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Margaret O'Brien

  1. Peggy Ann Garner, Jane Eyre, 1943.    Imagine Garner’s surprise - and tears - when reading in Januuary 1943 that O’Brien, was being borrowed from MGM for the young Jane.  They both won roles. Garner kept junior-Jane and O’Brien played Adele Varens.
  2. Patricia Prest, Song of Russia, 1943.    O’Brien was cast as Stesha.  Then she was gone and Prest arrived. Hollywood was over-egging WWII Soviet propaganda in ’43, and accusing everyone and his wife  of being Reds  seven years later.  Robert Taylor (in  his last film before going to WWII in the US Navy) called the film:  “Distastefully Communistic.” 
  3. Elizabeth Taylor, Courage of Lassie, 1945.   O’Brien was quickly dropped when Liz came back (badly) from the first of the litter.  Steven Spielberg was clumsily channeling this third Lassie outing  (the one that called the dog Bill, never Lassie) when making War Horse 65 years later!  The same bulcolic, unbelievable, olde English village beginning churning into the horrors of war. War horse. War dog. What’s the difference.  Size.
  4. Gigi Perreau, Shadow on the Wall, 1949.    Boy, it’s tough in the movies. The kid star was already too old. Perreau was eight, O’Brien was all of 12.
  5. Kathryn Beaumont  (voice),  Alice in Wonderland,  1951.    Right after her huge success as Beth in Little Women, 1949, MGM suspended the 14-year-old ex-Maxine O’Brien for refusing to be loaned  to Disney in what he then  planned as  a partly live-action cartoon.  She quit Metro for Columbia,  Her First Romance  - and her first screen kiss.
  6. Jean Simmons, The Actress, 1953.    Ruth Gordon’s autobiographical tale began  as a 1944 play, Journey To A Star, hitting New York in ‘46 as Years Ago  with Fredric March as her father. For the movie, it had it be Spencer Tracy said Gordon, who wrote two of his and Katharine Hepburn’s nine films (Adam’s Rib, Pat and Mike) with husband Garson Kanin. She  didn’t care who played her. After Debbie’s 1952 test was deemed “superficial nonsense” by Kanin, she was thought to be too old  at 21 - giving O’Brien a chance at 16. Until Tracy looked hard at the wife of his poker buddy, Stewart Granger, even though she was 24.
  7. Lois Smith, Strange Lady in Town, 1954.     O’Brien as… O’Brien.  She was saddled up as Spurs O’Brien but Smith was the lovable (what else?) tomboy when Dr Greer Garson came to to town - celebrating her escape from MGM with her one and only Western - and began teachng Spurs about femininity.  

  8. Natalie Wood, Rebel Without A Cause, 1955. 
    The MGM kid star had retired at 14. She had been known as the town crier of MGM - due to  her uncanny weeping-on-cue  abilities.      At six, she would ask: “Do you want the tears to run all the way or shall I stop halfway down?”  Now, hoping for a comeback at 18, she was just  too twee for Method acting. And  “too pat” with her answers in her audition director Nicholas Ray.  Described by Dennis Hopper biographer Peter L Winkler as a bisexual, misogynistic womaniser, Ray tested numerous girls for Judy - and bedded at least two.  (Wood and Jayne Mansfield). He never discussed the script with them, just how they got on with their fathers. O’Brien, Jayne Mansfield (22!), Lee Remick, Debbie Reynolds  had no problems but Wood had huge issues with her  alcoholic father. At 16, she was the real (sexual) rebel.  Ray said she  was too young but slept with her anyway. Only when she had a hospital call him after being in a car smash, did he give in… “Nick! They called me a juvenile delinquent. Now do I get the part?” She  got Dennis Hopper, too. Or so he said. (He played Jim Stark in all the girls’ tests and was more mesmerised by James Dean). Also in the Judy loop: Carroll Baker, Patricia (later Pat), Crowley, Peggy Ann Garner, Debbie Reynolds, Lois Smith, Susan Strasberg. 

  9. Susan Kohner, Imitation of Life, 1958.  On producer  Ross Hunter’s short-list – with Natalie Wood - for Juanita Moore’s daughter in director Douglas Sirk’s ninth and last Hunter soap-opera before retiring home to Germany. The title perfectly summed up Sirk’s output.

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