Whatever Happened to Baby Osborne (and her friend "Africa")?
Baby Marie Osborn was not quite as long-lived as Baby Peggy Montgomeery (still alive at the time of writing). She died in 2010. But, where Baby Peggy films are not too hard to find....where Oh where are the films of Baby Marie? The only thing I have been able to find is a 9.5mm short (a mere 4 minutes worth) entitled Merry Holidays. It would seem to be this film (a full-length five-reel film however) although it is a little difficult to be a hundred percent sure because the names of the original films are not necessarily retained in these Pathescope snippets. However here Baby Marie is Dolly as she was in the original film but poor Ernest Morrison, future star of Our Gang and Dead End/East End Kids (billed as Sambo or Little Sambo in the early days) is not credited as Ebenezer Eczema Abraham White but simply as "Africa"!!! ("A comic scene played by Marie Osborne and her friend Africa")
This Pathescope film would seem to be part of a series of such abridgements of Marie Osborne films under the general title "In Ventureland", another of which The Monarch of the Plain is advertised at the end of the film as a further adventure of Dolly and her friend Africa. This certainly survives because I have seen it for sale on the internet and is supposedly based on another full-length film, A Daughter of the West (in which Baby Marie in fact plays the part of June Gordon and in which puzzlingly Ernie does not seem to appear). No doubt in the course this snippet too will make its appearance on Youtube. Baby Marie's Round-Up (a short in which both do appear) is shown on IMDb as having the French alternative title "Au pays de l'aventure" and this may indicate the existence of another in the Pathescope series.
The first thing perhaps to say is that it is not as horrendously racist as one might expect.Here is the description of the original film: Dolly McKenzie's mother fancies herself a gifted painter and goes to the city to live a Bohemian life style. Meanwhile, Dolly's father John, facing an imminent strike in the factory he runs, sends the child, together with her little friend, Ebenezer Eczema Abraham White, and his mother, to his brother Howard's farm. The children soon bring chaos to "Peaceful Acres" with their pranks, but on one of their escapades, they become lost in the woods. Even the striking employees join in the search party, but it is Dolly's mother, coincidentally in the country for a weekend party, who finally finds the frightened children. The negligent mother willingly returns to her family, and John, grateful to his men for their help, promises to settle the labor dispute the next morning.
This is clearly an air-brushed modern description and I doubt if even in the original film Marie and Ernest are chums on quite the equal terms that this implies. In the snippet it is clear that "Africa" and his mother (Mother Bamboula in the Pathescope version) are servants, as doubtless they also were in the original film although Ebenezer Eczema Abraham White may not have been made to speak in quite the same awful pigeon English that "Africa" does in the 9.5mm version and may not necessarily have referred to Dolly as "little Mistress".
For all that, they are chums (even if not on equal terms) and, more important;y, the are co-stars which means that a white and black child did co-star together - quite exceptionally - in a series of full-length films for, although Ernie may not appear in A Daughter of the West, he does also appear in Dolly Does Her Bit, Winning Grandma, Milady o' the Beanstalk and The Little Diplomat (all full-length) as well as the short Baby Marie's Round-Up. And if this snippet is at all typical, he rather steals the show. At this point he got hired by Roach and moved on to finer things, first in Snub Pollard shorts and then in Our Gang.
Ernie would remain a star into the forties long after Baby Marie was forgotten but he would never again have such a co-starring role in a full-length feature nor can I think of any other black actor of this period who did so outside the so-called "race" films (all-black casts). So these films are actually a very important part of the history of African American performers and somebody should make it their business to find out if any of these films survive in their original form.
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