Bittersweet Time for Last of the ‘Little Women,’ Margaret O’Brien

(clockwise from bottom left) Margaret O'Brien, Janet Leigh, June Allyson, Elizabeth Taylor, Mary Astor

“Now I’m the last of the ‘Little Women,’ so it’s sort of a strange time for me right now,” says Margaret O’Brien, the former child star who lost her screen sister and pal of 60 years, Elizabeth Taylor, last week. Taylor, as movie buffs everywhere know, played Amy March in the 1949 adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women,” and O’Brien played Beth, with the late Janet Leigh and June Allyson as Meg and Jo.

“Elizabeth gave such a wonderful performance as Amy. We were all very close at the time, like sisters,” O’Brien recalls. “And we stayed close friends after the movie. So it’s a sad time.”

The 74-year-old actress and dancer has another one of her classic films returning to the spotlight right now, with the Warner Archive Collection release of her “Unfinished Dance” on DVD today (3/29). The movie, in which Cyd Charisse plays a ballerina who loses out on the lead in “Swan Lake” to another dancer, was compared to Natalie Portman’s “Black Swan” during awards season, so Warners is making the restored 1946 feature available (www.wbshop.com) in time to capitalize on “Black Swan’s” home video release.

Busy O’Brien, who recently finished shooting a role in the big-screen “Lodestar Sagas,” loved “Black Swan” and Portman’s performance.

“It reminded me so much of my ballet days. A dancer’s life is way is way too hard,” adds the performer, whose mother was a famous Flamenco dancer. “In reviews about ‘Black Swan,’ they talked about how movies about the ballet, like ‘The Red Shoes,’ are always a little dark because of what you have to go through.”

With that in mind, she lends support to dancers’ charities and is looking forward to attending a Professional Dancers Society fundraiser with friend Mitzi Gaynor.

“I am happy to see ‘The Unfinished Dance’ being brought out again. Being able to dance with Cyd Charisse back then was wonderful. She was a beautiful dancer and a beautiful lady.

“I wore out many toe shoes,” adds O’Brien. “I didn’t keep a lot of memorabilia from my childhood: one dress from ‘Little Women,’ the red coat from ‘Meet Me in St. Louis’ and my toe shoes from “The Unfinished Dance.’ That was all.”