Tuesday, November 25, 2008

"Meet Me in ....." Cedar Grove?

Margaret O’Brien is coming to Cedar Grove, New Jersey. Unless you’re of “a certain age” and a long time movie buff like me, you might not recognize the name. If I mention that she played Judy Garland’s little sister Tootie in the 1944 classic “Meet Me in St. Louis” you’ll remember her.

She’s coming to town on December 6th to host the Hollywood Canteen, a benefit for wounded American soldiers. The program will include a tribute to Abbott and Costello and a salute to the Big Band Era.

Margaret O’Brien appeared in many MGM movies during the 1940s, and I must have seen most of them. This little pig-tailed girl with the serious demeanor was the biggest child star of my generation. She was my Hannah Montana, my Dakota Fanning.

Margaret O’Brien continued her career as an adult but to many people she’ll always be known as the child who had the ability to cry on cue. It’s been reported that she once asked a director, “When I cry, do you want the tears to run all the way down, or should I stop them halfway down?”

Before the age of mass media, neighborhood movie theatres played a big role in a movie’s promotion. They enticed audiences by placing black-and-white stills from the current film out front in display cases. I remember the excitement I felt when I arrived at the Farragut Theatre on Flatbush Avenue and discovered someone of my age was in the movie!

Back then the 25-cent admission entertained us for a full afternoon. After the lights lowered and the curtain parted, we laughed at Bugs Bunny and Yosemite Sam. Then we gripped our seats as we watched the cliffhanger of a serial featuring Buster Crabbe as Flash Gordon or George Reeves as Superman. How was our hero going to get out of that tight spot? We’d have to wait until next Saturday to find out. The RKO newsreel played next. Though world leaders’ photos appeared in newspapers, this was the only place we saw them in action. Finally, after the coming attractions, the first of the double features began.

In those days, the Hollywood stars seemed so remote from our everyday lives. Today, as we know, everything about the famous is splattered across newspapers and television. Yet, it’s easy to recapture the mood of that earlier time, of Hollywood in the 1940s. All you have to do is tune into Turner Classic Movies. Little Margaret O’Brien will be there, and she’ll be crying.