It’s a sign of the fleeting nature of fame that her name probably doesn’t ring a bell with many people today, but “Baby” Marie Osborne, the first child star in the history of American movies, died on November 11 at the age of 99.
“Baby” Marie was very popular indeed during the First World War—her movies were so successful that her adoptive parents started their own production company to produce her pictures, and she had a merchandising deal with a toy company in New York that produced Baby Marie dolls—but her stardom, which began when she was just three years old, was at end before she reached the age of ten.
Not that she stopped working in Hollywood. Though she retired for a while, in the 1930s, she returned to work as a stand-in for such stars as Ginger Rogers and Betty Hutton.
She later moved into costume work, first for the Western Costume Company and later at Twentieth Century Fox, where she worked her way up to the position of costume supervisor, a job she held until 1976. Osborne’s costume work found her working with an impressive range of performers, from Marlon Brando to John Wayne, Rita Hayworth and Robert Redford.
This was a woman who experienced Hollywood history firsthand.
Osborne, who once described herself as “the first of Hollywood’s washed-up child stars” not only experienced the highs of Hollywood stardom, she knew the lows: She never saw any of the money she’d earned as a huge star in her childhood. “I was earning $300 a week when the average American was making less than $1,000 per year,” Osborne once said, but her parents saw to it that she never saw the money.
“There was a trust fund, but I never seemed to have received anything from it,” Osborne recalled. “My foster parents lived a gilded life.”
But Osborne’s second marriage was a long happy one, she had a daughter she loved dearly, and she was content with her lot in life.
As Osborne’s friend, author Jean-Jacques Jura, wrote in a remembrance he wrote after her passing, “Baby Marie always savored the moment, exhibiting a kind and responsible tenderness toward those around her: family, friends, and all living things, including her special appreciation of the animal world. In order of importance, Marie was most grateful for her Roman Catholicism, for her excellent health throughout her full and interesting life, for her cherished daughter, Joan, and for the beauty of nature.”
Rest in peace, Baby Marie.