Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Shirley Temple R.I.P.

Shirley Temple died on 10 February 2014 at the age of 85. For a period during the Great Depression she was the top box office star in the United States.

Shirley Temple was born on  23 April 1928 in Santa, Monica California.  She was only three years old when her mother enrolled her in Meglin Kiddies' dance school in Los Angeles, California. It was while young Shirley was with the Meglin Kiddies that she was discovered by Charles Lamont, the casting director for Educational Pictures. She was then cast in Educational Pictures' series of "Baby Burlesks" film shorts (the first one to feature little Shirley was a parody of The Front Page, "The Runt Page"). It wasn't long before Shirley Temple was starring in her own series of two reelers produced by Educational Pictures. It also wasn't long before she started appearing in feature films. Little Shirley made her feature film debut in a bit part in Red Haired Alibi in 1932. She also appeared in the Randolph Scott Western To the Last Man It was in 1933, when Shirley was 5 1/2 years old, that her mother subtracted a year from her age so she could pass her daughter off as younger than she was.

It was in 1934 that young Shirley's career began to take off. She was cast in the musical comedy Stand Up and Cheer. She appeared in such films as Change of Heart (1934) and Little Miss Marker (1934) before receiving her first starring role in Baby Take a Bow (1934). After appearing in Now and Forever (1934) opposite Gary Cooper and Carole Lombard, young Shirley achieved stardom with the success of Bright Eyes (1934). The film was very successful and for the year 1934 young Shirley ranked #8 in Quigley Publishing's Top Ten Money Making Stars. Over the course of the next several years young Shirley starred in such films as The Little Colonel (1935), The Littlest Rebel (1935), Captain January (1936), Poor Little Rich Girl (1936), Wee Willie Winkie (1937), Heidi (1937), and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1938), . She was the top money making star in Quigley Publishing's Top Ten Money Making Stars from 1935 to 1938.

It was in 1939 that young Shirley's career began to falter. Despite appearing in The Little Princess (1939) and Susannah of the Mounties (1939), she dropped from the top spot in Quigley's Top Ten Money Making Stars to #5. With the failure of her film The Blue Bird (1940) she would not rank in the Top Ten Money Making Stars poll for the first time in literally years. Based on Maurice Maeterlinck's 1908 play of the same name, The Blue Bird was meant to be 20th Century Fox's response to MGM's hit The Wizard of Oz. Her next film, Young People (1940), would also be a flop. Her mother then decided to buy out Shirley's contract with 20th Century Fox and sent the young actress to Westlake School for Girls in Los Angeles.

MGM signed Miss Temple to a contract in 1941. She starred in only one film under her new contract with the studio, Kathleen, in 1941. Unfortunately the film was a failure. MGM and Miss Temple both agreed to cancel the contract. She made Miss Annie Rooney for United Artists in 1942. The film was based on Mary Pickford's silent film, Little Annie Rooney (1925), which in turn was based on the King Features Syndicate comic strip of the same name. Sadly Miss Annie Rooney would not be a success.

Shirley Temple then left the film industry for two years before signing a contract with David O. Selznick in 1944. She made Since You Went Away (1944) and I'll Be Seeing You (1944) for Mr. Selznick. Mr. Selznick loaned her out to other studios for such films as Kiss and Tell (1945), The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer (1947), That Hagen Girl (1947), and Fort Apache (1948).  Her last few years as an actress were spent in such films as Mr. Belvedere Goes to College (1949), The Story of Seabiscuit (1949), and her final film A Kiss for Corliss (1949).  Shirley Temple then retired from show business at the young age of 22.

Miss Temple would return to show business as the host of the television show Shirley Temple's Storybook in 1958. The show ran for three years and was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Children's Programming. She made one last appearance as an entertainer in a 1963 episode of The Red Skelton Show.

While I am not a fan of most of the films Shirley Temple made as a child, there is no denying that she was a genuine superstar during the Depression.  She ranked in Quigley Publishing's yearly poll of the Top Ten Money Making Stars for five straight years, three of those years being spent at the #1 spot. Not only were the films Miss Temple made as a little girl phenomenally successful, but Miss Temple turned out to be a merchandising bonanza. Ideal Toy and Novelty Company manufactured a Shirley Temple doll that sold in the millions. There were Shirley Temple dishes, dresses, mirrors, notebooks, paper dolls, and too many other items to list. Wheaties even offered a Shirley Temple cereal bowl, mug, and pitcher as one of their premiums. As to the reason for the phenomenal success of Shirley Temple in the Thirties, it was perhaps because her films offered an escape from the harsh realities of the Depression. The films Miss Temple made as a child were always optimistic, upbeat, and always had a happy ending. Quite simply, Shirley Temple offered much needed optimism in a very dark time in American history.

While I am not a fan of the films she made as a child,  I do think Miss Temple became a very good actress as a young lady. While Priscilla Lyon had originated Corliss Archer on radio and Ann Baker would play her on television, it is always Shirley Temple that I picture as the character. Shirley Temple had a genuine gift for comedy. She was excellent in The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer. She could also do quite well in dramas, as shown by her performance as Philadelphia Thursday in Fort Apache. I find it regrettable that in most films she was cast as the ingénue, as in her better films Miss Temple showed that she was capable of much more. Indeed, while some of her last few films were lacklustre, I think it's sad that Shirley Temple retired when she was only 22. I suspect had she continued acting the best years of her career would have been ahead of her.

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