Margaret tomorrow night in Palm Springs.

As most of Margaret's fans know, she was considered one of two town criers at MGM. The other was June Allyson.

There was always some place in the script for Margaret or June to cry. I told Margaret that as many times as I have seen Meet Me in St. Louis, every time I see Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, with tears streaming down Tootie's face, it gets me every time. I asked Margaret, what makes her cry out of the blue when she sees or hears it. 
She says she cries whenever she hears Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas and remembers with fondness the contributions that Judy made that song not only as a singer and actress, but as a person. 
The original lyrics were very dark. When presented with the original draft lyric, Judy criticized the song as depressing, and asked Martin to change the lyrics.Though he initially resisted, Martin made several changes to make the song more upbeat.
For example, the lines "It may be your last / Next year we may all be living in the past" became "Let your heart be light / Next year all our troubles will be out of sight"


Thank God for Judy's insight!
In the film, Jane Eyre, Margaret speaks with a perfect French accent as Adele. I asked her if that came easily. She said that accents came very easily for her due to great teachers. She also had a French teacher on the set. Shortly after World War II, in 1953, Margaret went to Japan and filmed  Girls Hand-in-Hand in Japanese! A young woman (O'Brien) visits her father in Japan, meets a Japanese War Orphan (Hibari Misora) and raises money to build an orphanage.Margaret told me that Misora was the Margaret O'Brien of Japan.

I mentioned two of my favorite films, Our Vines Have Tender Grapes and The Secret Garden. The relationship between Margaret O'Brien and Edward G Robinson in Our Vines Have Tender Grapes is probably, in my opinion, one of the most moving depictions of a relationship between a father and daughter ever captured on film.
Margaret said she loved working with Edward G Robinson. Of course, this was a departure from the types of films that he was doing at the time.
The screenplay was by Dalton Trumbo, who was blacklisted, and therefore the film was not shown for a very long time.
Margaret is thrilled that this film is finding new audiences through Turner Classic Movies.


Barbara Kahn, another Facebook friend, saw her onstage in Philly in Barefoot in the Park when Barbara was a kid--"what a treat it was for a wannabee to see what it means to be a professional." 
Margaret said she had a great time with this production. 

I asked Margaret what was the lowest points for in her career and how she overcame them. Getting to know
Margaret O'Brien with Elizabeth Taylor in "Little Women."
Margaret and how upbeat she is, her response is not so surprising. 
She said there truly weren't any low points in her career. 
She is been lucky enough to sustain a career almost continuously from the moment she began it. She was under contract at MGM for eight years. 
She was there when the power shift occurred from Louis B Mayer to Dore Schary. 
What she remembers most about that period is how panicked everyone in Hollywood was. Television was growing in popularity and attendance at the movies was decreasing. 
The powers that be at the studios wanted all the stars to take a salary cut and the refusal to work in television. Margaret, as well as others in that era, who chose not to follow that route continued to work and sustain their careers. Margaret says that by working in television, she was able to work with many different directors. 
She also do a lot of stage work which was not foreign to her. As a matter of fact, Margaret made her Broadway debut many years earlier in Clare Booth Luce's Child of the Morning in 1951.Margaret recently finished a TV mini series called Project Lodestar Sagas by Bruce Morgan, the son of Yvonne deCarlo. Margaret appears with Jerry Maren of Wizard of Oz fame.
I asked Margaret what one change would like to see in today's industry. She said she would like to see more closeness in the industry, more great movies and less reality shows. She truly feels that she has achieved everything that she could possibly imagine. That is a great place to be at, especially for someone who continues to work. 
If you are in Palm Springs tomorrow night, PLEASE go to Lyon's Grill and tell Margaret I sent you!
Legendary Oscar-winning actress Margaret O'Brien will present a personal retrospective of her illustrious film career.

As one of the few remaining stars who can recall the glamour days of the Golden Age of Hollywood, from the unique prospective of a child's eye, Miss O'Brien will share anecdotes, film clips and memories of working with film legends such as Edward G. Robinson, Robert Young, Orson Wells, Agnes Moorehead, Elizabeth Taylor, and of her work with Judy Garland in 1944's “Meet Me In St. Louis”, for which Miss O'Brien received an Academy Award.
 
Following the presentation, Miss O'Brien will answer questions from the audience, giving them the opportunity to speak directly with her.


WHEN: TOMORROW NIGHT!
Sunday, January 29, 2012
            Dinner Seating 5:00pm, Showtime: 7:00pm
     
WHERE:      Lyons English Grille, 233 E. Palm Canyon Drive,
            Palm Springs California, 760 - 327- 1551

INFO:       $64.95 included 3 course dinner and show
            Reservations Required. Call 760 - 327- 1551


One of cinema's most beloved child actresses, Margaret O'Brien was born Angela Maxine O'Brien on January 15, 1937 in Los Angeles, California. The daughter of a circus rider and a Flemenco dancer, died shortly before she was born.
After spotting and casting her for a small role in Babes on Broadway (1941), MGM then gave then 5-year old Margaret the title role in Journey For Margaret (1942), which shot her to instant stardom. Not the typical child performer, Margaret displayed a pathos on the screen unlike any other child performer before. She went on to star in such notable films as Thousands Cheer (MGM, 1943), Lost Angel (MGM, 1943), Madame Curie (MGM, 1943), Jane Eyre (Fox, 1944), The Canterville Ghost (MGM, 1944), Meet Me in St. Louis (MGM, 1944), Music for Millions (MGM, 1944), Our Vines Have Tender Grapes (MGM, 1945), Bad Bascomb (MGM, 1946), Three Wise Fools (MGM, 1946), The Unfinished Dance (MGM, 1947), Tenth Avenue Angel (MGM, 1947), Big City (MGM, 1948), Little Women (MGM, 1949), and The Secret Garden (MGM, 1949), Her First Romance (Columbia, 1951), Glory (RKO, 1956), Heller in Pink Tights (Paramount, 1960), Split Second to an Epitaph (TV, 1968), Diabolical Wedding (Ellman, 1971), Annabelle Lee (Ellman, 1972), Testimony of Two Men (TV, 1977), Amy (1981)


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Tomorrow's's blog will be... My Exclusive Interview with Louise Pitrie!

Thank you, to all the mentioned in this blog!

  Here's to an INCREDIBLE tomorrow for ALL...with NO challenges!


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Richard Skipper, Richard@RichardSkipper.com


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2 comments:

  1. Wow. Rather than explain why there weren't any direct quotes from the subject of the "interview," you just erase the comment asking why. Geez. There's just not much point reading interviewless interviews especially when there's nearly nothing new in there, that read like a parody of a publicist. I'm all for celebrating the great artists – Margaret O'Brien certainly was one – but this much sugar would kill every diabetic in between the two coasts.

    ReplyDelete
  2. My blog was directly from her words. I went in and made adjustments to appease you. I deleted your comment because I didn't think your comment any longer made sense.I tried to make changes to appease YOU! I don't object to criticism. However, at least have the courage of your convictions by putting your name. I truly do not understand your reason for attacking my blog. I interviewed her at 11 PM last night after a long day. I spent all day today working on this and yet you feel a need to attack what I have done here. Would you like to follow up with Miss O'Brien to verify this or do you feel a need to attack?
    Respectfully,
    Richard Skipper

    ReplyDelete