Saturday, July 31, 2010

Screen Gem Saturdays: Shirley Temple—almost a "Ten"

What do Ursula Andress, Linda Evans, Bo Derek, and Shirley Temple have in common? John Derek. Shirley's inclusion on that list may seem strange since she doesn't resemble the statuesque blondes that Derek (born Derek "Dare" Harris in 1926) seemed to be attracted to. As a teen, the pert Shirley went on a number of dates with John when they were both under contract to David O. Selznick of "Gone with the Wind" fame. Photo #1 shows the young couple together on March 7, 1944 in a photo captioned: “Oscar Fashion Notes: Shirley Temple is shown with Dare Harris. Shirley wears a grey crepe dress, with a peasant handsewn cap to match, and a beaver coat with gardenias.”

Besides being a Svengali-type married to some of the most beautiful women in the world, John Derek is probably most recognized for his role as Joshua in “The Ten Commandments.”

So just how close did Shirley come to being a “Ten”? According to her autobiography, "Child Star,” not that close:

Another victim of Mother’s protective attitude was a contemporary in the Selznick stable, bit player Derek Harris, later to become John Derek. A self-important young man, he had pleasing features, perhaps a little too sensitive for my taste. With a shock of dark hair cascaded artfully over his forehead and his suit shoulders padded out to disguise a rather delicate frame, he made a highly photogenic companion.

As an actor Selznick felt he had promise but so far little flair. Despite previous training, he still spoke downward and habitually missed his marks. Selznick had asked me to loosen him up. Not realizing the full extent of my task, I played the role of dramatic instructor. Relax, I urged. Ignore the audience. Never mind that twitch at your mouth or the one at the corner of the eye. Nobody can see it. Instruct and cajole him as I might, Harris would not, or could not, loosen up. On-camera he still came across wooden as a post.

Off-camera was another matter. The studio arranged for him to escort me around publicly...before long I detected he could be relaxed by necking. Neither of us was courageous about sex and we soon wearied of just kissing. As a replacement activity on the deserted moonlit playing field of nearby Riviera Polo Club, Harris taught me to drive stick shift in his jalopy and how exhilarating it was to floor the accelerator. Realizing how susceptible I was to offbeat behavior, he produced a long knife, and stabbed around at invisible enemies. That surely beat necking. To embellish himself even further as an extraordinary fellow one night he suddenly fell into an introspective mood and in rueful tones claimed to be the son of an undisclosed famous movie actress, but illegitimate. This pretext might have surprised his mother, Delores Johnson, a hardworking actress respectably married at the time to Lawson Harris, a songwriter. There in the moonlight, however, his unusual confession evoked awe and sympathy. Harris had set out to impress me, and he had. Not every girl gets to neck with a knife-wielding “bastard.”

Apparently he put more lasting weight on our twosome than did I, for he pursued me relentlessly as I flirted my way elsewhere. On one Palm Springs family vacation he slept out on the desert sand in his sleeping bag and lurked around possessively to see whom else I dated. The knell to our relationship was sounded by a macabre gift, an original oil painting. Someone’s bluish face was entwined in a surrealistic background of green seaweed. In his mystical, watery depiction Mother instantly saw a symbolic likeness between the disembodied face and mine. She forbade me to see him again, a tall order considering we were studio colleagues. But after thinking hard about her interpretation of his painting as a foretaste of undertow and death, I comfortably distanced myself, freeing Harris to skulk after more impressionable quarry.”

Hmmmm....Bo Derek and Shirley Temple. The comparison is fascinating!

See more Shirley Temple photos at my main website.


Connie Moreno said...

Wow, that sure blew my mind!

Heidi Ann said...

I must admit, I have her book and I have never read it - but Shirley Temple is, and always will be my absolute favorite - ever.

Snow White Archive said...

Holy smokes...what a great post! I had no idea.

Marcel Profitendieu said...

Shirley seems unnecessarily bitchy about John Derek ...

... HE must have dumped HER ... the only logical explanation for such a mean spirited post

Unknown said...

My thoughts exactly. Far too much venom there for it to have been mutual or a desirable break on her part.