She Played Tootie in "Meet Me in St. Louis." See Margaret O'Brien Now at 84.
She won a Juvenile Oscar for her role in the Judy Garland musical.
The musical movie Meet Me in St. Louis was released in 1944 and has since become a classic for those who have made watching it with their families a holiday tradition. Even though the movie, starring Judy Garland, follows a family through one full year in the early 1900s, it's considered a Christmas film by many, particularly because it was the first time anyone had heard the standard "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." Alongside Garland appeared five-year-old Margaret O'Brien as her character Esther's sister's Tootie. O'Brien sang and danced with the Hollywood legend and then went on to her own impressive career. Read on to hear about the now-84-year-old actor's life since her breakthrough role.
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O'Brien is still a working actor today.
O'Brien got her start as a child actor, and she hasn't stopped since. Meet Me in St. Louis was hardly her first movie—she made her big screen debut in 1941 and already had nine credits to her name before the Garland musical. Some of her other iconic kid roles include Flavia in Tenth Avenue Angel and Beth March in the 1949 adaptation of Little Women. She even won a Juvenile Academy Award for her work as Tootie.
As famous and successful as O'Brien was, it was difficult for her to make the transition to an adult acting career, even though she posed for a famous sultry Life magazine cover in 1958 to get people to see her as more than a child star. She persisted however. And while her screen credits are fewer and farther between in the '80s and '90s, O'Brien has stayed busy throughout the '00s and '10s.
Her most recent credits are from 2018 and include the movies This Is Our Christmas and Impact Event. According to her IMDB profile, O'Brien currently has one projection in the pipeline: Love Is in Bel Air, which also stars Joey Lawrence.
"[I] always stay busy. And I always enjoyed other things, too," O'Brien told The A.V. Club in 2019. "It wasn't just movies. I was always big on history. Traveling. Meeting different cultures. I probably would have been an archeologist if I had not been an actress. And thanks to my career in movies, I had a chance to travel the world."
She credits her mother for helping her navigate child stardom.
Though many child actors leave their passion for performing behind as they grow up, O'Brien has said that she never felt burnt out on acting because of her mother, Gladys Flores, who was a Flamenco dancer. In an interview with Fox News, she recalled that her mother taught her there was "life to be experienced beyond the studio."
"She was a wonderful person to be with. Whenever I wasn't doing a movie, she and I would travel to exotic countries," O'Brien said. "And it was a lot of fun. I loved it. So growing up, I was working, but I was also experiencing different cultures, different countries. We had a great time together. And we had a wonderful relationship."
She is a married mother of one.
O'Brien was first married to Harold Robert Allen Jr., from 1959 to 1969. Today, she's married to second husband Roy Thorsen and has been since 1974. Thorsen is a graduate of West Point and has a business restoring old photographs, a hobby he claims was inspired by his wife.
"Shortly after retiring in 2000 my wife, Margaret O'Brien, a film actress since childhood, mentioned to me that many of her older pictures had faded or had gotten damaged," he wrote for the VC Star in 2007. "I told her that there were computer programs that could restore photos to their original or even better condition. 'That's wonderful,' she replied. 'Why don't you learn how to do that?'"
Together, O'Brien and Thorsen have one child: Mara Tolene Thorsen, who is now 44 years old and a psychologist living in California. She's been spotted at her mother's side on the red carpet, both as a child and as an adult.
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O'Brien looks back on her time in Meet Me In St. Louis fondly.
In a 2019 interview with the St. Louis Post Dispatch, O'Brien looked back on filming Meet Me in St. Louis, remembering co-star Judy Garland as "very happy" to be working with director Vincente Minelli, who would later become her husband. Then again, O'Brien also said that the cast in general was a pretty cheerful one.
"It was a wonderful cast to work with," she said. "I think that's what made the film the classic it is today. We were like a family. Everybody liked each other. There wasn't one person in the cast I didn't like."
As young as she was when she made Meet Me in St. Louis, O'Brien told Vanity Fair that her early career at MGM prepared her to continue working as an adult.
"They didn't baby us or talk to us in baby talk or anything, which we would not have liked at all," she said. "They talked to us as adults, saying, 'That scene wasn't so good, Margaret. Can you do it a little bit better? Can you make it a little bit this or that?' And that's the way we would work—very much like I would do today."
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