Saturday, March 24, 2012

Screen Gem Saturdays: Stand-In

Most of the major movie stars had stand-ins back in the golden days of Hollywood. For Shirley Temple, Mary Lou Isleib filled that position. She started out as a friend of Shirley's, and eventually replaced Marilyn Granas as Shirley's double. In Sidney Skolsky's gossip column for March 11, 1936, he noted the change:

Shirley Temple, making the flicker, "Poor Little Rich Girl," has a new standin. She is Mary Lou Isleib, and she was Shirley's playmate before Shirley went into pictures. She was especially hired because Shirley could play with her on the set.

It is interesting to watch Shirley and Mary Lou on the set. Ofthen they can't get together on what games to play. Mary Lou, the standin, is really interested in acting and wants to be an actress. That is the game she wants to play. Shirley, the actress, really wants to play children's games.

The photo below shows Director Allan Dwan seeing "double" with Shirley and Mary Lou modeling similar costumes from 1938's "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm."

On January 17, 1938, newspapers ran this article on Mary Lou:

Shirley's Stand-In, Mary Lou, Knew Her Famed Friend When—
By Robbin Coons, AP Feature Service Writer

Hollywood—Three years ago little Mary Lou Isleib of Glendale changed her coiffure.

Instead of wearing her blonde, wavy hair parted simply in the middle, Mary Lou began a ritual. Every night before going to bed she had her locks curled neatly around 70 "bobbie pins," and each morning Mary Lou awoke with 70 neat little curls piled on her shapely head.

Over the country hundreds of other little girls were subjected to the same procedure. Proud mamas were turning out hundreds of imitations of Shirley Temple. Of them all, Mary Lou was the only one with a solid, practical reason.

She was Shirley Temple's stand-in—and still is.

A Friendly Proposition

The job includes, naturally, being Shirley's best friend and playmate. And that is why Mary Lou was chosen.

The Temples and the Isleibs have been friends some 15 years. George Temple, Shirley's father, and Harry Isleib, Mary Lou's, worked in the same bank. When Shirley needed a stand-in, and the Temples were very particular about the family from which she came, Mrs. Temple went to Mrs. Isleib. Mary Lou, when the question was put to her, was all in favor.

Today Mary Lou, who'll be 10 years old next June, enjoys many of the advantages of film stardom with none of the disadvantages.

Saving Her Money

Her earnings don't touch Shirley's—a stand-in makes about $50 a week—but Mary Lou gets a regular allowance of $1 weekly to spend as she pleases. (Shirley isn't on allowance—when she wants something she asks for it.) Shirley's money is being saved; so is Mary Lou's. And the little girl has the fun of studio life without the handicap of the publicity.

Nine months older than Shirley, Mary Lou also is two inches taller. They are in the same grade—A 4—at the 20th Century-Fox studio school. Like Mrs. Temple, Mrs. Isleib always is present when the children are on the set. At home in Glendale, Mary Lou plays with the neighborhood children like any other little girl. Shirley has to have a bodyguard.

Shy With Strangers

Rather shy with strangers, Mary Lou is more aggressive among children, and she has no more awe of the child movie star than Shirley has of her. Like any two little girls, both are prone to get the "giggles" simultaneously on occasion. In their infrequent childish "spats" Mary Lou stands on equal footing with the star. Mary Lou's biggest dolls are presents from Shirley.

As a perfect foil for Shirley, Mary Lou should hate spinach. Disappointingly, she loves it.

Mrs. Isleib, a pleasant little woman with a sense of humor, confesses to one lasting embarrassment:

"When Mary Lou and I walk down the street, I'm always sure people are saying: "There goes one of those mothers trying to make her poor little girl look like Shirley Temple!"

Here, Shirley & Mary Lou enjoy a fountain beverage between takes of David O Selznick's 1944 production "Since You Went Away."

Life Magazine ran an article on Stand-Ins for their June 26, 1944 issue:


They do the tedious, monotonous work for Hollywood's most glamorous stars

Stand-ins have the most unrewarding job in motion pictures. They relieve the stars of practically all duties except those of acting. They pose under the blazing arc lights while the camera crew runs out the tape to measure the distance from lens to nose and performs the endless details of the focusing and light measurement which precede the photographing of a sequence. Stand-ins must closely resemble the stars for whom they work in general coloring, build and movements. During the tedious preliminaries a stand-in becomes a star but his moment of glory ends when the camera is adjusted and the actor comes on.

For this hurriedly forgotten work, stand-ins are paid the lowest movie scale—$8.25 a day compared to $10.50 for extras. This is usually supplemented by the star at completion of the picture. With bonuses and bit parts, the stand-in averages between $75 and $100 weekly. No stand-in has ever risen to stardom.

Shirley Temple's stand-in, Mary Lou Isleib, does not closely resemble Shirley but has same general coloring and exuberant good health. They have worked together since they both were 7 years old.

This 1947 photo of the two was taken on the set of "The Bachelor and The Bobby-Soxer." You'll note that Shirley has taken Cary Grant's seat.

From the accompanying publicity caption:


Shirley Temple and her stand-in, Mary Lou Isleib, are busy as bees these days...In addition to working in RKO Radio's "The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer," the two teen-agers are making plans for Mary Lou's near=future nuptials. At Shirley's wedding, a year ago, her bosom friend was a bridesmaid, and now she's returning the honor!

See more Shirley Temple photos on my Shirley Temple web page.


Major Pepperidge said...

I wonder if they remained friends after Shirley's movie career ended?

Chiana_Chat said...

"Surely not."
"Yes. And don't call me Shirley."

"Well I guess Shirley Temple needs a stand in for when she goes to the temple. She surely will..."

"Don't you have to have dimples? I don't see any dimples."
"But you're not my boyfriend."

...and other nonsense she must have been the butt of. The pay does sound good compared to the average working wages of the time. A hard part must have been standing under the lights a lot, I gather they could have some nasty effects especially if you had intense exposure in a hot spot. Speaking of tough spots, is it something odd with the Bobby Socks photo because Shirley's left hand index finger and end of her thumb looks like they were in some nasty accident. Otherwise she looks adorable. Lovely bandanna and pretty hair on both.

You know how I feel about that "transition period" generally but I really liked Shirley in The Bachelor and The Bobby Soxer.

Daveland said...

Major - There's not a lot of mention of her in Shirley's autobiography, or in any other books about Shirley once her movie career is over.

Chiana - I hadn't noticed the finger! It does look a bit Wicked Witch-like though!