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Child Star Margaret O'Brien To Be Honored At Palm Beach Film Festival

 Tuesday, April 17-----The 12th Annual Palm Beach International Film Festival (PBIFF), which begins this Thursday evening, will honor former child star Margaret O’Brien with the Legend In Film Award at its black-tie Awards Gala at the Boca Raton Resort & Club on Saturday evening, April 21st. Earlier on Saturday,  Ms. O’Brien will appear at a special mid-day screening of MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (1943), her best known film, at the Sunrise Theatres, Mizner Park in Boca Raton. Following the screening will be a Conversation with one of film’s most famous child actors, after which she will autograph photos.  

One of the most popular child actresses of the 1940s, Margaret O'Brien was precocious-yet-genuine in a variety of starring and supporting roles for MGM during World War II and the immediate post-war era.  Set apart from other cute faces of the time by her mature acting abilities, she even earned a special juvenile Oscar in 1944. Nevertheless, by the end of the decade, she had suffered the fate of several of her young Hollywood contemporaries, failing to survive adolescence in front of the camera and graduate into adult filmmaking.  O'Brien made her film debut at age four in the Mickey Rooney/ Judy Garland musical BABES ON BROADWAY (1941). After signing with MGM at age five, she was given her first starring role in JOURNEY FOR MARGARET (1942), also starring Fay Bainter and Robert Young. Her performance as a young war orphan in World War II London made her an instant audience favorite, and MGM wasted no time publicizing her as the most gifted child actress since Shirley Temple 

In 1944, she was loaned to 20th Century-Fox for another supporting part, that of Joan Fontaine's young French charge in the film adaptation of Charlotte Brontë's JANE EYRE. The film also featured two rising child stars, Peggy Ann Garner and Elizabeth Taylor, though O'Brien received the highest billing of the three girls. That same year, she gave her most memorable performance and the one for which she earned her special juvenile Oscar, playing Judy Garland's youngest sister "Tootie" in Vincente Minnelli's turn-of-the-century musical MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (1944), a film that has become a perennial family classic.  

She continued her success in tailor-made starring roles such as THE CANTERVILLE GHOST (1944) and OUR VINES HAVE TENDER GRAPES (1945). As she grew into adolescence, she was cast in a series of tear-jerkers, among them TENTH AVENUE ANGEL (1947) co-starring Angela Lansbury and George Murphy. She played an eight-year-old growing up in the Hell's Kitchen section of New York City who loses faith in everything when she discovers she's been lied to by her mother.  In BIG CITY (1948) she played an abandoned child who is raised by three men (including Robert Preston, Danny Thomas and George Murphy), each of whom want to adopt her legally when they marry and settle down.

Her fortunes improved in 1949 when she joined a host of young MGM actresses (including June Allyson, Janet Leigh and Elizabeth Taylor) in the studio's Technicolor film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's LITTLE WOMEN (1949).  Cast as Beth, the March family's painfully shy and emotionally idealistic youngest daughter, O'Brien quietly triumphed with her talent for melancholy and pathos.  Her films in the 1950s were scarce and by 1960, she officially retired. However, with the reissuing of her films on television and in the video market, she has retained her status as one of the most beloved performers in film history and one of the few remaining survivors of the legendary Hollywood dream factory.

Sandy Mandelberger, Awards Watch Editor

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