Today: Baby Marie Osborne, a silent film child star whose real life was far more dramatic than her movie roles.
If you are an old movie buff, you may recall Baby Marie, who broke into films as a 21/2-year-old in 1914. She became one of Hollywood’s first child stars, capturing audience’s hearts.
With her short Dutch bobbed hair and sparkling eyes she triumphed in all of her 29 films. In them, Marie was an orphan or a child of social climbers or she provided a light hearted touch to a mean spirited millionaire or brought a couple together or she played other cute roles.
Her biggest picture, “Little Mary Sunshine,” was made in 1916 when she was 41/2-years-old. In it, as a motherless child, her love and devotion helped her wayward father see the light and give up alcohol so they could have a good life together.
Audiences cried and then cheered as their hearts were uplifted by so happy an ending.
They couldn’t get enough of her and the tiny leading lady toured America and Europe, while toys such as Baby Marie dolls became hot sellers.
Unfortunately for Baby Marie, her real life wasn’t so joyful. She outgrew her roles and was a has-been at age 8 in 1919 and retired from show business. But by that time, her parents, fighting over money and infidelities, divorced and she went back and forth between them.
But eventually she got quite a shock. Her parents had spent all her money and Marie was broke. She had to grow up in a hurry.
In 1931, when Marie was 19, she married Frank Dempsey and the following year, she gave birth to their daughter Joan.
But their marriage fell apart and in 1933 during the Great Depression, as she struggled to pay her bills, the former film star’s career hit a low point when she took a job in a dime store.
Just when it seemed things could not get worse, she got a stunning phone call from the Colorado Children’s Home informing her she had been born Helen Alice Myers in Denver on November 5th, 1911 to Roy and Mary Myers.
The couple that raised her, Leon and Edith Osborne were actually not her parents. They were her foster parents who had “adopted” her under questionable circumstances and packed her off from Denver to Long Beach, California, changing her name to Marie Osborne.
Her foster mother Edith had been an actress using the name Babe St. Clair and her foster father Leon was a theatrical promoter. At this stage, Marie couldn’t be sure what had been real or who she was.
But then something else happened and it was stunning, like something right out of her movies.
A man named H. L. Shriver had declared he was her real father. He was wealthy and had passed away and left Marie a big inheritance.
And that’s not all. In 1934 one of her childhood directors, Henry King, now a major director, asked her to be in the film, “Carolina” starring Lionel Barrymore and Janet Gaynor. Marie was working in films again.
In the following years, Marie acted in bit parts or as an extra in numerous films and as a stand-in for such stars as Betty Hutton, Deanna Durbin and Ginger Rogers.
But she was also a single mother and in 1945 Marie married actor Murray Yeats and with her 13 year old daughter, the couple moved to the San Fernando Valley. She and Murray would remain married until his passing in 1975, nearly 30 years later.
But in 1952, approaching her 41st birthday, Marie decided it was time for a career change and she did something bold. She applied to giant Hollywood costumer Western Costume Company, which hired her as a “gofer.” It was not an impressive position but she was now in the door.
Within a few months she was promoted to a job choosing and fitting costumes for actresses, and became very good at it.
So good, that in 1954, 20th Century Fox hired Marie as an assistant costumer and quickly made her the costuming supervisor, working with such stars as Marlon Brando, Rita Hayworth, Rock Hudson, Robert Redford, Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor and John Wayne.
Among the many films she worked on were ”Guys and Dolls” (1955), “Around the World in 80 Days” (1956), “Spartacus” (1960), “Cleopatra” (1963) as a special costumer for Elizabeth Taylor, and for Paramount, “The Godfather: Part ll” (1974).
For the next 22 years Marie found fulfillment in playing such an important role in movies. But in 1976, approaching her 65th birthday, and with the decline of the classic movie studio system, she retired.
The following year, to be near her family, Marie moved to San Clemente in Orange County where she lived for the next 33 years.
It was in her San Clemente home Marie passed away at the age of 99 on November 11th, 2010. Her survivors include her daughter Joan and five grandchildren.
“I must be frank with you: I much preferred it to acting,” she told the Los Angeles Times in 2001 in reference to doing costuming. “I’ve had a fascinating, wonderful life.”
The next time you see a big budget 20th Century Fox movie from the 50’s, 60’s or 70’s, check the credits, for Marie Osborne Yeats may well have been the costumer whose work dazzled you.
Success Tip of the Week:
If your career has taken a bad turn, don’t be disillusioned. As happened with Marie, she succeeded, failed and bounced back and was not too proud to take a modest job when need be. Being flexible can get you back on your feet and then to something much better.
In the next KazanToday:
A man who was unfairly jailed, fought for justice and against long odds got it for himself and for others.