Classic Hollywood #58 – Shirley Temple

Shirley Temple Does A Long Distance Interview 1935

“Miss Temple, Please!! London Calling”

Hollywood, Calif – Pictured between scenes during her recent picture, “The Littlest Rebel,” Shirley Temple, tiny 20th Century-Fox Star is interviewed by The London Illustrated News over trans-Atlantic telephone. 11-21-35 International News Photos

When 20th Century-Fox signed Shirley Temple to a contact in December of 1933 they were on the brink of bankruptcy, $44 million in debt. By 1934 Fox was out of bankruptcy, due almost single handedly to Temple who would go on to become the world’s number one box office star. Through the 1930s, Shirley Temple’s films earned more money for 20th Century-Fox than any of their other stars.

There  was the long held belief that Shirley Temple was the first choice to play Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz (1939). This is only partially true.

If Fox studio chief Daryl F Zanuck had acquired the rights to the film the story, Temple almost certainly would have been the first choice to play Dorothy. But independent producer Samuel Goldwyn had acquired the Wizard of Oz’s film rights. In 1938 Goldwyn sold those right to MGM, not to Fox.

Fox discussed loaning out Temple to MGM to make the film. In exchange MGM would loan out Clark Gable, their biggest star to Fox. But MGM producer Mervyn LeRoy thought Judy Garland, with her superior singing voice, would be the better choice for Dorothy than Temple. MGM president Nick Schenck wanted Temple. Since the Wizard of Oz was going to be a musical, LeRoy’s reasoning was more sound.

When it was all said and done 16-year-old Judy Garland prevailed over 11-year-old Temple in playing Dorothy.

Fox’s own extravaganza for Temple, The Blue Bird (1940) failed miserably at the box office and Temple’s career started to decline. Her final movie was released in 1949 and Shirley Temple retired from films at age 21.

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