The Years Margaret O’Brien Ruined Christmas

Margaret O'Brien Christmas

The Years Margaret O’Brien Ruined Christmas

From attacking snowmen to nearly killing her pregnant mother,  Margaret O’Brien can really put a damper on the Christmas season. Her brattiness particularly shines through in two Christmas films Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) and Tenth Avenue Angel (1948):

“Meet Me in St. Louis,” a personal favorite, is simply the story of a family, set in the early 1900s when the World’s Fair is coming to St. Louis. The family has four daughters: Rose (Lucille Bremer), Esther (Judy Garland), Agnes (Joan Carroll) and Tootie (Margaret O’Brien)

Though Garland is the true star of this film, O’Brien steals several scenes by simply being a brat.

I’m fairly convinced that Tootie manipulates her family by being an obnoxious brat and turning on the waterworks in order to get what she wants.

At the start of the film, Tootie tells the iceman (Chill Wills) that her doll has “four fatal diseases” and how she will bury her and have a funeral for a perfectly good doll (maybe this is just a ploy to get new toys?).

At Halloween she really is a little hellion. She throws flour in the face of an unsuspecting neighbor and shouts “I hate you!”-part of a turn-of-the-century Halloween tradition that we never should bring back.

Still on Halloween, she nearly turns her sister Esther (Judy Garland) against her boyfriend John Truitt (Tom Drake).

Tootie and Agnes stuff a dress and put it on the trolley tracks. John Truitt drags Agnes and Tootie out of the way so they don’t get hurt or caught by police. As a result, Tootie splits her lip and loses a tooth.

She is carried into the house sobbing and saying, “John Truitt tried to kill me!” prompting Esther to go next door and beat him up. Her family comforts Tootie by letting her wear one of Esther’s nightgowns and giving her a gigantic piece of cake (has anyone else noticed cake in classic films is HUGE?). Even after her mother (Mary Astor) discovers Tootie was lying, they let her keep the cake and nightgown, because she was a “good girl when the doctor was there.”

But the real clincher is the Christmas scene.

Understandably, Tootie is upset about leaving their home in St. Louis to move to New York. Esther comforts her younger sister by singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”

Meet Me in St. Louis Snowmen Scene (1944)Does this calm the child down? No! Inexplicably, she runs outside in the snow after midnight, starts attacking snowmen they worked so hard to build earlier that day.

Because of Tootie’s crazed snowman moment, father (Leon Ames) changes his life plans to make his family happy, again Tootie getting her way.

In Tenth Avenue Angel, O’Brien plays Flavia; a little girl who lives with her pregnant mother Helen (Phyllis Thaxter) and Aunt Susan (Angela Lansbury).

Flavia was told that Susan’s boyfriend Steve (George Murphy) has been on a trip around the world but really he has been in jail.

Other harmless white lies and old wives tales are told to Flavia such as mice turn into money, cats all have nine lives and wishes on stars come true. When Flavia finds out none of these are true- including that Steve really didn’t travel around the world- she is sent over the edge.

“If it isn’t the truth then it’s a lie, isn’t it,” she says to her pregnant, bed-ridden mother. “I don’t know who to believe or what to believe. Everybody lies to me.”

 In a Margaret O’Brien moment of hysterics complete with sobbing, she runs out of the apartment with mother running behind her, who falls down the stairs and becomes ill…basically because of Flavia.

However, regardless of her bratty moment, Flavia finds a miracle in order to save her mother.

The movie ends ridiculously with Flavia and Steve waiting at the stroke of midnight on Christmas morning to see if a cow will kneel to honor the newborn king-another old wives tale her mother told her.

If the cow kneels, it will be a miracle to make her mother better and will restore Flavia’s faith in her family. Lo and behold, the cow kneels and everyone lives happily ever after.

To review:

Maybe I’m being unnecessarily harsh because I’m simply not a fan of Margaret O’Brien. I’m not sure if O’Brien is the brat or if it’s the characters, but regardless I can’t take the sobbing and would be really angry if a hysterical little girl knocked down my snowman.

Jessica Pickens is the writer for Comet Over Hollywood Blog. The blog explores everything from classic actress beauty tips to celebrities from the Carolinas. Outside of blogging, Jessica is a reporter at The Shelby Star in Shelby, N.C. You can visit her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @HollywoodComet.

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And now, MovieFanFare offers more from Margaret O’Brien in the theatrical trailer for 1945’s Our Vines Have Tender Grapes:

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  • Gordon S. Jackson

    I do hope Jessica Pickens doesn’t slant her stories because she doesn’t like someone plus I also hope she doesn’t review films. Not being able to separate the performer from the performance is hardly acceptable if one does review films.

    • Cynthia LaRochelle

      I must agree with Gordon. She did a great job of acting the brat, and she pulled it off. In those films she had me so furious I could have spanked the daylights out of her. But that just shows what a convincing actress she was. But not quite as bad as The Bad Seed aka Patty McCormick, who I would have gladly strangled myself.

      • J.P.

        Oh boy, I forgot about Patty McCormick. She wasn’t just a brat she was frightening in “The Bad Seed”!

    • J.P.

      Understandably, my tone on my blog is less professional
      than what is printed in the newspaper.
      However, though I’m not a
      huge O’Brien fan, I was trying to be funny. This or a film review are
      based on opinion and are column format, so inserting an opinion is
      I generally don’t write reviews but I have written a few:

  • Steve in Sacramento

    Is this at least partly tongue-in-cheek? Because I thought it was kind of funny! I haven’t seen “Tenth Avenue Angel,” but Tootie is indeed a brat in “Meet Me in St. Louis.” To me, she IS a little exasperating, but in kind of a good way; that is, I don’t mind a strong-willed child so much, and O’Brien is very good in the role. Also, would the “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” scene in “Meet Me” work as well if Tootie doesn’t destroy the snowman? Btw, that whole segment never fails to choke me up: listen to/watch Judy Garland sing it in the context of it being a wartime song; me, I cry like a (bratty?!) little kid.

    • J.P.

      Haha, yes I was just joking around. I’m not a huge Margaret O’Brien fan, but I was trying to be funny. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” (And many other Judy songs) makes me cry as well.

  • DollyT

    Her role in Meet me in St. Lois required her to be a spoiled little brat . It was written, directed and Produced that way and although our parenting instincts and former upbringing do not condone such anticsshe played the role with great skill for a child. Parenting was much different then than now. Most parenting today seems like throwing money at a kid to ignore their frustrations get lost in the traffic and not be bothered.

  • Megan Hussey

    Entertaining column Jessica, and here’s a bit of trivia for you; to elicit genuine tears from Margaret during the “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” scene, her mother told her before filming that her dog had just been run over by a car. This bit of trivia comes courtesy of my sister; she and I now refer to this time-honored Christmas carol as ‘the dead dog song.’:)

    • Wayne P.

      I also heard on the special features for the 50th anniversary re-issue of Meet Me in St. Louis that Vicente Minnelli, the director, relayed your version above that he got from Margaret’s mother but that the supposed real reason she could cry so easily, as she said herself in the interview, was because she was in a friendly competition at MGM with June Allyson and didnt want to have to cry using the added liquid tear drops so just worked herself up to do it on her own in order not to be the first one of them that required help; imagine that, & at 7 yrs. old too!

  • Madeline A Johnson

    The spoiled brat of all time goes to James Dean in “Rebel Without a Cause”. He had a caring mom and dad, who provided him with his own car. What was he mad about? His dad was helping his mother with the dishes, maybe he could have helped? How were they were “tearing me apart!” I was thirteen when I saw this and would have given my eye teeth to trade situations with him! Michael W Johnson

  • Madeline A Johnson

    There were many more things than the snowman thing that made their father change his mind. She was just being a slightly spoiled child by her sisters mostly, never a brat. The greatest holiday movie ever made, in my mind. From Michael W Johnson