How a fresh-faced kid in ringlets saved Hollywood.
YOU'LL never see it on the list of Greatest Films. It will never be ranked alongside Citizen Kane or Godfather, Part Two. In fact, most critics, if they'd ever seen it, would consign it to that level occupied by Confessions of a Window Cleaner or Attack of the Killer Tomatoes.
Yet it is one of the most important movies ever made. And this month we celebrate the 80th anniversary of the day it introduced a global superstar - or super tot - to the world's cinema screens, while saving a great film studio from bankruptcy.
It was called Stand Up And Cheer, starring Warner Baxter and Sherlock's sidekick Nigel Bruce along with other pretty well-known performers. But it is remembered today because of the five-year-old phenomenon who stole the show.
But first, to show how significant that film was, fast forward 50 years to watch half a dozen of Hollywood's richest and most powerful men enter their plush headquarters in Los Angeles. As one, they pause in front of a pedestal in the lobby. As one, they bow reverently to the gold-painted statue it supports. Every day that same semi-religious routine was followed. Because the statue was of a little girl. Her name? Shirley Temple. And without her, those rich and powerful men might have had no riches, no power.
As one of them explained: "If there had not been a Shirley Temple, there would not be a 20th Century Fox." That's how much she meant to the movie industry. But it was nothing to the influence she had on hundreds of millions of worshippers, fans ranging from the US president to 20,000 people on Bali who filled a vast field to kneel and pray for her when she got mumps.
She was born on April 23, 1928, and, said her proud and pushy mom: "From the time she took her first steps, it was as though she were dancing." (Madame Clara Novello Davies claimed her dear little Ivor cried in musical notes. Showbiz mothers!). Anyway, any mother living in shouting distance of a studio knew just what to do with such a prodigy. Gertrude Temple took her toddler to dancing classes and then enrolled her in a stage school. She was three.
And soon she was appearing in a series of 10-minute shorts parodying hit movies. In one she wore an off-the-shoulder peasant blouse and a garter below her knee as she flirted with four-year-old "soldiers." Gruesome? But the world loved these "Baby Burlesks" and that's how she was spotted by songwriter Jay Gorney.
So 80 years ago, she began filming in Stand Up And Cheer, the bizarre storyline showing the US Secretary of Amusement hoping to make the country forget the Depression by staging a mammoth review. Shirley didn't need a mammoth review to make 'em forget. She was spun sugar in a world of soup kitchens, for some, too sugary, too precocious and, for Graham Greene, then a film critic, an unhealthy juvenile sex symbol. He accused 20th Century Fox of "procuring her for immoral purposes." The studio sued, Shirley copped PS2,000.
first Noone Temple But for everyone else, she was the adorable essence of sweetness and light, though one sourpuss claimed she was a 30-year-old midget with two kids.
They filled the Ninian and the Gaiety and the Splott cinemas to watch this dream child save India with craggy-faced Victor McGlaglen (who once fought Jack Johnson) or team up with C Aubrey Smith (who once captained England at cricket).
They cheered as she converted the great Lionel Barrymore from crusty old curmudgeon to loveable grandpa in The Little Colonel, so cloyingly sentimental that the dialogue was drowned by the sound of heartfelt sniffs from the stalls. At one point while filming, Barrymore, a theatrical legend, forgot his lines.
"Oh," Uncle Lionel," trilled this terrible tot, "you have to say...
What Barrymore said was something along the lines of "Shut up, you ***!!!*** little ***!!!***..."
She lisped Animal Crackers in My Soup and The Good Ship Lollipop and by 1935 when she was seven she was America's top box office draw, number one for four consecutive years, more popular than Gable and Cagney, Garbo and Dietrich.
Cardiff mothers took their own little treasures to hairdressers asking for curls like Shirl's. Kids sang her songs. The sale of Shirley Temple dolls and spin-off products was colossal. She earned $300,000 in 1938, more than Roosevelt.
Then in 1941 she got her first screen kiss and that, really, was the end. No-one wanted a grown-up Shirley Temple. So she became ambassador to Ghana where kids were named after her, even the boys, and in time became a grandmother. But for millions she is forever the golden-haired little girl singing The Good Ship Lollipop.
CARDIFF REMEMBERED WITH BRIAN LEE - EVERY FRIDAY IN THE ECHO
Then in 1941 she got her first screen kiss and that was the end. Noone wanted a grown-up Shirley Temple
For millions, Shirley Temple is forever the golden-haired little girl singing The Good Ship Lollipop