'Off the Cuff' Podcast: MGM Star Margaret O'Brien Is "The Christmas Actress"

Margaret O'Brien - H 2014
Courtesy of Subject

Margaret O'Brien - H 2014

The Oscar-winner, who won in 1945 for her role as Tootie in 'Meet Me In St. Louis,' shares stories of growing up with Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney as she prepares to receive this year's Shirley Temple Award - named after another one of her old friends

Margaret O'Brien may have won her Oscar 69 years ago, but that doesn't mean she's slowed down since - or ever. O'Brien joined Off the Cuff in anticipation of receiving The Actors Fund's Shirley Temple Award this Thursday evening, which honors performers who have made great strides for other young actors in Hollywood. As anyone who turns on Turner Classic Movies this month will be reminded, America fell in love with O'Brien in her indelible role as Tootie in the classic 1944 Judy Garland film Meet Me In St. Louis, which was also featured the debut of the now classic holiday tune Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas. O'Brien tells us what it was like watching that song come together, with Garland changing the lyrics last-minute to better suit her character's relationship with her little sister, played by O'Brien.

"A lot of people don't realize that Judy also wrote half that song," she says, noting that for Garland, "This was her happiest time, because she was engaged to Vincent Minelli," the film's director.

O'Brien has a lot of these first-hand observations to share about some of old Hollywood's greatest stars, including Shirley Temple, whom O'Brien recalls meeting at a dinner once when O'Brien was the new bright young star on the scene.

"She was not real nice to me at the dinner," she recalls, "And she said, 'It was because I was jealous that now you're the one that is the child star.' She said, 'I felt guilty about that for many, many years. So please forgive me!' So then we became friends."

O'Brien's very first role was in Mickey Rooney's Babes on Broadway and now she's just finished shooting what proved to be Rooney's last role, in the tv movie Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

"He knew all of his lines," she remembers fondly of the actor she had become quite close to through the years. "He still was right there when the camera was on."

She also tells us about her stolen Oscar that was discovered at a flea market 50 years later - and which Oprah later dropped when she had O'Brien on her show about lost treasures, leaving a dent in its head.

"It really is historical at this point," she jokes about the statue.

And what does she make of the fact that, at 77 years of age, she continues to encounter new, young fans who are still discovering her in movies like Little Women, Jane Eyre, Our Vines Have Tender Grapes, and, most of all, Meet Me In St. Louis?

"I'm sort of the Christmas actress," she muses. "It's going to live on and on and on and on."

Listen to O'Brien's full interview in this episode of Off the Cuff and be sure to subscribe to #pretapodcasts on iTunes for all the latest episodes.