I confess that I was never a big fan of Shirley Temple movies; they are a bit too sugary for my taste. And a peek at the very early ones, when she was six and younger, reveals that, bless her heart, she can barely carry a tune. But she must be admired for helping the country get through the Great Depression. She single-handedly saved Fox Studios from bankruptcy, and was the top box office draw four years during the 1930s.
She costarred with everybody from Cary Grant to Buddy Ebsen (right), from Carole Lombard to John Wayne, from Ronald Reagan to Henry Fonda. I personally enjoyed her repartee with Arthur Treacher (left), who usually played the veddy propah English butler who became enchanted with our little gal.
Temple created a sensation with her intricate dance routines with Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, who appeared in several films with her, and advised her behind the scenes in many more. (Scenes in which the two held hands were sometimes censored in the segregated Deep South.)
Temple had the classic Stage Mother on set with her at all times, holding total control over her wardrobe and other matters, insuring, for example, that there were exactly 56 ringlets in her hair for each take. Several rumors regarding her early career have varying degrees of truth. It's often said that she auditioned for Hal Roach's Our Gang series of shorts, which later became The Little Rascals, but her mother prevented her daughter's participation unless she was given special star billing. (Temple herself has written that she never auditioned for the series, though she appears in at least one episode, at the age of about three.) The role of "Dorothy" in The Wizard of Oz was not, in fact, written with her in mind; Judy Garland was always the first choice. Studio honchos worried about Garland's ability to carry the film, and attempted to borrow Temple from Fox for the role. It was only after that attempt failed that Garland finally secured the role which made her a star. It's said that the role of Bonnie Blue Butler in Gone With the Wind was written specifically for Temple, but she was too old to play it by the time filming began. (Temple's age fluctuated during the years in which she was a star; she did not learn her actual age until she reached her teens, as her birth certificate had been altered to lengthen her childhood.)
In her adult years, Temple retired from show biz, and eventually lost election to the House of Representatives in 1967 (she ran on a platform supporting the American presence in Vietnam); she later served as a delegate to the United Nations. Her diplomatic career included stints as ambassador to Ghana and to Czechoslovakia under the Nixon administration.
Temple won two non-competitive Oscars during her career, and her films gave comfort to millions during the Great Depression. FDR famously remarked that, "as long as America has Shirley Temple, we will be all right." I'm thinking we need someone like that right now, with the economic situation getting downright scary. Or maybe we've already found our own Shirley Temple, to cheer us up and remind us that our dreams needn't be dashed by the desperate times surrounding us:
I have a hunch Susan Boyle does not tap, so please enjoy this week's Dance Party, a celebration of Shirley Temple, who turned 81 years old this week. At least, she thinks she turned 81 years old this week...