My Week with Margaret

This past week was pretty quiet around my house. I was laid low by some wicked back problems, the kind that make you want to cry after a half hour of normal activities, like cooking dinner or cleaning the house. With the exception of doing my weekly contract work, I kept everything in slow motion, none of my usual running around, no exercising, minimal yard work, just basically a slug. Not the kind of week I enjoy at all, but necessary given my hunched over status.
So I was in need of a lot of home entertainment, which was unfortunate, because we have reached that point in the year where most of the regular TV shows have ended their season’s run, and all that’s showing in prime time are reality and talent contest shows, neither of which I can stomach. Game of Thrones, my current favorite show, took the week off. My Netflix wasn’t providing anything exciting either, not sure why I received National Treasure, Book of Secrets this week when there were about 25 more desired films in my queue.
Of course I read. This week I tore through a wonderful new book, by Ruth Reichl. I’ve been a huge fan of hers since she was the food editor at the L.A. Times, years ago. I followed her career as she became the editor in chief at Gourmet Magazine, and have greatly enjoyed the memoirs she has written. The aptly named Delicious! is her first novel, and it’s completely charming. The book is a delightful combination love story/family drama/mystery/history with enough food porn thrown in to keep me famished as I was reading it. It’s a fun summer read, and I was sorry when I reached the final page.
I can only read so much, especially after spending most of the day working at my computer. In the evenings, I needed to chill out with something to watch, so I checked Turner Classic Movies to see if there was anything I wanted to catch, and I hit the jackpot. One of my favorite child actresses of all time was Margaret O’Brian. She was kind of the opposite of Shirley Temple, who was her contemporary, and who I also adored. Margaret was a more serious child, with her thin, sensitive little face, and she was famous for her ability to cry, heartbreakingly, on screen. You may remember her from Meet Me in St. Louis, as the winsome little Tootie. Or perhaps you have seen The Canterville Ghost, where she kept equal pace with the wonderful Charles Laughton.
This week TCM was showing two O’Brian movies I had never heard of. The first turned out to be her first starring role, in the tremendously overwrought and schmaltzy, A Journey for Margaret. This film, made in 1942, costarred Robert Young, he of Father Knows Best and Marcus Welby fame. The plot was predictable. Young played a shell shocked reporter during the London blitz. His wife lost her baby in a bombing and has been told she will never be able to have another child. Young goes to do a story at an orphanage, and who should be brought in, as a traumatized orphan, but our little Margaret. And within 5 minutes of her first appearance, she provides the hysterical crying scene we’ve come to know and love. Awesome! And what do you think happens? Is it possible this weary childless reporter will fall in love with our tear stained orphan? Is it possible there will be a happy ending? I don’t want to ruin it for you…but, yes.
The next O’Brian movie was slightly less saccharinely sweet, but not by much. This one, from 1944, was called Music for Millions, and Margaret got top billing, over June Allyson and Jimmy Durante. The plot was odd. Margaret plays another little orphan, named Mike, this one with an older sister, Barbara (Allyson) who is pregnant, a war bride, and who plays the bass in a traveling orchestra! Okay! The orchestra is made up mostly of women since the men are all away fighting in the war. The ladies band together to help Barbara hide Mike from their strict landlady, lots of hilarious hijinks there, with Mike constantly being shoved under beds, into closets, and of course, in to the bass case. Then things take a more serious, if convoluted turn. Babs hasn’t heard from her soldier hubby in months and fears the worst. She is tragically sad, although our precious Mike does her best to cheer her up. The gal pals intercept a telegram from the war office, we don’t know what it says, but obviously the news isn’t good. So, they decide to keep it from Barbara until after she gives birth. Good idea, Ladies!
To further complicate things, the duplicitous chicks bribe a shifty uncle of one of the girls to draft a letter, ostensibly from hubby to Babs, letting her know that he’s A-Okay. Sure, that’s an excellent plan, lull her into a false sense of hope until she drops the bambino, and then let her know she’s a widow. So Barbara goes into labor, Mike is worried, and wait, it’s time for her to have that famous crying scene. Hurray! She really can wail! Jimmy Durante comforts her, and the ladies go off to play in the orchestra. The baby is born, everyone is happy, but secretly sad, since the child will be fatherless. Except…the uncle never wrote the letter! The letter Barbara received from her hubs, telling her that he had been missing in action but now was found, is real! The baby has a papa, Barbara has a living husband, little Mike can stop crying and all is well with the world.
If you do have any interest in seeing the films of Margaret O’Brian, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend starting with these two, but corny as they were, they were still kind of fun. They kept me entertained for two nights, and for two hours at a time, I forgot about my aching back. But I think I may need something a little more contemporary for my next viewing. Thankfully, I never sent back National Treasure, Book of Secrets, so I’m good.
The end, for now

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