Monday, August 03, 2009

Sleeping Beauty, Shirley Temple Black, & Walt Disney

The Disney studio had been working on "Sleeping Beauty" for many years before its 1959 release. So long in fact that Shirley Temple actually beat them to the punch with an episode in her TV Anthology series, "Shirley Temple's Storybook."

Episode 8, which aired on June 8, 1958, featured the classic fairy tale, based on the Charles Perrault story with a teleplay by Margaret Fitts. Shirley was the hostess for this episode.

Story: The King & Queen have long wanted a child, and the Black Fairy agrees to help them get their wish. After a daughter is born, they anger the Black Fairy by failing to invite her to the child's christening. The Black Fairy casts a spell over the Princess, foretelling that before the child reaches womanhood, a spindle point will pierce her hand and put her into a deep slumber. By the end of the episode, Beauty is awakened by true love's kiss, apologies are made to the Black Fairy, and all is well.

The cast included:

* Judith Evelyn as The Black Fairy

* Nancy Marchand as Queen (“Lou Grant” and “Sopranos” fans might recognize her during this early appearance)

In comparing the two versions, Shirley’s is much simpler and doesn’t quite venture into some of the dark corners that the Disney version visits. There is no Malificent or Dragon; The Black Fairy is a much milder and forgiving soul than her Disney counterpart. As for production values, the Temple version is in black and white and obviously put together on a smaller budget. Still, it has a charm and beauty all of its own, even if it doesn’t have the innovation and artistry of the color animated classic. To coincide with the series, Shirley also released a beautiful book of fairy tales, most of which were dramatized on her show. Lavishly illustrated, here are a few samples of what the book looked like, focusing on the “Sleeping Beauty” tale.

A photo of Shirley & her 3 children was at the front of the book:

For The Sleeping Beauty Castle Diorama Walk-Through attraction at Disneyland, Walt desired a co-host for the ceremonies. The dedication took place on Sunday, April 29, 1957 at 3 p.m. while the Disneyland Band played “When You Wish Upon a Star” in the courtyard. Walt gave the dedication speech, written by Jack Lindquist. Shirley Temple was the one chosen for the ceremonies, wearing a gold crown and red velvet cloak.

Shirley herself remembered: “Well, unfortunately, I never worked for Walt Disney; I don't know quite why because I think we would have made a lot of magic together. But he was just wonderful, he was a good friend, and I enjoyed going down to Disneyland when it first opened. In fact I opened Sleeping Beauty's Castle with my children and that was the last time I saw Walt Disney. He gave us a little luncheon up in his special room there [his apartment above the Fire Department in Town Square] and we looked at a parade out the window. He was a very special guy and I enjoyed him very much, just sorry I never worked for him.”

Shirley’s three children can be seen in the procession to the castle with her: Linda (behind her mother), Charles Jr. (holding up the train of her skirt), and Lori (on the right-hand side in the arms of her father, Charles Sr.).

After Walt spoke to the crowd briefly, he introduced Shirley who told the story of Sleeping Beauty. Then the two of them cut the ribbon and went inside. You can see the backs of son Charles Jr. at left in the cowboy hat and daughter Linda Susan on the right. Later, Shirley waved to photographers and guests from the upper balcony.

Here are two views of the doorway where Walt & Shirley cut the ribbon over 50 years ago. Interestingly enough, in my collection of present-day photos, I could not find a “book” chapter that matched the type visible to the left of Walt & Shirley.

Just how close did Shirley get to actually working with Walt? “The closest I got was a film, with Barry Fitzgerald, it was called ‘The Little People.’ I think (David) Selznick was approached to loan me to Disney for that film. And I don't know why, but it never happened. That was as close as I really got.” Walt Disney visited Ireland in December of 1948 and publicly announced the production of this film, then entitled simply, "The Little People" (just as Shirley remembered). Walt Disney was initially hoping to cast Barry Fitzgerald in the dual roles of Darby O'Gill and King Brian. Fitzgerald reportedly declined due to his advanced age (although Albert Sharpe, who eventually took the role, was three years older than Barry). Disney was disappointed by Fitzgerald turning down the lead role, and partially blamed "Darby O'Gill & The Little People"'s disappointing box-office performance on this loss. It could have been an interesting role for Shirley. Shirley Temple and Sean boggles the mind!

Shirley did actually film a movie with Barry Fitzgerald: “The Story of Seabiscuit” (1949). Shirley is shown here with Lon McCallister. Ironically, Shirley was lambasted by the critics for her less-than-authentic sounding Irish Brogue. As Shirley recalls, “As an ingenue, I was not at my best, again sounding like a Westlake schoolgirl trying to be ladylike. The role was preposterous for someone long married, a mother, and secretly traveling the road to divorce. Belatedly recognizing the risk in using "sweetheart" as a true-life title, Warner's switched the title from ‘Always Sweethearts’ to ‘The Story of Seabiscuit.’” Perhaps it is just as well that “Darby” did not fall into her lap!

See more vintage & current Sleeping Beauty Castle Diorama photos at my regular website.


Vintage Disneyland Tickets said...

Wow Dave, that an amazing post! A super history lesson, some great photos (ones I've never seen) and great commentary! Is the "book" in the current Walk-thru a real book or just a prop?

Major Pepperidge said...

Yes, another amazing post. I'm not sure how you could tie all of your posts together, but it seems like you have a book in you waiting to come out. I'm amazed at all of the excellent info and pictures.

As for Shirley, she sounds like she was (is) a truly nice person.

Daveland said...

Tim - There are "books" at each section; but I do believe they are props, and not actual books.

Chris Merritt said...

Hi Dave - great information! I had no idea about the TV version she did.

As to the question of the books:

Dave - The original, 1957-era books are the one thing we did not want to replicate. Our team all felt that the 1977-era books were much more beautifully done. So - what you are seeing an edge of in that doorway picture is the corner of a 1957 book - which had no beautiful illustrations on them - just nice calligraphy.

Tim - some of our books in the walk through are the original hand-painted ones from 1977, some are totally new hand-painted ones from 2008 and some are hybrids - high-resolution prints of the 1977-era pages, with characters adjusted to be more on model and new text to better describe our replication of the 1957-era scenes. Does that make sense? Anyway - I defy you to tell which is real and which is a reprinted page (what you call a prop - it's all "props" in there)! The painter I worked with on this was that good...

Hope this clears things up.

Daveland said...

Chris - Wise choice in sticking to the 1977 era books. They truly are works of art. Thanks for the extra info.

Kevin Kidney said...

What a post! Obviously a lot of work putting this all together. You do need to write a book or, at the very least, D23 should hire you to write their magazine. Terrific job!

Unknown said...

Great post, Dave!