The Short Career of Baby Marie Osborne

Until recently I had never heard of Baby Marie Osborne, a child star from the silent era who died on November 11.

I admit that my knowledge of silent cinema completely lacks. While I do enjoy the occasional silent film, sometimes I’m just not interested, That is why I have never opened the book on American cinema of the 1910s my parents gave me as a gift last year. But something about Baby Marie Osborne sparked a mad Google search.

Osborne’s career began in 1913 when she was three years old. Until 1918, she appeared in 29 films when she retired at eight. Today her films are mostly lost. One, Little Mary Sunshine (1916), is available on DVD. One critic commented on her performance in this film: “She never overdoes the saccharine stuff … her utter unself-consciousness … is a revelation in art.”

Little Mary Sunshine was written specifically for Osborne and was directed by Henry King, who discovered Osborne. King would later help Osborne find work at RKO studios. After her brief movie career, Osborne lived a fast life. King later helped Osborne find work at RKO studios where she was everything from Ginger Roger’s stand-in to Elizabeth Taylor’s costumer on Cleopatra. There is an insightful interview on NPR with Jean-Jacques Jura, the author of Balboa Films: A History and Filmography of the Silent Film Studio. Jura interviewed Osborne late in her life for the book.

Perhaps more interesting is that Osborne’s career took place at Balboa Studios in Long Beach, CA. Established in 1913, Balboa Studios became the most productive independent studio for five years. Fatty Arbuckle and William Desmond Taylor began their careers at Balboa. Then for various reasons – bankruptcy and scandal – production stopped and Balboa Studios closed its doors.

I am not entirely sure why I am fixated on Osborne’s short-lived acting career and her life afterwards. Perhaps it has to do with the fact with how she is someone whose impact on cinema was brief and she was quickly forgotten. We take for granted this notion that things – movies, objects, everything – will be around forever. That is why there is a certain mystery surrounding silent era stars. Their films have not survived and once their day in the spotlight ended, they were cast aside. We know that someone like Baby Marie Osborne existed, that she performed, but will her legacy ever really be felt? Does she even have a true legacy to be remembered?

This is not the first time that I have become fixated on how stars and celebrities exist in public memory after their deaths. I’ve come to realize that film and television are just two mediums that we use to remind us that there is a possibility of life after death.

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