Originally published June 5, 1965
A Fox scout spotted young Shirley Temple at the age of 4 in a short called The Frolics of Youth and invited her mother to bring her to the studio. There the co-producer of Stand Up and Cheer! scribbled the lyrics of “Baby, Take a Bow” on the back of an envelope, and Mrs. Temple read them to her daughter. Shirley was then taken into a rehearsal hall, plopped on top of a grand piano, and shortly thereafter, backed by a regiment of leggy chorines and a 10-piece orchestra, sang the song to actor Jimmy Dunn. “It was perfectly done,” the adult Mrs. Temple remembers today. “Even I was thrilled.” ä
And the rest, as the saying goes, is history. The studio lopped a year off Shirley’s age, just as if she were an adult actress, and signed her to a contract for $150 a week. Then executives began to watch in awe while, in picture after picture, Shirley Temple melted the hearts of audiences around the world. In short order she displaced Janet Gaynor and Greta Garbo at the summit of box-office polls and began to average 3,500 fan letters a week. And every single week she earned 10,000 Depression dollars. In Congress she was hailed as the most beloved individual in the world. “I class myself with Rin Tin Tin,” Shirley Temple said in 1965. “People in the Depression wanted something to cheer them up, and they fell in love with a dog and a little girl. I never had to work very hard. We all just seemed to play games.”
She has almost total recall of the old days: “When I was supposed to copy choreographer Bill Robinson’s tap steps, I’d deliberately do them a different way, and he’d laugh until the tears ran down his cheeks. … When I first heard them call for the dolly, I thought they were going to give me one. When I learned it was just something to roll the camera on, I was so disappointed that Jimmy Dunn gave me a real doll. Once I heard someone say, ‘Put the baby in the fireplace,’ and I was so scared I started to run until they explained it meant a little spotlight.”
Vanity Fair, a publication which shunned sentimentality, nominated her for its 1934 Hall of Fame, “because she sings in tune and dances tap and ballet without a tumble; because, in Little Miss Marker, she made a delightful entertainment out of a sorry picture; and because she has won the heart of America without losing her own head.” To top all this, her teeth grew on schedule, she never got sick, she liked spinach and castor oil, and she could cry on cue.
—This excerpt from “Shirley Temple: Her Eyes Are Still Dancing” by Robert C. Jennings, June 5, 1965, appears in the July/August issue of The Saturday Evening Post.
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