Collins Genealogy, By Ethel (Buxton) McLean
The Real Miss Temple
Report Finds Shirley Lovable, Modest, Girlish
By Edith Lindeman
One just can't write about Shirley Temple!
In the first place, it's impossible to get into print the cunning charm of the child. In the second place, the only adjectives that justly apply to her--unspoiled, natural, simple--have been used too, too many times. And finally, if you manage to put the true story of Shirley down on paper, nobody will believe you anyway.
Ever since I've gotten back from Hollywood, people have been saying, "Did you see Shirley Temple? Is she really as cute and sweet as they say?" And when I answer, "She's more remarkable than anything that has even been written about her," I get the most pitying looks which say plainer than words that I, too, have been bitten by the Hollywood bug, and am not to be trusted any more.
Just the same, and at the risk of being set down as an unmitigated publicity agent rather than a plain reporter of facts, I'm forced to say that Shirley exceeded my wildest dreams.
I had a stroke of good luck the first day I went out to the 20th Century-Fox Studios, for Shirley was in her bungalow rehearsing the songs which she will sing in 'Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm." She was in her rose and blue and ivory parlor, with big Mack Gordon stuffed into one of her small chairs and Harry Revel playing soflty at her undersized piano. Mrs. Temple was perched on the arm of the chintz-covered chesterfield, and there were a couple of musical directors, Shirley's governess and a technical man or two cluttering up the place. Mrs. Temple motioned me to a seat beside her, and Shirley gave me a nice little-girl smile from the other side of the room, but made no attempt to drop an epigram for the press, or make a curtsey, or say anything quotable. In fact, Shirley simply accepted me as another grown-up in the room, and was no more distracted from the business of singing her Gordon-Revel numbers than any other little girl would have been had an outsider walked in when she was cutting out paper dolls.
Gordon Proud of Little Pupil
Watching Shirley in action is a unique experience. She and Mrs. Temple always go over her songs at home till she is familiar with every word and musical phrase. Then, the next day, when she comes to the studio to rehearse, all she has to worry about is interpreting the song according to the way the song-writers wish it interpreted. Only, Shirley never really has to worry. She seems to know how to get the best out of a ditty just by instinct.
Mack Gordon shifted his three hundred pounds about and said, "Now honey, let's do the 'Dreamland Choo-Choo'!" Harry Revel ran a few chords and Shirley, with one eye on her mother, started into a number that was long and tricky and full of funny little pauses and offbeat beginnings. She never missed a note. Mack Gordon beamed, and perspired with excitement. Harry Revel's nimble fingers slipped over the keys and ever so often he'd turn half-around to grin approval at Mrs. Temple. They've written a score of songs for Shirley but they never get over the thrill of watching this mite of a child deliver their words-and-music in better form than any grown-up in Hollywood.
Half-way through, Shirley hit a high note. It was just a bit too high for her range, so Gordon stopped her, and they rewrote the musical phrase. "Let's try it that way, honey," he said. "See if you can get it."
So Shirley sang the new notes, sang them correctly, naturally, and as familiarly as if she'd been practicing them that way all week. Gordon breathed, "Can you beat it! She gets it right the first time." Revel called across the room to me boastfully, "She never misses," and Mrs. Temple, who won't have her child ruined with such goings-on, said quickly, "Shirley, I'd rather you'd stand a little farther away from that open window. You've just gotten over a cold, you know."
That is characteristic of Mrs. Temple! She is well aware that, even if Shirley is America's box-office attraction number one, it won't be good for her to know how colossal she is. She has a tremendous job, this Gertrude Temple, and a tremendous responsibility, because though she is naturally interested in having Shirley continue to be a successful motion picture actress, she is much more interested in having her little girl grow up with a pleasant personality. And, says Mrs. Temple, no one is pleasant with a superiority complex.
Several months ago, about the time Shirley and her parents returned from a vacation in Hawaii, Hollywood was getting ready for a gala premiere of Shirley's "Wee Willie Winkie." It was to be her first premiere, and as she drove up to the theatre and saw the banners, the lights and the crowds of people she asked, "Mother is it a compliment to have a premiere performance?"
"Oh yes," answered Mrs. Temple. "It's a compliment for the picture, you understand, not particularly for the people who are in it?"
"Well," said Shirley, "isn't it fun that I could be in such a good picture?"
But to get back to the song rehearsal. Mack Gordon kept insisting that Shirley didn't need him to help her with her songs, because she already had them down pat, and "there are other people on this lot waiting for me and they need help five million times worse than Shirley." But Mrs. Temple wanted to be certain that she had been coaching her little girl correctly, so she asked them to go over another number just once. It is to be a medley of all the songs Shirley has introduced in her previous pictures, and the camera will find her seated at a big piano, presumably playing her own accompaniment. She perched on the side of a chair, and pretending that the table before her was the piano, lit into her song, her little fingers flying off the surface, and her arms making all the gestures of a veteran songstress. Mack Gordon nearly burst with approval when she dashed off an imaginary arpeggio, and he shouted "That's the way, darling. How did you know you ought go all over the keyboard that way?"
"Well," said Shirley, in a matter-of-fact voice, "if I was really playing I wouldn't stay all in one place, I don't think. But, I guess for the picture you'd better get me one of those automatical pianos where the keys go down by themselves, because I don't imagine I could really play them this fast."
Suddenly the telephone tinkled. It was for Mrs. Temple. The room became quiet while she picked up the receiver and said, "Yes . . . This is Mrs. Temple . . . Oh no, she's quite all right now. It was just a slight cold. I kept her in bed just as a precaution . . . No, she was at home only three days . . . there was nothing alarming . . . her temperature never went over 99 degrees . . No, we didn't notify anyone--she wasn't that ill . . Yes, she got some lovely flowers, but it wasn't really necessary, because she wasn't very sick . . . Yes, of course I'm telling you the truth . . . Her hair? No, of course not . . . No . . . No. . . No . . . Well, here, I'll let you talk to her yourself . . . Shirley!"
And Mrs. Temple, shaking with suppressed laughter, handed the white telephone over to Shirley who said in to the mouthpiece, "Hello . . . Yes, this is me . . .Yes, really it is . . . i beg your pardon? . . . Yes, this is me, Shirley Temple . . . I beg your pardon? . . . Oh no, I'm feeling fine . . . I played most of the time I was in bed . . . Yes, I'm rehearsing my songs right now . . . I beg your pardon? . . . Oh yes, of course I'm strong enough . . . and I did my dances too, this morning . . . I beg your pardon? . . . My hair? No, of course not . . . It's all here . . . Well, thank you for calling . . . Goodbye."
And, as Shirley hung up the phone, she, too, burst into laughter. "He was the funniest man,"she said. "I couldn't understand anything he said, and every now and then he'd say 'Veddy well' or 'Righto' and when I said 'Goodbye,' he said 'Cheerio.' Who was he, Mother?"
"Oh he was an English reporter," said Mrs. Temple with as much nonchalance as she could muster. "That was a London newspaper you were talking to."
"My, that's a long way for a telephone call, isn't it," said Shirley, and with no more ado, she went back to the rehearsing of her songs, quite unconcerned over the fact that she had just engaged in about $500 worth of conversation.
London Fans Like Shirley
The reason for the call, Mrs. Temple explained to me, was because England (where they are even more devoted to Shirley than they are in America) had just heard that she was ill with a "slight cold." On the same mail, the London papers had received a dispatch saying that "For the first time, the famous Temple curls will be tied back from Shirley's face for a sequence in her next picture 'Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm'." Putting two and two together, London had made six, and had concluded that Shirley was so ill, her hair had been cut off. Hence the frantic telephone calls. I understand that they had been phoning the studio publicity departments for two days and only the actual sound of Shirley's voice calmed their fears.
Incidentally, there are a few other rumors about Shirley that I'd like to squash once and for all. Her hair--which no one but Mrs. Temple ever curls--is naturally blonde and is washed only with a lemon rinse such as most blondes use. When and if Shirley's hair turns dark, it will be let alone. Her teeth, contrary to rumor, have never been filed "to make them appear like baby teeth." The only artificial dental work that has ever taken place in Shirley's mouth has been when the loss of a first tooth had made advisable the substitution of a tiny false tooth during filming. The worst rumor that Shirley has ever had to combat--and the most ludicrous one--was the report that she was no youngster but an adult midget. Oddly enough, this idea was originated in England, where her popularity is so great that there are 650,000 children in a single Shirley Temple Fan Club.
I wanted to get a picture of Shirley but she was too busy the first day I saw her to get away from her bungalow, so I went back a couple of days later, and while waiting for her to go to the sound stage, we dropped over to the dance rehearsal hall to watch Bill Robinson, who will be with her in "Rebecca." When he learned that I came from his home town, he beamed, called the three Peters sisters, colored singers who will also be in the picture, and had them go through all the Virginia songs in the extensive repertoire.
Then Bill, in truly hospitable mood, started to dance for me. There was a set of steps at the back of the rehearsal hall, and he tapped up and down and around and across a dozen times. Folks pay $5.50 to see him in New York, and at that rate, he gave me about $39.75 worth of Bill Robinson dancing. As a finale he went through the numbers for "Rebecca," and when I applauded and told him how much I'd enjoyed his entertainment, he said, "You ought to see Shirley do these dances. She's the greatest little dancer I ever did see!"
From then on , the conversation was entirely about Shirley.
They say, around the studio, that Bill would lay down his life for Shirley. So, for that matter, would nearly every one else who works with her.
Well, I'd go pretty far, myself!
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