Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Deceased--"Baby" Marie Osborne

Marie Osborne
November 5th, 1911 to November 11th, 2010

"Baby Marie Osborne, Silent-Film Child Star, Dies at 99"


Robert McFadden

November 17th, 2010

The New York Times

They called her Baby Marie Osborne, and in silent films nearly a century ago she was America’s little sweetheart, a precocious, chauffeured, $1,000-a-week prodigy who could turn on the tears or a sunshine smile and break your heart. She had sparkling eyes and dimpled arms. She also had a lisp, but no matter.

She was a toddler when she made her debut in “Kidnapped in New York,” a 1914 potboiler with a tinkling piano to cue the drama. She made 28 more films in five years, including the memorable “Little Mary Sunshine,” her 1916 portrayal of a motherless 5-year-old whose love for a drunken father turns him away from the devil brew.

She retired at age 8, and might have lived happily ever after.

But her mother and father turned out to be foster parents who never told her she was adopted and frittered her fortune away before splitting up. She grew up fast, married twice, had a daughter and was divorced and widowed. She worked in a dime store, became a stand-in for Ginger Rogers in the 1930s and wound up draping actors in Hollywood wardrobe departments. She retired — for real — in 1976.

One of America’s earliest child stars, long forgotten except for Internet nostalgia buffs and silent-film aficionados, Baby Marie — Marie Osborne Yeats — died Thursday at her home in San Clemente, Calif. She was 99. Her daughter, Joan Young, confirmed her death. Five grandchildren also survive her.

With its triumphs, setbacks, poignant struggles and unpredictable turns, her life churned with the stuff of silent films. She was born Helen Alice Myres in Denver on Nov. 5, 1911, the daughter of Roy and Mary Myres. She soon became — under mysterious circumstances — the child of Leon and Edith Osborn, who called her Marie and added the “e” to the surname, apparently to obscure the adoption.

In 1914, the Osbornes moved to Long Beach, Calif. She was an actress calling herself Babe St. Clair, and he was a theatrical promoter. They rented a room and, unable to afford a baby sitter, took Marie along to the Balboa studios, where they had found work in silent films.

The cute kid was spotted and cast in one of the hundreds of forgettable silents made in 1914. In 1915, the actor-director Henry King put her in “The Maid of the Wild.” She was talented, and Balboa signed her to a contract. Mr. King had “Little Mary Sunshine” written especially for her.

The picture, one of her few that survive, was a huge success and made her an international star. She soon had her own production company and was churning out Baby Marie films. She was cast as an orphan, a child of social climbers, the charmer of a crotchety millionaire, a diplomat, a cupid. She could register fear, shock, delight, pity, sorrow; could cry real tears — and always made things turn out right.

Behind the scenes, her parents squabbled over custody, money and infidelities. In 1919, Baby Marie’s career waned. She made a last film, “Miss Gingersnap,” and retired. In 1920, The New York American ran a cautionary tale of lost money and bitter divorce under a banner headline: “How Baby Marie’s Big Salary Ruined Her Happy Home.”

The trauma faded, Baby Marie grew up, silent movies became talkies in the late ’20s, and in 1931 Ms. Osborne married Frank Dempsey. They had a daughter, Joan, in 1932, but were divorced four years later. In 1945 she married Murray Yeats, who died in 1975.

In 1933, as her first marriage deteriorated, Ms. Osborne took a job in a dime store. It was a low point. Then came an astonishing call from the superintendent of the Colorado Children’s Home, who informed her that she had been adopted as an infant by the Osbornes! And that a man who said he was her real father, H. L. Shriver, had become a tycoon!! And that he had left her a substantial inheritance!!!

Next, with the help of her old mentor, Mr. King, now a major Hollywood director, she got minor parts in a dozen films from 1934 to 1950. She also became a stand-in for Ginger Rogers in “The Gay Divorcee” (1934), “Swing Time” (1936) and “Shall We Dance” (1937), and for Deanna Durbin and Betty Hutton.

In 1954, she joined 20th Century Fox as a costumer. She later became a wardrobe supervisor. Over two decades she draped Jean Simmons, Marlon Brando, John Wayne, Rita Hayworth, Rock Hudson, Robert Redford, Lucille Ball and Elizabeth Taylor. Her work appeared in “Around the World in 80 Days” (1956), “How to Murder Your Wife” (1965), “The Godfather, Part II” (1974) and other films.

She was featured in Michael G. Ankerich’s 1993 book, “Broken Silence: Conversations with 23 Silent Film Stars,” and in 1999 she was interviewed by Billy Doyle for

“It means little to her that she is regarded by film historians as an icon of film history,” Mr. Doyle wrote. “We cannot share her modesty. For historians, her contributions to the film industry give her an almost legendary status as one of the last living witnesses of the crucial early years when Hollywood rose to a position of international importance.”

Marie Osborne [Wikipedia]

No comments: