A Kiss for Corliss
Tuesday October, 13 2015 at 07:15 AM
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The character of Corliss Archer, American teenager (on par, if not quite popularity, with Andy Hardy, Nancy Drew, and Henry Aldrich), was the creation of playwright-novelist-short story writer F. Hugh Herbert. The incorrigible cutie was introduced in the short story "Private Affair" and in 1943 Herbert brought Corliss to Broadway in Kiss and Tell, which ran for 956 performances on the Great White Way with Betty Caulfield in the role of Corliss and a young Richard Widmark making his Broadway debut as Corliss' older brother Lenny. (In 1944, Herbert's stories were published in the collection Meet Corliss Archer and radio and television incarnations were in the offing.) Columbia Pictures was quick to snatch up the film rights to Kiss and Tell, envisioning the wartime comedy as the perfect vehicle for its new acquisition, Shirley Temple.
Temple turned 17 in 1945 and was half a decade past her career zenith as the dimpled child star of such 20th Century Fox hits as The Little Colonel (1935), Heidi (1937), and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1938). Though she had matured beyond the designation of "America's Sweetheart," Temple remained sufficiently pink of cheek to remain persuasive as the slightly younger Corliss, who threatens to bring shame down upon the Archer family by being too familiar with GIs at the local USO bazaar. The film was a success for Columbia and excited interest in a follow-up. By 1949, however, Temple was 21 years old, a young mother, and on the cusp of a highly-publicized divorce from actor-husband John Agar. With Columbia unwilling to move forward with a sequel, independent producer Colin Miller stepped into the breach, snapping up the rights with an assist from the Bank of America and securing a distribution deal with United Artists.
Miller might have thought he had scored a casting coup by securing the participation of actor David Niven, who had enjoyed recent success as one of the stars of The Bishop's Wife (1947). As fate would have it, the long-time Samuel Goldwyn contract player was at the end of his tether as a for-hire actor, feeling that Goldwyn had squandered his potential by loaning him out to other studios. (Of the 34 films Niven made while under contract to Goldwyn, only 9 were for his home studio.) Resentful at being cashiered into service in a string of unworthy film projects, Niven was also mourning the loss of his wife, Primula Rollo, who had died two years earlier in a freak fall at Tyrone Power's house at the age of 28. Consigned to a cameo as a divorced playboy who becomes the fantasy inamorato of Corliss Archer, Niven was vocal in his disdain for the assignment, affecting (in his own words) "spoiled brat behavior of the worst sort... idiotic, conceited, indefensible and unforgiveable."
Niven's cavalier attitude toward his role in A Kiss for Corliss did not sit well with his costar, long known in Hollywood as a stickler for absolute fidelity to the script. As Niven continually went up on his lines, Shirley Temple rolled her eyes at the cast and crew assembled under the roof of General Service Studios. During production the actress suffered not one but two appendicitis scares that were ultimately put down to stress-induced stomach aches, while also suffering from infected wisdom teeth. Problems with the talent were not the only cause of headaches on the set of A Kiss for Corliss. Officers of the Production Code of America objected to Niven's character having weathered six divorces and advised that Howard Dimsdale's script be altered to cut that number in half so as not to trivialize the tragedy of divorce. The PCA also made sure that Corliss articulate in no uncertain terms that she "could never think of marrying a man with all those wives."
A Kiss for Corliss's failure at the box office (even when retitled Almost a Bride) prompted Niven to break his contract with Samuel Goldwyn. The steely, mercurial Goldwyn calmly consented to Niven's request... and then instructed his publicity department to announce that the ungrateful actor had been fired. As for Shirley Temple, she never made another film. Taking a much needed vacation from work and the ugly divorce proceedings that would leave her a single mother at age 21, Temple flew to Hawaii, where she fell in love with an employee of the Hawaiian Pineapple Company named Charles Black. Though she made a few tentative steps towards furthering her career (including an abortive bid to replace Jean Arthur in the 1950 Broadway revival of Peter Pan), she became Shirley Temple Black in December 1950. She returned to television briefly toward the end of the decade but her life path diverted to politics. A lifelong Republican, Temple served as the United States Ambassador to both Ghana and Czechoslovakia before her death in February 2014 at the age of 85.
By Richard Harland Smith
Shirley Temple: American Princess by Anne Edwards (William Morrow & Co., 1988)
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)
The Last Gentleman: A Tribute to David Niven by Peter Haining (WH Allen, 1984)
David Niven: A Bio-Bibliography by Karin J. Fowler (Greenwood Press, 1995)
The Films of David Niven by Gerard Garrett (The Citadel Press, 1976)
Niv: The Authorized Biography of David Niven by Graham Lord (Thomas Dunne Books, 2003)
The Moon's a Balloon: An Autobiography by David Niven (GP Putnam & Sons, 1972)
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