Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Temple Tuesday: Lions, Rebels, and Cake

In the 1934 Paramount Production, “Little Miss Marker,” Shirley Temple catapulted to stardom thanks to her performance and a solid supporting cast. From left to right, Charles Bickford, Dorothy Dell, Shirley, Adolphe Menjou, and director Alexander Hall. Bickford played Big Steve, a gang kingpin, who helps little Shirley live by allowing for a blood transfusion between the two.

A year later, the two were cast together again in “The Littlest Rebel,” Shirley’s first production for the newly merged 20th Century-Fox film corporation. Playing a similar role, Bickford was a Colonel for the Union army, whereas Shirley’s father was a soldier for the Confederacy.

Although Bickford’s name can be seen on this publicity still, he never made it into the film. Instead, the role of Colonel Morrison went to Jack Holt, since Bickford was mauled by a lion during the filming of “East of Java” over at Universal. Despite the attack, Universal had no problem featuring it in their promotion for the film!

“East of Java” was held up because of Bickford’s bite. He returned for added scenes on November 4, 1935, allowing the film to be released a month later on December 2, 1935; “Rebel” was released December 27. Not only did Bickford lose the role in “Rebel,” he lost his contract with Fox and leading-man status thanks to extensive neck scarring from the attack. On top of that, he was pushing 44, which was considered over-the-hill for a romantic lead. Making lemonade out of lemons, Bickford went on to play a number of memorable character roles, including that of Oliver Niles, the studio head in Judy Garland’s “A Star is Born” (1954).

Although it would have been interesting to see Bickford and Temple together again, Jack Holt did a fine job. You can see from these photos that Virgie (Shirley’s character) eventually won over Colonel Morrison in the film.

Virgie even visited him in prison, since Morrison tried to help her father, Captain Carey (John Boles) escape Union soldiers to get his daughter to safety. No less than President Abraham Lincoln pardoned both Colonel Morrison and Shirley’s father.

Other changes were made along the way. According to the script dated September 12, 1935, the end scene was to have Virgie singing while flanked by Uncle Billy (Bill Robinson) and James Henry (Willie Best). Captain Carey and Colonel Morrison were watching while standing under a flower covered arbor. The two men would be dressed in the uniform of their respective armies, as seen in the still below.

Instead, the film ends with Virgie singing a reprise of “Polly Wolly Doodle” to all the Union Soldiers in the stable where the two men had been imprisoned. An odd place for a celebration!

Unfortunately, this still is somewhat blurry in key areas; I have a feeling it was more of a printing than a lens error.

Holt and Temple also celebrated career milestones during the filming of “Rebel.”

From a vintage publicity blurb (thanks, Melissa, aka “The Colonel”!):

Two popular screen stars celebrated their respective screen anniversaries with a private party consisting of cake, ice cream, etc. Shirley Temple, child screen star, eats cake with Jack Holt, film actor, on the anniversary of her second year as a star and Holt’s twenty-third year before the cameras. The party was held on a film set at 20th Century-Fox Studios. October 16, 1935.

See more Shirley Temple photos at my main website.


Fifthrider said...

Although that's a great story with so many elements to focus on, I can't help but to be stuck on Charles Bickford and that mauling. First, that it happened. Second, they'd use it for publicity. ( Try THAT today ) Third, it ended his leading man career, and fourth, he bounced back as a character actor which is currently the contemporary model. He was ahead of the curve with that one. Many actors of the last few decades enjoyed a decade ( or two ) in the limelight but then found continued income by being a supporting actor. Actors today get a papercut and it's a lawsuit but Bickford just moved on. What a champ.

DBenson said...

There was a documentary about character actors in one of the early Warner gangster DVD sets. One familiar face recalled a director taking him aside early on and saying something like, "If you become a leading man, you're good for eight pictures. If you become a character actor, you can raise a family." He raised a family.

Daveland said...

Bryan - We need more champs.

Great quote, DBenson!