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TCM Remembers Shirley Temple
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Stowaway

Her final film of 1936, Stowaway found child star Shirley Temple on familiar territory - not China, the film's setting, but once again playing an orphan who puts her adult costars (Robert Young and Alice Faye) on the path towards happily-ever-after while hitching a ride on a luxury liner bound from Shanghai to the United States. Having made her film debut at age 4 in Educational Pictures' comic "Baby Burlesks" shorts, Temple went on to sign an exclusive contract with the Fox Film Corporation in 1934; before the end of that year, she had star billing in Dimples (1934), a vehicle tailored to her specific talents. The year 1935 had been a good one for the cherubic scene-stealer. With the merger of Fox with 20th Century Pictures, she received a sizeable pay raise, was inducted into both the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels and the Texas Rangers, was named mascot of the Chilean Navy, set her hands and feet in cement in the forecourt of Grauman's Chinese Theatre, and learned to ride a bike.

Though her grown up costars (by this point, Gary Cooper, Lionel Barrymore, Janet Gaynor, Ginger Rogers, Adolphe Menjou) carped to the press about having had to play second fiddle to someone who could not even tie her own shoes, the balance sheet settled all arguments. Made for $200,000-300,000, Temple's films grossed well over a million each in their first run releases (with considerably more to be made in second run houses and in European rentals). By 1936, Temple was a seasoned professional who came to the set each day with her dialogue and stage directions memorized and expecting her costars to honor the same level of professionalism. During production of Stowaway, Temple's ordinarily infallible recall of her own dialogue seemed to falter for the first time in a scene played opposite Broadway veteran Helen Westley... until Westley realized that the only reason Temple had gone up on her lines was because she herself had left out a large chunk of the text. In preparation for her role, Temple learned over one hundred phrases in Mandarin ... an accomplishment that failed to impress the production's army of Chinese-American extras, most of whom spoke only Cantonese.

Leading lady Alice Faye was making her third film with Temple but coming into her own after years of toiling in the shadow of Jean Harlow. When Faye contracted influenza during principal photography, production of Stowaway shut down for two weeks... a delay that did not sit well with Temple. Though the 8 year-old star resented Faye for falling sick, a sense of empathy came when she herself got the flu, requiring another two week postponement. Temple also lost a back tooth during production, which caused an annoying whistle during the film's production numbers. Otherwise, Stowaway afforded her plenty of show stopping moments, including a pantomime Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers dance (with a dummy playing the Astaire part) and Temple's mimicking of Al Jolson singing "Mammy." By report, Temple was slightly unnerved by having to study Jolson's singing for the scene. "Watching and listening to him made me wince," she admitted in her 1988 memoirs.

Stowaway was another hit for 20th Century Fox and for Temple, whose signature roles lay ahead of her in Wee Willie Winkie (1937), Heidi (1937), and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1938). That she seemed not to be maturing physically was less of a concern for 20th Century Fox executives (whose corporate income was 90% attributable to Temple) than it was for her mother, Gertrude. Worried that her daughter's stocky legs and rounded middle would doom her to a future of obesity, Gertrude Temple consulted a physician about injections of pituitary extracts to stimulate leg growth. Luckily, no such alchemy was needed when Temple spontaneously began maturing on her own - a development that would have a deleterious effect on her film career. Fox handler Darryl F. Zanuck famously refused to loan Temple to MGM for The Wizard of Oz (1939), preferring to retain his star for The Blue Bird (1940). The failure of that enterprise prompted Temple's parents to buy out the remainder of her contract. As a freelancer, Temple had only moderate success and retired from motion pictures in 1949, at the age of 21.

By Richard Harland Smith

Sources:

Shirley Temple by Lois Eby (Monarch Books, 1962)
Shirley Temple: American Princess by Anne Edwards (William Morrow & Co., 1988)
The Films of Shirley Temple by Robert Windeler (Citadel Press, 1978)
Child Star, An Autobiography by Shirley Temple Black (McGraw-Hill Publishers, 1988)
The Shirley Temple Story by Lester David and Irene David (GP Putnam &Sons, 1983)
The Shirley Temple Scrapbook by Loraine Burdick (Jonathan David Publishers, Inc., 2003)
Shirley Temple by Jeanine Basinger: Pyramid Illustrated History of the Movies (Pyramid Publishers, 1975)
Alice Faye: A Life Beyond the Silver Screen by Jane Lenz Elder (University Press of Mississippi, 2002)
The Films of Alice Faye by W. Franklyn Moshier (W. Franklyn Moshier, 1972)
Alice Faye: A Bio-Bibliography by Barry Rivadue (Greenwood Press, 1990)
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