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Discovering Shirley Temple - Frisco Del Rosario

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February 16th, 2014

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04:47 pm - Discovering Shirley Temple
Philanthropist David Woodley Packard, whose endeavors include operating the Stanford Theatre and a film preservation laboratory, tells this story about Shirley Temple:

The American Film Institute was making TV spots about its 100 This and 100 That (the AFI gets Dumb America's taste for lists and listicals), and asked Temple to provide some narration from inside an old theater. She refused to do the work in southern California, and insisted on The Stanford in Palo Alto. Then she altered her lines to mention The Stanford by name, which AFI cut before broadcast, but Packard showed the cue cards that Temple modified herself.

The Stanford opened in 1925, three years before Temple was born. During her 1930s heyday, the Palo Alto Times reported dozens of her films were first run there.

One week after her death, The Stanford interrupted its Frank Capra festival for two days to show six Temple films each day for a $5 admission (even on ordinary days, The Stanford offers an incredible bargain — $7 admits one for a double feature, while $4.50 fetches a large popcorn and a large drink).

I went Saturday for 1947's The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer, in which high school girl Temple crushes on painter Cary Grant, and I thought I should watch 1935's The Little Colonel for the experience.

If you're my age, your first exposure to child stars was in horrible '60s sitcoms, so your first impression of Shirley Temple might have been built upon The Brady Bunch episode in which Cindy Brady thinks Lovey Howell is a talent scout. So I quite expected to sit through The Little Colonel with derision, but … it was really, really GOOD.

The great Lionel Barrymore plays a Kentucky colonel who's still fighting The Civil War. He's disowned his daughter for eloping with a Yankee, but his granddaughter Shirley Temple — the "little colonel" who's as ornery as he — fixes what she can with spunk and humor (while the script magically took care of that beyond her ken).

In contrast with her 1,000-year-old grandpa, Shirley promotes racial harmony, playing with the servants' children like equals, and learning tap dance steps from the butler. Unlike many musical numbers in old movies, the Temple tap dance — on a staircase — evoked "wow" instead of "come on, get on with it".

And unlike nearly every other child star of the last 80 years, Shirley Temple didn't warrant a solid shot to the face. In fact, I said to myself "if that kid were in one of my classes, and behaved in that fashion, I'd be encouraging the chessplayer and not seeking the kill switch".

Shirley Temple made clear why Hollywood has tried so hard to emulate her with each insufferable little turd that comes along. She reminded me of Marilyn Monroe in that we might think we know her based on scraps of legend and information, plus hundreds of wannabes, but you really have to see her to believe her.

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