Tuesday, October 01, 2019

Temple Tuesday: School Time for Shirley!

Today’s first image shows Shirley on the set of “Captain January” (1936) doing her schoolwork. Not even the world’s most famous child star was exempt from studies! Want to see the personalized pencil she used?

Shirley wasn’t just handed her lessons by the studio. She was assigned a personal teacher by the name of Frances Klamt, who was much more than just your basic school marm. As she recalled many years later:

We were companions for quite awhile. But she always got down to business; she didn’t try to monkey out of her lessons.

Here’s a studio portrait of Miss Klamt by Frank Powolny, graciously sent by Shirley Temple expert extraordinaire, Rita Dubas:

The accompanying publicity blurb reads:

Working under the direction of the state board of education, Miss Frances Klamt has been engaged by 20th Century-Fox studios as Shirley Temple’s own private teacher. Miss Klamt works with the famous child star at the studio, giving her fourth grade lessons in the three “R’s” between scenes on production of “Dimples” or at her studio bungalow between pictures. Shirley spends about four hours each day with her studies and unlike most children she actually loves her school work.

This shot of Shirley and Miss Klamt shows them leaving the child star’s bungalow for the set of “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm,” 1938:

and one from the set of “The Little Princess,” 1939:

Besides her regular lessons, Miss Klamt taught Shirley much more and actually set the foundation for her future career as a diplomat:

She had many visitors from all over the world, but if we had time to know who was coming, we’d always do geography and customs for that particular country. I think she had a way of meeting people…and a certain personal dignity...unconscious...and she knew how to greet people…she knew how to get along with them, and was always very gracious, and seemed to be interested in what they were representing. There didn’t seem to be anything artificial about Shirley.

At the “Love, Shirley Temple” auction in 2015, some of Shirley’s original artwork was sold, including these pieces that she created especially for her beloved teacher:

Here is the auction description:

Comprising a hand-lettered note with colorful border reading "Miss Klamt I really love you. From Shirley Temple. (c. 1935), along with a profile pencil sketch labeled "Miss Klamt by Shirley Temple", and with a photograph of the teacher working with Shirley. In her 1988 autobiography, Child Star, Shirley describes Miss Klamt as she first met her. "A slight woman who stood with both feet together, she wore a small felt pancake hat tipped at a barely perceptible angle and clutched her handbag directly in front of her."

Zooming into the drawing on the right, you can see that Shirley originally inscribed the picture to “Klammy,” but then changed it to “Miss Klamt.” In her autobiography, Temple spelled the nickname “Klammie.” You say Klammy, I say Klammie.

Klamt also was a teacher to a very young Natalie Wood while she was at Fox from 1947 to 1949. From Gavin Lambert’s book on Wood:

“…small and trim, fortyish and God-fearing, unemotional but not unfeeling, who ten years earlier had taught Shirley Temple. As well as degrees from UCLA and USC in history, geography, math and education, Klamt had a sense of mission. She believed in the natural creativity of children, and encouraged her pupils to develop talents and interests beyond the world of the soundstage. Klamt’s extracurricular talent was for designing ceramics, some of which she kept on display in the schoolroom. When her sharp eye registered Natalie’s fascination with them, she not only encouraged her to design her own ceramics, but offered after-hours support.…Klamt had aroused an interest that continued to develop after Natalie left the schoolroom.

In Charmian Carr’s memoir, “Forever Liesl,” the actress describes filming “The Sound of Music” scene in the cemetery when the Von Trapp family must hide from the Nazis:

[Nicholas Hammond] felt it was one of the few scenes in the film that required him to act.…“The thing I remember,” he recalls, “is that I wanted to be able to stay on the set and hang out with all the adult actors. But our teacher, Frances Klamt, never let us stay on the set. During that scene in the graveyard, there were all these extras on hand, and I remember I was sitting in a chair just reading a book and being very bothered when Frances made me leave. ‘There’s stories and gossip—and language—that these people use that you shouldn’t hear,’ she said. She felt it was her job to protect us.”

Actress Kym Karath, best known as the youngest von Trapp child in “The Sound of Music” tweeted this in June 2018:

“A picture from the Sound of Music set - school with Duane Chase and Frances Klamt, our teacher at 20th Century Fox. I loved her.”

Co-star Nicholas Hammond’s response:

“Miss Klamt was a wonderful teacher and a steady guardian to every child actor at Fox from Shirley Temple onwards. One of Hollywood’s unsung heroes.”

A few months later, Karath tweeted this along with a photo from the set of “Lost in Space”:

“On the set of original Lost In Space with beloved studio teacher Frances Klamt. I adored her (as is obvious!). I was ecstatic to be reunited with her after SOM. Great teachers inspire a lifetime passion for learning.” ⁦

Frances Klamt Willis was an amazing woman who shaped the future of Shirley Temple without seeking the spotlight for herself. Her passion for teaching and care for the curly haired tot was one of the main reasons Shirley was able to be so well-rounded and well-adjusted. Let’s not forget the important role that teachers play in the future of our world; how about a loud “thank you” for all that they do?

See more Shirley Temple photos at my main website.


Major Pepperidge said...

What a nice tribute to Frances Klamt Willis; good teachers can make all the difference. And Shirley's drawing is pretty good!

Daveland said...

She had me at “Lost in Space”!

Dennis Holmes said...

I was lucky enough to have attended the "little red schoolhouse" at 20th Century Fox with Frances Klamt as my teacher for a couple of years. She was a wonderful teacher and human being.

Daveland said...

Hi Dennis - That is fantastic! If you'd care to share any memories about Frances let me know: dvdpicasso@aol.com