I mean, how low do you have to be to steal a kid’s Oscar? It’s one thing if you steal one of the four Woody Allen has never picked up, I guess, but the special juvenile one created for being the outstanding child actress of 1944? Yeah, her mom had fired the maid who stole it, but only because she’d taken several awards home for polishing, as requested, and then not shown up or contacted the family for a few days. Eventually, it ended up sold for $500 at a flea market, and the guys who bought it planned to sell it at auction. On being told the story, say this much—they gave it back. So the maid’s name is forgotten, but let’s mention Steve Neimand and Mark Nash. They received no reward, apparently not even getting their money back on it. But Neimand did request that he be photographed returning it, so he could tell his friends that he’d presented an Academy Award.
In 1944, young Margaret O’Brien was considered one of the “best cryers” on the MGM lot. It’s the year probably her most famous movie, Meet Me in St. Louis, came out. She also did The Canterville Ghost that year. She’d already played Irene Curie and Mr. Rochester’s ward Adele, and she would go on to play Beth March and Mary Lennox. (That’s Marie Curie’s daughter and characters from Jane Eyre, Little Women, and The Secret Garden, respectively.) And that’s just touching on the highlights of her career.
Unfortunately, she did fall into the “you’re no longer a child” gap, not unlike fellow child star Shirley Temple. (The two met and were on decent terms, though they don’t seem to have been truly friends.) However, she seems to have coped by going on television, where even a no-longer-cute child star was a better name than many the shows would be able to get. I’m not sure I’d say she’s worked steadily since then, but she’s worked—she not only did the obligatory episode of Murder, She Wrote and even Love, American Style, she attempted to kill Raymond Burr on an episode of Ironside. A two-parter, even!
In fact, she was this year in Mickey Rooney’s final movie, an adaptation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, where she played “Ms. Stevenson” and he played “Mr. Louis.” I’ll fully admit that I hadn’t realized she was still alive and indeed hadn’t really thought about it; she seems like the sort of person who died twenty years ago without me noticing. But still alive she is, and in fact she’s not even all that old, being 79. Which, yeah, not young, but far from the oldest person we’ve discussed, even ignoring the centarian and near-centenarian we’ve done.
She seems like a nice-enough lady, and she’s done some good acting over the years. And, you know, she’s still alive, even though she’s not really noticed much. Which is kind of in the spirit of this column. I’d rather say the nice things about her now—for example that I think she’s the most entertaining part of Meet Me in St. Louis. She’s not loaning her awards out to get polished again, though; she’s quite firm on that point!