Former ‘40s child star Margaret O’Brien recalls how her missing Oscar was returned decades later: 'I'm lucky'
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EXCLUSIVE: At age 84, Margaret O’Brien has no plans to slow down.
O’Brien, who was one of the most sought-after-child stars of the 1940s, has led a successful decades-long career that has allowed her to share the screen with numerous legends of Hollywood’s golden era, including Judy Garland, Elizabeth Taylor, Robert Young and James Cagney – just to name a few. She was one of a dozen child performers who earned a special juvenile Oscar.
Bob Hope presents Margaret O'Brien with the Academy's first 'Oscarette' in 1944. (Getty Images)
At age 7, O’Brien was granted the special Academy Award by her idol Bob Hope for "Outstanding Child Actress of 1944," the Los Angeles Times reported. The statuette went missing when O’Brien was 17 and it wouldn’t be discovered until 50 years later, the outlet shared.
The star spoke to Fox News about what has kept her going, how her missing Oscar was returned and what it was really like working with Taylor,
Fox News: What can audiences expect from your upcoming film "Love in Bel-Aire"?
Margaret O’Brien: It’s a love story, a feel-good one which I think we all need right now. I’m the matriarch of the family trying to get everybody together. And Joey Lawrence from the show "Blossom" is in it. It was a very fun project to do and a wonderful, comfortable set to be on. Everyone was really like a family trying to work hard.
Actress Margaret O'Brien posing next to an airplane at Idlewild Airport, New York, circa 1951. (Photo by George Enell/Keystone/Getty Images)
When I wasn’t acting, my mother made sure I focused on my studies. I attended a small studio school and then had a tutor while we were filming. But if I ever wanted to do something, like go to prom, I did it. I’m very lucky I had the kind of mother I had. And I still love acting. It gives me joy.
Fox News: How were you discovered?
O’Brien: Well, my mother was a very famous Spanish dancer. So was my aunt. They were in contract in those days with the dance company led by Rita Hayworth’s father. Rita was also in the company as a very young girl. So I came from a show business family. But when I was two, my mom brought me a little commercial contract. So that’s how it started really.
My mother was having some pictures taken for the marquee of a theater with Paul Hesse, a very famous photographer at the time. He was here in Hollywood. In fact, his building is still on Sunset. It’s been closed, but that’s one place they haven’t torn down. Well, my mother didn’t have a babysitter or a dogsitter. She had a wonderful little Cocker spaniel mix name Maggie and she was trained to behave and so forth. So my mother brought me and Maggie along.
Child star Margaret O'Brien doing an impersonation of actress Jennifer Jones. (Photo by Bob Landry/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images)
Fox News: It’s been reported that your Oscar was returned to you in 1995 after it had gone missing. What happened?
O’Brien: We had a maid at the time and she had taken it to her house to polish. Well, somehow she disappeared. I don’t know what happened, but my mother knew. For years, I’ve always dreamed of finding that Oscar again. I always look wherever I could. I never gave up on hope.
Years later when [the maid] passed away, her children were clearing out different things and they saw this little Oscar. They didn’t think it was real. And they sold everything, including the Oscar, to this antique dealer. They just thought it was a really good imitation of one of those false Oscars you could buy on Hollywood Boulevard.
Margaret O'Brien with co-star Judy Garland. (Bettmann Archive/Getty Images)
Looking back, I would say my mother was ahead of her time. Women back then didn’t usually go to restaurants by themselves. But my mom would take me. And I loved it. I still love visiting beautiful restaurants today. She taught me that I could go in with all my confidence and meet new people, talk to different people on my own. There was life to be experienced beyond the studio. If I’m ever having a bad day, I just get out of bed, dress up, and visit a lovely restaurant. I have to thank my mother for that.
Margaret O'Brien (right) with June Allyson in a scene from the film 'Music For Millions', 1944. (Photo by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Getty Images)
Fox News: What was your initial impression of Elizabeth Taylor?
O’Brien: Oh, Elizabeth was just so lovely. She was always very nice to me. I was younger and I admired her so much. She would always bring along her animals and she would let me play with them. And we were so excited to film "Little Women" because we were going to wear our beautiful costumes by Walter Plunkett.
But I always loved seeing Elizabeth on the lot. She always waved hello. Her mother and my mother became very good friends. We all watched out for each other. And they weren’t afraid to stand up to [MGM co-founder] Louis B. Mayer. Our mothers were very strong, but they were also quite attractive, which helped when they had to go in and say, "We want this for our daughters." *laughs*.
Fox News: Which star in MGM surprised you the most?
O’Brien: You know, I don’t think anyone surprised me. I was very fortunate to work with wonderful people. And we were all grateful to work. I did two movies with Marsha Hunt and we became great friends. As a matter of fact, I had tea with her before the pandemic. She’s 103 and looks exactly the same!
Margaret O'Brien (left) and Elizabeth Taylor forget their troubles in dreams in this scene from MGM's Technicolor production of Louisa May Alcott's 'Little Women'. The clothespin on Taylor's nose is a beauty secret of the time - purported to give the wearer a seemingly slimmer nose. The movie was produced and directed by Mervyn LeRoy. (Getty Images)
I think the only person who was difficult to work with was Wallace Beery. But, I had a wonderful director name S. Sylvan Simon who was incredibly helpful during filming. But that was honestly the only incident. One actress I really wanted to meet was Vivien Leigh. The studio arranged for me to have tea with her when I went to London.
I remember I was absolutely in awe of her. When I was at the studio, I would sit and watch Vivien Leigh’s movies all day in the projection room. They would run it for me at the studio when I had a little time off. I remember she was so gracious. That’s a wonderful memory, too.