(April 23, 1928—Present) BACKSTORY: From IMDB: Shirley Temple was easily the most popular and famous child star of all time. She got her start in the movies at the age of three and soon progressed to super stardom. Shirley could do it all: act, sing and dance and all at the age of five! Fans loved her as she was bright, bouncy and cheerful in her films and they ultimately bought millions of dollars worth of products that had her likeness on them. Dolls, phonograph records, mugs, hats, dresses, whatever it was, if it had her picture on there they bought it. Shirley was box-office champion for the consecutive years 1935—38, beating out such great grown-up stars as Clark Gable, Bing Crosby, Robert Taylor, Gary Cooper and Joan Crawford. By 1939, her popularity began to decline.
NY TIMES REVIEW BY ANDRE SENNWALD, DECEMBER 21, 1934:
Little Miss Temple now becomes an authentic screen star by passing through the traditional hazing ceremony of being dipped into a bad scenario. "Bright Eyes," which is the Music Hall's Christmas package, finds the astonishingly delightful infant running considerably ahead of her interference. David Butler, who functioned both as author and director of the film, seems to have composed his work with a relentless and grim determination to convince any possible dissenters that Mistress Temple is the cutest little girl on the screen. He argues his point by chasing her through a procession of the old standbys of the hearts-and-flowers drama, including such venerable situations as the breaking of the news of her mama's death, with whimsical verbal embroidery concerning the good lady's life among the angels, and the child's discovery that her guardians think she is just in the way. Shirley romps through all her assignments with such persuasive charm and enkindling naturalness that she succeeds in being refreshing even in her most painfully arranged scenes.
"Bright Eyes" is at its best when Shirley is delivering her amusing lollipop song to the assembled aviators and at its worst when she is being persecuted by the vicious Smythe family. So anxious has Mr. Butler been in his efforts to create sympathy for the pint-size star that he besmirches the villains of the story until they are unrecognizable as human beings. This unfortunate weakness in the narartive does possess one compensatory factor—it allows a talented little imp named Jane Withers to be the most disagreeable child of the season, and thereby reveals her as that long-awaited phenomenon, a capable distaff edition of the classically unpleasant Jackie Searl.
Here Miss Temple is the darling of an aviation field and particularly of one of the fliers, James Dunn, who was the best friend of her late father. Shirley's mother is the long-suffering maid for the Smythes, who are obnoxious as well as rich. The story tells of the mother's death and of the subsequent struggle between Mr. Dunn and the eccentric uncle of the Smythes for the custody of little Shirley, whom they both love and want. In its amiable way the photoplay manages to run the gamut of overemphasis in tears and laughter, including in its repertoire an episode in which Mr. Dunn is forced to bail out of his airplane with Shirley clutched in his arms.
Mr. Dunn is able and pleasant in this type of sentimental film and he proves to be an excellent partner for Miss Temple. Charles Sellon plays the grouchy uncle with great humorous skill and Lois Wilson is appropriately wistful as the mother. But despite the heatening presence of America's darling, "Bright Eyes" is not quite what the filmgoer likes to find in his holiday stocking.
NY TIMES REVIEW BY ANDRE SENNWALD, MARCH 22, 1935:
The Shirley Temple situation is rapidly getting out of hand. Several months ago, in "Bright Eyes," David Butler propelled the national idol through a sentimental circus which, uninhibited by this column's failure to be amused, proceeded to earn incredible profits on six continents. Now Mr. Butler has blended his directorial gifts with Buddy DeSylva's in the composition of "Little Colonel," which promises to be equally contemptuous of the power of the press. All adrip with magnolia whimsy and vast, unashamed portions of synthetic Dixie atmosphere, it allows Mistress Temple to patter merrily through her distinguished répertoire, presents Colonel Lionel Barrymore in a white goatee and suspiciously bushy eyebrows, and, as though that weren't enough to insure a million dollar gross, tosses Bill Robinson, the heel-and-toe wizard, into the brew.
"The Little Colonel," in the opinion of this old fussbudget, is so ruthless in its exploitation of Miss Temple's great talent for infant charm that it seldom succeeds in being properly lively and gay. But the little girl continues to be delightfully unspoiled, if that is what you want to know, and the Music Hall's clientele indicated that it was being vastly entertained. The film is located in the deep South at some vague period in the post-Civil War years, and its people, perhaps out of a desire to avoid offense, go to great pains not to sound authentic in their speech.
Colonel Barrymore, it appears, has disowned his daughter, Evelyn Venable, for marrying a damned Yankee, interpreted by John Lodge Little Miss Temple is Heaven's gift to the young couple and most of the choice bits in "The Little Colonel" describe the infant's campaign to penetrate the old gentleman's iron exterior and discover the warm heart underneath. Then there are a pair of bad men who try to rob Shirley's paw of the deed to the land through which the railroad is anxious to run. Perhaps it is giving away a secret to report that Shirley summons the Colonel and his horse pistol in time to let the customers in the second mezzanine recover their composure.
To the already extensive gifts of the pint-size Duse, we may now add talent for tap-dancing. When Mr. Robinson, the Colonel's faithful man, struts through one of his agile staircase routines while he is conducting the precocious tot to bed, she falls right into the spirit of the thing and insists on making it a duet. In addition she sings a nostalgic ditty which causes Colonel Barrymore to weep briefly into his mustache, and adds to his confusion by wearing a bustle and pantalettes in a manner for which, unfortunately, the only accurate word is cute. Yesterday's audience applauded "The Little Colonel" for eleven seconds after Miss Temple faded out in Mr. Barrymore's arms. It seems to be right up to the standard of "Bright Eyes" and ought to bring out the best in every one who sees it.
NY TIMES REVIEW BY ANDRE SENNWALD, AUGUST 2, 1935:
Shirley Temple's new picture is dedicated to the simple things of life, with special reference to the power of the hello-neighbor smile in conquering the ills of humanity. So shameless is it in its optimism, so grimly determined to be cheerful, that it ought to cause an epidemic of axe murders and grandmother beatings in this sober vicinity. Shirley herself, far from showing signs of deterioration or overwork in "Curly Top," actually hints in her work at an increased maturity of technique. Her remarkable sense of timing has never been revealed more plainly than in the song and dance scenes in her new film, and she plays her straightforward dramatic scenes with the assurance and precision of a veteran actress. With all this, she has lost none of her native freshness and charm.
When Shirley is singing her "Animal Crackers" song or climaxing her sober impersonation of an old lady by breaking into an "Off to Buffalo" routine, "Curly Top" is completely bearable. It may be that the bald mediocrity of the photoplay as a whole is a shrewd bit of showmanship on Shirley's behalf. Perhaps there is a designed suspense during Shirley's absences from the screen, when John Boles, announcing that he wants to be loved just for himself, participates in cow-eyed romantic interludes with Miss Rochelle Hudson. It is a tenable theory because the little girl's reappearance after one of these exchanges becomes a joyous and triumphant occasion.
"Curly Top" has all that studious devotion to the banal which assures it of an enthusiastic reception with the family trade. Mr. Boles, when he is not singing his theme song, "The Simple Things in Life Are Around You Everywhere," is pretending that the feel of baby arms around his neck is worth more to him than all his millions. He therefore adopts Shirley and her big sister, Miss Hudson, from the orphanage, and soon his cheerless palazzo on Long Island has been transformed into a sunshine club. Except for Mistress Temple herself, the high moments in "Curly Top" arise out of Arthur Treacher's performance as the family butler. You may remember Mr. Treacher as the solemn English nobleman who was so funny in "No More Ladies."
NY TIMES REVIEW BY FRANK S. NUGENT, JUNE 26, 1936:
Shirley Temple, the mighty moppet, continues to be the Sandow of the Cinema by pirouetting gracefully at the Radio City Music Hall under the weight of a formless and generally ridiculous script. As a picture, "The Poor Little Rich Girl" is virtually non-existent; as a display window for the ever-expanding Temple talents, it is entirely satisfying. Miss Temple, as some one has said, never looked lovelier. She dances in a manner which must delight her mentor, Bill Robinson; her voice has begun to take on torch-singer and crooner qualities. Beneath the fascinated gaze of a world-wide audience, a conscious artistry is developing—along Hollywood and Broadway lines. It is an engrossing phenomenon: The precocious infant becomes a knowing child.
Other than as an exercise in Templana, we are left virtually without words to discuss the new film. We have never read the Eleanor Gates-Ralph Spence "Poor Little Rich Girl" stories and, unless confronted with some such alternative as walking down Times Square in flowered culottes, we never shall. But of this we are certain: The authors could not have guessed that their luxury-laden heroine would one day run away from home to become the star of the Peck Soap Broadcasts — "while there's life there's soap."
As Little Barbara Barry, petted daughter of a soap king, she makes the transition from luxury to lux without appreciable effort. Slipping the parental leash on her way to a country school, she adopts an organ-grinder and his brood and passes glibly into the hands of Jack Haley and Alice Faye, a wedded song and dance team with radio aspirations. One audition tosses her into the lap of another soap emperor, whose shaggy brows and ferocious growls have long been the property of Claude Gillingwater. This rival purveyor of cleanliness in small packages engages her for his radio hour and, after prolonging the denouement to the breaking point, the script writers finally achieve the scene wherein the little rich girl's daddy hears his daughter singing on his competitor's time.
That is that. Miss Temple's new vocal efforts, obligingly limited to her range by Mack Gordon and Harry Revel, include a pleasant lullaby sung to her dolls, a torch number called "When I'm With You," another known as "But Definitely" (Miss Temple does not make the grade; pronounces it "definally") and a comic and cleverly worded ditty, "You've Gotta Eat Your Spinach, Baby." She also does a few occasional tap dances and one "feature-length" military routine with Mr. Haley and Miss Faye. All of which, as you can see, makes for a generous dose of Temple.
Short of becoming a defeated candidate for Vice President, we can think of no better method of guaranteeing one's anonymity than appearing in one of the moppet's films. Listing her supporting players hastily, then, before we forget them entirely, we might mention Miss Faye, Gloria Stuart, Mr. Haley, Michael Whalen, Arthur Hoyt, Henry Armetta and John Wray as having been permitted a scene or two while Miss Temple was out freshening her costume.
SHIRLEY SHUTS UP HER CRITICS (from a vintage 1939 newspaper article):
Fear that Shirley Temple might be unable to "bridge" the so-called "awkward age" all children go through haslong been in the minds of her managers, the heads of Twentieth Century-Fox. On April 23 of this year she will celebrate her tenth birthday anniversary, and if ever a kid is going to ge gawky, it's at about that age! The movies without her would be sad to contemplate, but the danger has been lurking — too ominous to ignore. Some rumblings have already been heard. One exhibitor wrote in a recent issue of Motion Picture Herald: "Shirley Temple, I am sorry to say, is washed up…I think 'Just Around the Corner' was the start of her way downward." Others were even less gentle in their criticisms — for they're in movies for business, not for fun, and feelings don't count. And the comments of theater men, the people nearest the public, are usually considered the industry's most authentic indications of public taste. But those remarks were made before Shirley burst on the screen in "The Little Princess." Now they sing a different tune — like this rave in the Hollywood Reporter, another film-trade paper: "Twentieth-Century has given little Miss Temple her best picture…one that's certain to retain this great star's hold on the box-office and add to it…Shirley Temple is growing up, and so are her pictures." Thus those who can't afford to guess accept Shirley as a star—for a long time to come!
"The Little Princess" is Shirley's best picture by far. As SCREEN GUIDE'S review of it stated, previously her personality has had to put over her pictures; now she's getting the grooming others have had all along. No wonder Shirley looks happy as her image looks back at her from the screen as it was when the picture above was taken. That image sees a real little actress, a product of the years of hard training reviewed below!
UNCERTAINTY hung over Shirley's future until she scored so slidly in her 1939 challenge for consideration as a real actress in "The Little Princess." In it she proves herself capable of handling difficult dramatic chores without relying on the cute tricks which put her over as a child!TRIUMPH for the Temple tot was climaxed at the preview of "The Little Princess," for that established definitely the fact that like Deanna Durbin, she won't have to worry about growing into the "awkward age" which threatens child stars.
FROM VARIETY, DECEMBER 31, 1939
Shirley Temple appears in Technicolor for the first time. Transposition of the Frances Hodgson Burnett several-generation favorite, Sara Crewe, is accomplished most successfully.
The fairy-tale story is still saccharine to the nth degree, but once the basic premise is established, it rolls along acceptably. And, while the story has been changed for screen purposes, the general line is close enough.
Temple is cast as Sara Crewe. Her father (Ian Hunter) goes off to war with the Boers, and leaves the youngster in Mary Nash’s school. Shirley is immediately dubbed ‘The Little Princess’ because of her regal bearing and attitude. When word comes her father has died, Shirley is made a galley slave by Nash, who mistreats her in every way possible.
Sole song and dance sequence, portraying a dream of Shirley’s, stands out on its own.