Local history: Long Beach’s Baby Marie Osborne was ‘the sweetest little girl in the moving picture world’

Local History is a weekly feature that looks at the people, places and events of Long Beach’s past. Have a question or a piece of history you want us to explore? Email [email protected].

Marie Osborne was Shirley Temple before Shirley Temple. A cute, bubbly, irresistible child actor, she starred in nearly 30 feature films made in Long Beach and stole the hearts of audiences at movie theaters nationwide. Her name belongs in the same lights as other stars that Long Beach contributed to Hollywood: Cameron Diaz, Nicolas Cage, Theda Bara, Robert Mitchum, Paul Rodriguez, Bo Derek and many others.

Born in Denver on Nov.  5, 1911 as Helen Alice Myres, she became the foster child of Leon and Edith Osborn (the terminal e was added later) who changed the girl’s name to Marie. In 1914, the family moved to Long Beach to find work and succeeded in getting jobs with Balboa Studios. Unable to afford a babysitter, Leon and Edith brought their 3-year-old daughter to work where she caught the eye of director Henry King, who put her in a picture called “Maid of the Wild,” in which she stole the show. Subsequently, King had a film written expressly for the actress who was by then known as Baby Marie Osborne. The 1916 movie was called “Little Mary Sunshine” and it was a huge nationwide success.

More films quickly followed and by 1917, according to an article in the Long Beach Daily Telegram, “there is not a spot in the world where her delightful characterizations have not pleased and delighted hundreds and thousands of people. She was known as “the sweetest little girl in the moving picture world.”

Long before she became a teenager, Baby Marie was making $500-$750 a week in an era where the median annual wage for workers was $1,000. She traveled in a 1907 Hudson driven by a liveried chauffeur and owned properties in Los Angeles’ Hancock Park.

At Balboa Studios, the president Herbert Horkheimer handed out “Rules to be observed in regard to Little Marie Sunshine” to everyone involved in making her movies.

Among the rules, according to the book “Balboa Films,” by Rodney Bardin and Jacques Jura,  were:

She is not to be teased at any time.

She is not to be shouted at or addressed in slang.

She is not to be given sweetmeats nor presents of any description while at work on the stage or location.

Threatening or addressing the baby star in loud or unseemly language or using objectionable language in her presence shall be cause for instant dismissal.

Osborne retired from the film business at the seasoned age of 9 and found that she wasn’t as wealthy as she should have been. It was early in the celebrity age before protections were in place to preserve the finances of child entertainers. Her foster father had squandered the wealth trying to start his own studio that would make films featuring Marie. She lived with her foster father until she was old enough to get a job. She found herself having to work when she should have spent the rest of her life comfortably wealthy.

She managed to stay in the movie business working as a stand-in actress for stars like Ginger Rogers and Barbara Hutton and eventually became a costume supervisor for Twentieth Century Fox, where she worked with such stars as Marlon Brando, John Wayne, Robert Redford, Rita Hayworth and Elizabeth Taylor.

Years later, she told London’s Daily Telegraph, “There was a trust fund but I never seemed to have received anything from it. My foster parents lived a gilded life.”

And, in a 1936 interview with the Raleigh (North Carolina) News & Observer, she said, “I’m glad Shirley Temple’s managers are saving her money. She’ll need it when she grows up.”

Baby Marie Osborne lived a long life in South Orange County. She died in 2010, shortly after her 99th birthday in San Clemente.

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Tim Grobaty is a columnist and opinions editor for the Long Beach Post. He began his newspaper career at the Press-Telegram in 1976 as a copy boy and moved on to feature writer, music critic, TV critic, copy editor and daily columnist. He’s the author of several books, including I’m Dyin’ Here, and he lives in Long Beach.
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