Former 1940s Child Star Margaret O’Brien Explained the Crazy Story of How She Was Discovered

by Samantha Whidden
(Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Turner)

She has an acting career that has spanned more than 70 years, and now former 1940s child star Margaret O’Brien is sharing the crazy story of how she was first discovered.

During an interview with Page Six, Margaret O’Brien revealed that her mother was a famous Spanish dancer. While making an appearance in a show with Rita Hayworth’s father, her mother needed headshots. Since she was without a babysitter, she took then 2-year-old O’Brien and their dog to the appointment. 

Margaret O’Brien shared that while all three were there for her mother’s photographs, the real star in the story was none other than her dog. The photographer, Paul Hesse, notably took a liking to the dog and photographed him for a cover of the Saturday Evening Post. 

“He said, ‘The baby’s not bad either. She’s kind of cute,’ and we made the cover,” Margaret O’Brien recalled. She and the dog posed for seven more covers after that. It was then that MGM courts saw her and put her in a bit part in the Mickey Rooney film Babes on Broadway. This also led to a seven-year contract with the studio. 

In regards to any issues she experienced in Hollywood, Margaret O’Brien said she never had a bad experience. “My mother was very pretty. She had a Dolores Del Rio look. Louis B. Mayer loved that kind of look. He was trying to be very nice because my mother was very pretty.”

Margaret O’Brien also said the admiration her mother received was an advantage. Especially when it came to Mayer. “If I didn’t want to do something she would go to Mr. Mayer and say, ‘My child has worked hard. I’m not taking her to that.’ She was very conscientious but very aware that I should have enjoyment in my childhood.”

Margaret O’Brien’s Mother Protected Her From Becoming Another Judy Garland

While continuing her chat with Page Six, Margaret O’Brien spoke about how her mother protected her from becoming another Judy Garland. “I was very fortunate to have a mother that spoke up to Louis B. Mayer. I think Judy [Garland’s] mother was afraid to speak up and didn’t really speak as she should have for Judy.”

Margaret O’Brien also clarified that she’s not anything out of turn because Garland had even mentioned that about her own mother. She then spoke about how The Wizard of Oz starlet was constantly harassed about her weight. She was forced to take amphetamines and barbiturates to lose weight. The actress was also subjected to working long hours as well. 

“When I came to the studio, that was all taken away,” Margaret O’Brien declared. “The school teachers were on the lot. There were no pills. No diet pills. Or anything like that when I came in. Unfortunately, just before that, they didn’t know how bad diet pills would be for you.”