Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Temple Tuesday: Shirley’s Narrow Escape!



Eighty years ago, Shirley Temple narrowly escaped an attempt on her life when she appeared on radio for the very first time. December 24, 1939, Nelson Eddy was the host and narrator for the Screen Guild presentation of “The Blue Bird.” As Shirley recalled the incident in her autobiography “Child Star”:

“In a rare exception to Mother’s policy, I was permitted to appear on a Christmas Eve benefit radio broadcast of the Screen Guild Theatre, featuring me in a half-hour dramatic except from the film and a ‘Silent Night’ due with Nelson Eddy. An untimely sore throat worried me a little, but I knew Eddy could carry me if my voice weakened. My upstairs theatre dressing room faced directly onto a parking lot. Standing at the window I looked out while Mother fussed around with the back of my hair, and I saw a scruffily dressed woman carrying a large handbag come along below, peering up into each window as if searching. When she saw me, her face lit up with recognition. Scowling, she raised her fist and shouted something unintelligible. “What is she doing?” I asked Mother, who simply dropped the venetian blind, and urged me to concentrate on my lines. As a general precaution, however, she reported the odd event to a theatre official. Jumpy about possible public disturbance, he in turn passed the word to local police, who upgraded the incident to a possible kidnapping and involved the local FBI.”



Midway through Shirley’s performance of “Someday You'll Find Your Bluebird,” she looked into the audience and saw the same woman, seated in the front row.

“Slowly the woman rose, like one transfixed, raising her gun until it pointed directly at me. [Two security men] had spotted the woman, and both came crowding and stumbling past the extended legs of seated patrons...I just shrank down behind my microphone, my voice locked on another ‘oo-oo-oo.’ Why the woman did not pull the trigger before being roughly seized by the two men is hers to answer and mine to bless. Disarmed and lifted bodily, she made no sound audible over the orchestra music, nor did the orchestra leader, his back to the disturbance, miss a beat...Next day an FBI agent called. The woman’s gun had been loaded and she had indeed intended to kill me, for stealing her daughter’s soul. Several hours before my birth, she had borne a girl, and at the very hour of my birth, her baby had died. My soul was in fact her daughter’s, she claimed. To avenge the theft, she had set out to kill my body. Although the tale seemed understandable to me, Mother would have known its crucial fallacy. My birthday the woman was using was 1929, the one fabricated long before by Winfield Sheehan [of Fox studio]. In truth it was by one year, so somebody else had stolen the soul.”



At the end of the show, Nelson and Shirley sang a duet of “Silent Night.” Smiling for the cameras, they hugged each other, masking the very serious incident that had occurred just moments before. Shirley’s parting words to the radio audience held more meaning than any of the listeners that night could have been aware of: “This has been a very exciting Christmas Eve for me!”



As the saying goes, the show must go on!

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