Sunday, December 16, 2012

Shirley's Lost Projects

When Shirley Temple left Twentieth Century Fox and signed on the dotted line at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, she joined the ranks of Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney, two of the most talented teens to ever grace the silver screen. Although studio head Louis B. Mayer was very excited to add Shirley to his stable of stars, he wasn't quite sure what to do with her. Although a beautiful young teen, her singing was pleasant at best, unlike the powerful emotionally driven voice of Judy Garland. Could she dance? Of course, but again, not quite up to the level of a Judy, Mickey, or any of the other extremely gifted artists at MGM. Add in a protective mother who wanted to make sure that her daughter had a star property and not a supporting role, and Mayer had himself a difficult equation. The following publicity still originally accompanied this publicity blurb:

SHIRLEY TEMPLE…Young veteran of the screen, poses for her first portrait sitting after signing her contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. They youngster will start work on two pictures for the studio, "Barnacle Bill," with Wallace Beery, and "Babes on Broadway," with Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland. Here the tiny star wears a many-pleated skirt with a pique-collared jacket.

Mrs. Temple vetoed both projects, feeling that the supporting roles were not appropriate for her daughter (both roles eventually went to Virginia Weidler). She was afraid that the boisterous Wallace Beery would steal all of Shirley's scenes in "Barnacle Bill." A fear that Judy and Mickey would overshadow Shirley was the same reason that Mrs. Temple advised against "Babes on Broadway." One website states that Shirley was removed from "Babes on Broadway" because of a lack of box office success with her first MGM movie, "Kathleen"; the fact that they were released less than a month apart makes that highly doubtful. It has also been said that Mama Temple turned down "Panama Hattie," "National Velvet," and "Life Begins For Andy Hardy" for the same reasons. Mayer saw M.G.M. as the perfect finishing school for an actress, and that they should work their way up the ranks. Mrs. Temple felt Shirley had already done enough in that department and expected a lead role right out of the gate. Running out of options, MGM gave her a lead role like Mama Temple requested. However, it was a Kathryn Grayson grade-B reject called "Kathleen." The revised publicity blurb stated:

SHIRLEY TEMPLE…Young veteran of the screen, poses for her first portrait sitting after signing her contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The young star is now working in "Kathleen."

After "Kathleen," Shirley's contract was ended by mutual consent, and she ended up at the David Selznick studio two years later.

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