Margaret O’Brien is a former child star who appeared in the classic 1944 film Meet Me In St. Louis alongside the iconic Judy Garland. Now, O’Brien is opening up to discuss what this experience was like.
“Oh, she was so wonderful!” O’Brien said of Garland. “She really was. She was just wonderful with children. She was childlike herself. She loved to jump rope on set with the other children. She always was making me laugh. I just loved her.”
Making this movie is always something that O’Brien has looked back on fondly in the nearly 80 years since it came out.
“I loved making that movie,” O’Brien, 84, told Fox News. “I almost didn’t make it because I was under contract to make other movies for MGM. And of course, [MGM co-founder Louis B.] Mayer did not want to pay you much! It was a very small salary. But my mother thought, ‘Her pictures are making money. I gotta protect my child.’”
“My mother went into Mr. Mayer’s office and said, ‘I want $5,000 for my daughter,’” she continued. “That’s what MGM’s top stars were earning a week and my films were very successful. My mother wanted to make sure that was in my contract. Of course, he cried. He could cry better than I could when you asked for money!”
“So of course he said, ‘This is terrible, we can’t possibly do that,’” O’Brien recalled. “My mother then said, ‘Well, if that’s the case, we’re going on vacation.’ And that’s what they did. We headed off to New York City. Meanwhile, they already had another little girl put under contract. They already had her rehearsed and fitted for costumes. That little girl was already told she was going to do the movie.”
O’Brien went on to explain that at the time, it was common for studios to have a lookalike actor or actress on hand in case one of their stars became problematic.
“It was their way of saying, ‘You better behave because you’re replaceable,'” she said.
However, Mayer soon decided that he could not pass up the opportunity to have one of the most popular child stars at the time appear in his movie, so he finally agreed to pay her $5,000.
“It almost ruin that little girl’s family with disappointment, which was a terrible thing for the studio to do at that time,” said O’Brien. “But I went on to do Meet Me in St.’ Louis and I loved making that movie. We were very much a family. We all got along and enjoyed working with each other. And I think that’s what made the film such a classic. It was about a Victorian family that was very close. And in real life, we actually were just as close, too.”
O’Brien went on to explain that Meet Me in St.’ Louis always had a special place in Garland’s heart because she fell in love with the film’s director, Vicente Minelli, who became her first husband.
“There was a romance with Vicente Minelli,” she said. “And from their romance came Liza Minnelli. So of course, the film held wonderful memories for Judy. Vincente was a very kind director who was easy to work with. He made sure that the studio didn’t overwork Judy and that she had reasonable hours.”
“Unfortunately, other directors overworked Judy,” O’Brien added. “But he protected her. And he made sure that we had a happy, calm set with good hours. And he made sure Judy got plenty of rest. She was always very happy on set. I never saw her sad or nervous or anything like that while filming. It was a positive experience for all of us.”
O’Brien then talked about the last time she saw Garland.
“The last time I spoke to her was at a big Hollywood dinner,” said O’Brien. “She saw me, came over and said, ‘Oh, hello Margaret! How are you?’ Every time we saw each other, it’s as if we hadn’t been apart. I’m now very good friends with her children, especially her son. They all turned out to be very sweet, wonderful people. You can just tell how much those children love their mother. I certainly loved her and I just worked with her. She was a truly special person. And I never forgot her.”