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Monday, March 07, 2016

Tough Transition To Teens

Shirley Temple Is Miss Annie Rooney (1942)

I wonder if better pictures might have helped Shirley Temple jump fence to adult stardom. She had looks to equal Deanna Durbin, latter's transition greased by gloss Universal-applied. Was it Shirley's still childlike voice, I should say delivery, that seemed pouty when not cheerful? Or bald fact of her being not so effective with onset of puberty (columns by age 12 called Shirley a "has-been"). I don't see much progress through the 40's. That Hagen Girl, seen on TCM a few weeks ago, and then Miss Annie Rooney, played like a same character in a roughly-same movie, despite six year lapse between the two. Would Shirley have just as soon quit? --- but then parents needed cash, made clear in ST memoir that details their blowing the 30's wad. What lacked was a major studio being (more importantly, staying) behind her after Fox. The MGM contract had died on vines. Their music wing thought her talent limited, as in fall-short of Leo standard. They had Judy Garland among ranks, after all, with Kathryn Grayson, June Allyson, in development. Kathleen was a one and only there, ST coming away from glamour's summit with bitter taste (dressing rooms stank of a locker, she recalled).

A doting mother helped queer Metro relations (she turned down, on Shirley's behalf, Babes On Broadway and Panama Hattie). Dad got into beef with agent and admitted shark, if not outright criminal, Frank Orsatti, and accepted Miss Annie Rooney for ST in order to ease in a new rep. Independent-producing was Edward Small, him an ongoing asset to distributor United Artists. Being UA, access was had to Annie Rooney story/character via charter exec Mary Pickford, who latched onto Shirley as potential re-enactor of girl with curls silent work. That scheme got no further than Miss Annie Rooney, the remake nary a shade on Mary's version beyond the title. Producer Small belied his unfortunate (for Hollywood) name with solid and saleable product, never venturing more money than he'd calculate to get back. On the other hand, his output seldom rose past ordinary.

TCM ran Miss Annie Rooney, a license from Sony/Columbia (just how spread are these old UA's? --- everyone seems to own at least a few beyond flocks that are PD). The thing at least looked great, being HD. Such obscurity merits close eyeball of TCM, much of programming same old bearded transfers, but then --- surprise --- a favorite in first-time High-Def (like The Secret Six this past weekend). Miss Annie Rooney commands all of help it can get. Best of 82 minutes is jitterbugging plus swing-talk by jalopy-load. Did teens back then have more fun? Old movies suggest they did. When Shirley and pals dance, it's light on, but back home and coping with tiresome grandpa Guy Kibbee, let alone loser and loud-mouth pop William Gargan, well --- include me out. So much of "Classic Era" amounts to duty watch. I sat for HD sake and to cross off another I'd read about, but ... never again. Still, there is peculiar aspect of Miss Annie Rooney to startle still, like Dickie Moore in revamp of Peter Lorre and The Face Behind The Mask, not intended so, but every bit as creepy.

ST Dances With Masked Dickie
Moore could act, but not dance, was loathe, in fact, to try. Jitterbugging in prime was more like an athletic event. Those who couldn't pack gear did better to stay off the floor. Many kids watching were good as pros, so would laugh off the screen flat tire actors who thought they could swing. What it took was a dance double for Dickie Moore, but as cameras stood at least fairly close on action, a mere sub wouldn't cut rugs. They'd need a dancer wearing a Dickie Moore molded-rubber facemask. Deceit like this worked in 1942 when film grain was faking's friend, but HD is pitiless to reveal frozen features and untoward wrinkling suddenly visited on a sixteen-year-old face. Perhaps I wouldn't have noticed had I not just read about the subterfuge in Shirley Temple's book. Now and forevermore, she and faux-Dickie's jitterbug will play like a horror movie.

Miss Annie Rooney was sold on Shirley's emerging maturity, "First Love, First Kiss" referred non-stop by sellers. That last was bestowed by Dickie Moore, who in 1984 wrote of the big moment in tingling terms to make passage of forty years seem mere moments (his OOP memoir now goes for $50 at least on Amazon). "Queen Of The Teens" Shirley was keyed aggressively to what was hep in 1942, a peak year for kids hopped up on swing. The only thing Miss Annie Rooney lacked was a name band for specialty numbers (would that have helped? Broadway's Rivoli might have thought so: "poor notices and is doing poor business" being Variety's verdict, "(Rivoli) would seem entitled to better product." Overall biz was morose, $610K in domestic rentals. Shirley would be offscreen two years, then back for David Selznick, him using her name more than talent, especially where it came to publicity he'd rev for Temple-Agar wedding event. Work was focused during interim on radio's Junior Miss, of which apparently no ST episodes survive, a letdown because my elementary school band teacher Priscilla Lyons (known to us as Mrs. Priscilla Call) played Shirley's best friend "Fluffy Adams" through the series.


Blogger Randy Jepsen said...

Shame a series with Temple as a teen wasn`t developed.

8:56 AM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

A Nancy Drewish series with Shirley could have been interesting.

10:41 AM  
Blogger Dave K said...

Good observations on Temple as a teen. Never read the autobiography, will have to get around to that some time. Which brings up the subject (well, in my mind) of insightful overviews of Miss Shirley's remarkable career.

I guess many of your aging readers remember the 'Pyramid Illustrated History of the Movies' series of star-themed paperbacks edited by Ted Sennett in the early 70's. In that pre-internet era you couldn't track down the back story and filmography of your favorite star very easily (much less see their movies), but you could find his and/or her career neatly summarized in one of these thin little paperbacks (each less than two bucks!) They were everywhere from supermarkets to airports! Their subjects ranged from obvious cult faves (W.C. Fields, Bogart & Marx Brothers) to some real surprises (Ida Lupino, Myrna Loy.) Looking back on these things forty years later, one realizes they were, most often, bluffer's guides, good starting points sometimes relying a little too heavily on common wisdom and second, third and fourth hand research.

But the Temple volume was written by no other than Jeanine Basinger, and I think it stands today as one of, if not THE most thoughtful examination of this unique star's film output. Her chapters on the adult ST films are particularly good, and are pretty sharp outlining the actress's hurdles dealing with not just her 'little-girl-all-grown-up' physical image, but all that daddy-issue baggage from her kid flicks. The kinda creepy THAT HAGEN GIRL, one of Temple's personal favorites, is given special attention.

Love that you singled out the Dickie Moore rubber mask stunt. I caught a pre-HD showing of ROONEY a couple of years ago (Netflix?) and was wondering to myself what the hell was going on with Moore's face!!!

1:43 PM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

As I remember from seeing a print of this about 30 years ago, the dance double was Roland Dupree (later of Universal's Jivin' Jacks and Jills, and formerly the kid who teaches the Big Apple in YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU). The girl beside Shirley in the headline photo is Peggy Ryan, also about to join Universal's teenage dance troupe).

Very interesting observation about HD mercilessly showing what photochemical means could be counted on to hide. Thanks for letting us know about the creep factor!

Greenbriar readers might enjoy looking up the 1949 release A KISS FOR CORLISS (also known by its TV title, ALMOST A BRIDE), in which teenage airhead Corliss Archer (Shirley) becomes embroiled with suave playboy David Niven. One of the plot points has forever-in-trouble Shirley faking amnesia to get out of a sticky situation, and she starts doing an imitation of the FOX Shirley Temple, with wide eyes and pouty voice!

3:46 PM  
Blogger rnigma said...

"That Hagen Girl" was listed in the Medved brothers' "50 Worst Films" book; they wrote about how hard it was to see it in the pre-home video era. It was not in current TV syndication, especially in 1976 when Reagan made his earlier bid for the presidency (the Fairness Doctrine still being in effect). The Medveds ended up watching a print of the film at UCLA, but were not allowed to make any recordings.

I'd read about Dickie Moore's masked dance double in his memoir (he also wrote a book on acting). I knew there were instances of stuntmen wearing masks of the actors they doubled.

5:36 PM  
Blogger Joshua said...

It's not the Fairness Doctrine that prevented Ronald Reagan's films from being shown during his campaigns, but the Equal Time Rule. The Fairness Doctrine formerly required broadcasters to present both sides of any controversial issues they discussed. The Equal Time Rule requires broadcasters who give time to one candidate in an election to also provide equal time to the candidate's opponents. Thus, if Reagan was running for office and a TV station showed a 90-minute film in which he was actually on screen for about 40 minutes, Reagan's opponents could each claim 40 minutes of free time on the station.

There are several key exceptions to the Equal Time Rule, which is still in effect, so that it rarely gets invoked. (For example, news interviews are excluded, and even an interview on a show like "The Tonight Show" is considered a news interview.) However, when Donald Trump hosted "Saturday Night Live" a few months ago, a few of his opponents claimed and were given equal time, in the form of about 12 minutes' worth of commercials each on certain NBC stations.

9:07 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I think the reason Shirley Temple floundered as a leading lady is because the whole country watched her grow up from a tot and seeing her as an adult aggressive woman or female fatale might make some queezy.

When my mother was born on March 27, 1935 she was named Shirley Temple Jones.

6:41 PM  
Blogger DBenson said...

Some years ago they put out Shirley Temple's TV series on DVD. As an adult she registers a bit like Annette Funicello, the nice girl next door who's very earnest and eager to please, but not flamboyant enough to get out there and ACT.

The show has ambitions beyond its budget and the technology of the era. Scripts are bland and sterilized, with occasional misguided attempts to imply depth. "The Terrible Clockman" tries to meld fairy tale with Twilight Zone and even monster movie (albeit a not very scary one), but you wait in vain for something to work, or for some point to emerge. Still, the shows are amusing as boomer relics.

Temple's version of "Babes in Toyland" is essentially one long variety show sketch, with minimal sets and Jonathan Winters having too little to work with as Barnaby. Temple herself plays a comic witch in full makeup, cackling maniacally while delivering weak jokes. If nothing else she seems to enjoy being hammy and goofy for a change. The episode opens and closes with her in elegant mother mode, making scripted chat with her real-life kids.

The one episode I remembered from childhood was Winnie the Pooh, performed by the Bil Baird Marionettes (Shirley merely hosts this one). Old-school, pre-Muppet puppetry and a story keyed to very small children. Somebody decided that Pooh should sound like late-period, stammering Jimmy Stewart (he keeps saying "Maybe it is, and maybe it isn't"). It works, oddly enough.

3:52 PM  

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