Child Star: The Shirley Temple Story (2001)

This Shirley Temple biopic is just like any other Shirley Temple movie, featuring a tomboyish moppet with slingshot in tow, spreading cheer wherever she goes. Temple can thaw the hearts of grumpy old men, like that of her Little Colonel co-star Lionel Barrymore. She cares for those who are down on their luck, selflessly giving away an ice-cream to a street urchin, and prefers the company of the film crew to that of the rich and famous. It’s a formula that propelled the child star to the top of the box-office during the Depression, and with this biopic, proves it's a formula that still works its charm today.

 

Filmed in Australia by director Nadia Tass, the cast features many familiar Australian actors including Colin Friels, Steven Vidler and Ben Mendelsohn. Yet for the lead role, the producers went with American actress Ashley Rose Orr, who unfortunately looks nothing like Shirley Temple. Though she successfully mimics Shirley’s singing and dancing style, the undeniably talented Ashley Rose Orr also seems too tall for the part. At the time of filming she was ten years old, which is approaching the age Shirley was towards the end of her career as a child star. As a result, part of the magic that Shirley cast over her audience fails to materialise.

 

Like most Shirley Temple movies, this biopic also has a happy ending, leaving the impression that Shirley’s movie career would extend beyond her role as a child star. The reality was quite different. 

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Biopic perpetuates the popular myth that Shirley Temple was going to be traded for Clark Gable and Jean Harlow so that she could star as Dorothy in MGM's The Wizard of Oz (1939). According to the movie, the deal fell through because of Jean Harlow's death. In reality, Jean Harlow died more than six months before MGM secured the film rights to the book.

Clip courtesy of Dimitri Bitu

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