Archive for May, 2009

Margaret O’Brien’s Stolen Oscar

Sunday, May 31st, 2009

Margaret O'Brien and her Oscar

By Allan R. Ellenberger

Oscar. The Academy Award. Regardless of its name, it evokes the same emotion of respect for those who have been fortunate enough to receive one. And for those lucky ones, whether deserved or not, it is the brass ring, the ultimate in praise from their peers. 


And so it was for little eight year-old Margaret O’Brien, arguably the most talented of all the child stars of her day – or since – who received the coveted award for most outstanding child actress of 1944 for her performance in Meet Me in St. Louis (1944). The special Oscar, which was a miniature version of the acclaimed award, was given sporadically in the thirties and forties. Previous winners included Mickey Rooney, Deanna Durbin and Judy Garland who was Margaret’s co-star that year.


Born Angela Maxine O’Brien, little Margaret’s rise to fame was meteoric. After seeing her photograph on the cover of a magazine, an executive at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer signed her for a one-line scene in Babes On Broadway (1941). The powers that be at MGM saw the raw talent that the four year-old possessed, and immediately cast her in a war-time drama with Robert Young called Journey For Margaret (1942), from which she took her new name. Small parts in three films soon followed until her starring role in Lost Angel, (1944) which was the first written specifically for her.

Meet Me in St. Louis

Joan Carroll, Lucille Bremmer, Judy Garland, Tom Drake and Margaret O'Brien 
in a scene from Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)


At the request of director Vincent Minnelli, the studio cast her in the role of Tootie Smith in their new Technicolor musical, Meet Me in St. Louis. MGM had big hopes for this film and spent an astronomical $100,000 to build the St. Louis street on their back lot. Besides Margaret, the film included Judy Garland, Lucille Bremmer and Mary Astor and introduced such musical standards as “The Boy Next Door,” “The Trolley Song,” and the holiday classic, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” which Garland sang to Margaret.


When the film was released near the end of 1944, critics across the country applauded Margaret’s performance. The Hollywood Reporter claimed that she was the hottest thing on the MGM roster.


“Hers is a great talent,” the Reporter continued, “as distinctly outstanding as the greatest stars we have. The O’Brien appeal is based on her naturalness. She’s all America’s child, the type every person in an audience wants to take into his arms.”


But it wasn’t only America that raved. In London, the film was the biggest hit that city had seen in months. The Daily Express prophetically declared, “Her quiet, compelling acting, worthy of an Academy Award, steals the show.”

 Margaret O'Brien and Judy Garland in Meet Me in St. Louis


The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences shared that opinion and awarded her a Special Oscar for the Most Outstanding Child Actress of 1944. At the ceremony, which was held at Grauman’s Chinese Theater on March 15, 1945, Margaret was given her Oscar by director Mervyn LeRoy. The emcee for the evening, comedian Bob Hope, lifted Margaret to the microphone so she could be heard by the listening radio audience.


“Will you hurry up and grow up, please?” Hope said as he struggled with the young winner.


As LeRoy handed her the Oscar, he said, “To the best young actress of the whole year of 1944. Congratulations.”


“Thank you,” she replied. I really don’t know what to say. Thank you very much.”


However she did know what to say. Her mother had written her an acceptance speech, but at the last minute Margaret decided to improvise her very own thank you to the Academy.


During her career, Margaret O’Brien was bestowed with many awards and accolades, including the honor of placing her hands and footprints in cement in the forecourt of Grauman’s Chinese, but the Oscar would be her most prized and valued possession. Unfortunately the little statuette would not stay around for long.


At the O’Brien home on Beverly Drive, Margaret had a separate room for her awards. One day in 1958, their maid took the Oscar and several other awards to her home to polish – a practice she did on several occasions. After three days, the maid failed to return so Mrs. O’Brien called and told her that she was dismissed and asked that she return the awards.


Not long after, Mrs. O’Brien, who was not in good health, suffered a relapse and died. Grief stricken, Margaret forgot about the maid and her Oscar until several months later when she tried to contact her, only to find that her phone was disconnected. The maid had moved and did not leave a forwarding address. Margaret considered the Oscar gone forever. A few years later, the Academy graciously replaced the award with a substitute, but it was not the same.


Over the next thirty years, Margaret would attend memorabilia shows searching for her lost Oscar. Then, in early 1995, a friend saw that Oscar in a catalogue for an upcoming memorabilia auction. Margaret contacted the Academy legal department who acted swiftly in having the Oscar returned.

Margaret O'Brien and Allan Ellenberger

Margaret O’Brien with her stolen Oscar that was returned to her by the Academy, and me in my younger days (no I’m not drunk it’s just one-of-those-pics) Michael Schwibs photo


On February 7, 1995, nearly fifty years since she first received it, the Academy officially returned the stolen Oscar to Margaret O’Brien in a special ceremony at their headquarters in Beverly Hills. Once reunited with her award, Margaret told the attending journalists:


“For all those people who have lost or misplaced something that was dear to them, as I have, never give up the dream of searching – never let go of the hope that you’ll find it because after all these many years, at last, my Oscar has been returned to me.”

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Millvina Dean Obituary

Sunday, May 31st, 2009


Millvina Dean dies at 97; last Titanic survivor


Millvina Dean

She was about 2-months-old when she sailed on the ocean liner in 1912. She, her mother and brother were saved. Her father was among those who went down with the ship.


By Mary Rourke
Los Angeles Times
May 31, 2009


Millvina Dean, the last survivor of the legendary ocean liner Titanic, which sank on its maiden voyage in April 1912 after striking an iceberg in the North Atlantic, died Sunday. She was 97.


Click here to continue reading the Los Angeles Times obituary for Millvina Dean



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Benny Goodman’s 100th Birthday

Saturday, May 30th, 2009


Benny Goodman


Benny Goodman






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Jane Randolph Obituary

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009


Jane Randolph dies at 93; movie actress was best known for 1942’s ‘Cat People’


Jane Randolph

RKO Radio Pictures
Jane Randolph portrayed Alice Moore in “The Cat People.” The scene of Randolph terrorized during a nocturnal swim was “one of cinema’s indelibly suspenseful scenes,” a film historian says.


She made 20 films between 1941 and 1948, then married Jaime del Amo, who would help develop Del Amo Shopping Center. She died May 4 in Switzerland.


By Valerie J. Nelson
Los Angeles Times
May 27, 2009


Jane Randolph, a B-movie actress in the 1940s who was best known for her role in the film noir “Cat People,” died May 4 in Gstaad, Switzerland, after surgery on a broken hip, her daughter announced. She was 93.


Click here to continue reading the Los Angeles Times obituary for Jane Randolph


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Dolores Hope’s 100th Birthday

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009


Dolores Hope


Dolores Hope



née Dolores Reade


BORN: May 27, 1909, New York, New York



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Dolores Hope’s Canadian Cheese Soup

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009


Dolores Hope


Dolores and Bob Hope




Dolores Hope

Canadian Cheese Soup



4 tablespoons butter

4 tablespoons flour

1 tablespoon paprika

1/8 teaspoon pepper

2 cups milk

1 cans condensed consommé

2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese

½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

Dash Tabasco

¼ cup minced pimientos


Melt butter or margarine; blend in flour, paprika and pepper. Add milk; cook over low heat, stirring constantly until thickened. Add consommé, just as it comes from the can. Add cheese; stir until melted. Add remaining ingredients, salting to taste. Serve at once. Yield: 8 to 10 servings.


— Dolores Hope




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Richard Maibaum’s 100th Birthday

Tuesday, May 26th, 2009


Richard Maibaum


Richard Maibaum






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Selig Polyscope Studios

Friday, May 22nd, 2009


Selig-Polyscope Studios


The original Selig-Polyscope Studio that was located at 1845 Glendale in the Edendale area of Los Angeles (Los Angeles Times, May 5, 1940)


By Allan R. Ellenberger
May 22, 2009


The Chicago-born Col. William N Selig started out in the theatre both as an actor and manager. But in 1883 he became interested in photography and began experimental work which later led to the development of a motion-picture camera and a projector known as the Selig Polyscope. His experimental work brought him into conflict with Thomas Edison, who also was deeply interested in film recording and projection, and for years the two were involved in patent litigation.



Selig first visited California in 1893, but made his first commercial picture three years later in Chicago. One of his early films, The Count of Monte Cristo (1907), was photographed on the roof of a Los Angeles office building.



In the spring of 1909 Selig established a temporary studio in a small building behind a Chinese laundry on Olive Street between Seventh and Eighth Streets in what is now downtown Los Angeles. There, Francis Boggs directed In the Sultan’s Power (1909). The following August, Selig and Boggs moved to an area known as Edendale, setting up Los Angeles’ first permanent studio in a rented bungalow at 1845 Allesandro Street (now Glendale Blvd.).



Edendale soon became Selig-Polyscope’s headquarters. Selig sparred no expense in fitting up the permanent studio. The company built the exterior, which faced Allessandro (Glendale) Street, to represent an old Spanish mission and used genuine adobe. In the interior was sunk an enormous water tank. The studio itself, composed entirely of glass, was the second largest of its kind in the world at the time. It contained stages, dressing rooms, offices, and a modestly sized film laboratory. The total cost of the studio renovations was estimated to be a quarter-million dollars



The Selig-Polyscope company produced hundreds of short features here, including many early westerns featuring Tom Mix. The studio made dozens of highly successful films, among them was The Spoilers (1914), probably their best feature-length effort starring William Farnum, Kathlyn Williams and Tom Santschi.



Actor Hobart Bosworth, who was one of the Selig regulars, made many of his early films at the Edendale studio.



“The first picture I did on my return to (Selig) in Edendale was called The Roman,” Bosworth recalled in 1929. “We had good little sets and costumes. The story I recognized at once. It was Sheridan Knowle’s old tragedy of Virginius. Tom Santschi, Frank Montgomery, Jim McGee, Frank Richardson, Stella Adams, Iva Sheppard, William Harris, Betty Harte, Roscoe Arbuckle, Robert Z. Leonard were among those in it.



“(Francis) Boggs asked me as we finished this picture in three days, if I could remember another Roman story that we could do with this scenery and costume investiture. I was able to dig one out.”



Photo above shows Selig’s lot in Edendale where he built the first official motion picture studio (LAPL)


Remembering the early days of the Edendale studio, Bosworth said:



“This was a little frame hall used by a local improvement society with little cubicles for dressing-rooms, a barn at the back for props and scenery and in front of it a little 16×20 platform of asphalt or cement with two by fours laid laterally to nail the braces to. Great things sprang from that little source, great things for Los Angeles, greater for the world.”



Tragically, the first celebrity murder also occurred here on October 27, 1911 when Frank Minematsu, the studio caretaker, went berserk and shot and killed director Francis Boggs. In the struggle to retrieve the gun, William Selig was shot and wounded in the arm.



Ironically, the day before Boggs’ murder, producers David Horsley and Al Christie made their first film in a little community to the west called Hollywood.



Film companies that popped-up in Edendale near Selig-Polyscope included Pathé, Bison and Mack Sennett Studios.



In 1915, Selig moved his company to Lincoln Park where he also established a zoo, and the Edendale lot was taken over by Fox Studios. Over the years several production companies produced films on the old Selig lot, including J. Warren Kerrigan Studios, Marshall Neilan Studios and Garson Studios where Clara Kimball Young produced her films. Among those who made films here were Thomas Ince, Conway Tearle (Michael and His Lost Angel, 1920) and Marie Prevost (Beggars on Horseback, 1924).



Garson Studio map


A map of the studio when it was known as Garson Studios in the mid 1920s. Note: The street address was originally Allesandro before it was changed to Glendale.




Postcard of the former Selig-Polyscope Studio (known as Garson Studios here) in the mid 1920s. (Postcard courtesy of Greta de Groat)


Selig-Polyscope location


Above is the site of the former Selig-Polyscope as it appears today. Compare it to the postcard above. The inclined street on the left, which is Clifford, and the hill in the background have not changed.


Selig-Polyscope location

Another angle of the former location of Selig-Polyscope Studios.


Sadly, the site of the former Selig-Polyscope studios is now an empty lot in a mostly industrial area. The community that surrounds the spot and the people who pass by are most likely unaware of the historical significance of the site. It’s unfortunate that an archeological dig could not be done there before a warehouse or some other industrial building is constructed.



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Margaret Sullavan’s 100th Birthday…

Saturday, May 16th, 2009


Margaret Sullavan


Margaret Sullavan



née Margaret Brooke Sullavan Hancock




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James Mason’s 100th Birthday…

Friday, May 15th, 2009


James Mason


James Mason






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