Tuesday, June 16, 2015

wacky tacky goes Hollywood pt. III: Love, Shirley Temple

A day late and a dollar short is the most apt description of my participation in the world.  Fortunately, the kid sister needed a ride to the airport last week and my subsequent propinquity to Santa Monica, CA coincided with the last day of Love, Shirley Temple: The Exhibit.  As it turns out, the whole thing is about a lot more than 7Up and grenadine.

With Los Angeles as one of only five stops, the exhibit is sort of a traveling auction preview; it is the world's last chance to see the priceless collection of Shirley Temple's personal archives of "movie costumes, dolls, and childhood memorabilia" all in one place.  While small, the exhibit was crammed full of dimpled, 1930's nostalgia and moments of sincere disbelief that only a masking-tape line on the carpet separated me from my baser, "snatch-and-grab" tendencies.

The dress that sold a million dolls.
According to one of the docents, the tea-stained finish of the polka-dot,
organdy dress from Stand Up and Cheer was original; because bright white
did not photograph well, almost all of Temple's "white" costumes were really
more ivory or tan in color.

I'm sure they have their reasons, but it seems a low-level tragedy for the Temple-Black heirs to separate such a comprehensive collection.  In all honesty, though, I had no idea that this collection even existed.  As it happens, Temple's mother stipulated in her studio contracts that the family would retain all of the costumes from Temple's productions.  The result is a wonderland for fans of Shirley, old Hollywood, and the history of cinematic costumery.

Few things make me happier than seeing a costume illustration paired
with the genuine article, like this stunning piece from Captain January.

Having been carefully stored for the last eight decades, the costumes are preserved
in near-mint condition, including this little antebellum dream from The Littlest Rebel.

Another fact of which I was unaware was that every production yielded a
costume replicated in miniature, intended to dress a Shirley Temple Doll.
Many of the dolls accompanied their full-size (although still tiny) counterparts.
This scotty-dog dress from Our Little Girl, is the very definition of juvenile
fashions of the '30s. 

The costume and the matching doll from Little Miss Broadway

The Curly Top outfit embroidered with ducks
is almost the same size as Shirley's mini-me

And yet another matched set 

Everywhere one turned, there were more and more matinee memories.  I circled each room about ten times each to make sure I didn't miss anything.

I couldn't stop taking pictures of this trio; I loved them all!!!
Shirley as The Little Princess

Costumes and a signed self-portrait from Heidi

Shirley's hula ensemble from Captain January

A frothy little number from Baby Take a Bow

These satin pajamas with appliqué bunnies as seen in Curly Top were so cool!

I appreciate authentic 18th-Century costuming almost as much as I appreciate
18th-Century costuming as interpreted by the designers of Hollywood's golden age!!!
This beautiful robe à la française and court shoes were featured in a scene from Heidi.

As promised, the exhibit included more than costumes.  Letters, paintings, toys, record players, and other effect of young Miss Temple were carefully incorporated into the costume installations.

Perhaps none so grand as this life-sized doll of a traditional Japanese bride,
gifted to Shirley by a wealthy Japanese couple living in Hawaii at the time
of her first visit to the islands.

A gas-powered, roadster-style minicar which the security staff wouldn't
even let me try to fit into...I wasn't even going to go anywhere...I swear.

All the cowgirl trappings and the western-styled dolls to go along for the ride

I was particularly excited by the letters/photographs she exchanged with
the Roosevelts, her honorary police chief badge, her childhood paintings,
her birth certificate, and her collection of celebrity autographs (including
Orson Welles).

The exhibit was certainly a joyful exercise in nostalgia overload, but my favorite part of it all was the eavesdropping.  I entered the hall at the same time as a group of seniors who had just been dropped off by bus.  As they hobbled, wheeled, and "walkered" their way around the costumes, their eyes twinkled.  I was tickled by the chorus of "oohs" and "ahs," overjoyed at every memory shared of afternoon movies, tap-dance classes, dolls, and Shirley Temple scrapbooks.

In Shirley Temple, they saw their own life stories.

It probably sounds corny, but it is no overstatement to credit a three-year-old girl with helping the world cope with the many indignities of the Great Depression.  The pint-sized dynamo captured the heart of the nation, taking audiences for an escapist adventure on the Good Ship Lollipop and beyond!

One of the most iconic pieces in the collection is the plaid dress worn by Temple in a scene from Bright Eyes.

"On the Good Ship Lollipop" - Shirley Temple in Bright Eyes (questionably colorized)

If you believe in that sort of thing, it is kind of nice to think of Shirley Temple-Black looking down upon us.  And while, as one of Heaven's newest ambassadors, she probably has more critical issues at hand, we hope that she is getting a thrill out of all the abiding love and good wishes still on Earth for Shirley Temple.

"Heaven looking upon Earth" by Shirley Temple


Mr. Tiny


  1. Great post! I felt so fortunate to live close to be able to see this collection in person.

    1. Wasn't it neat!?!! I'll admit that when I walked in the room I thought, "this is it???" - but only because the room was modestly sized. When I really walked around, I was amazed by how much history they packed into those two spaces.

  2. This is like a dream come true. So sorry I missed it when it was in NJ last month.

    1. This was like a dream aftershock; when we went to see the Debbie Reynolds' costume collections and saw pieces from "Singin' In the Rain," "To Catch a Thief," and "The Long, Long Trailer," I felt like I was in a dream. It seems so inconsequential but I have been so influenced by Classic Hollywood, that I felt darn lucky to have seen all these bits of cinema history in person!

  3. Mr Tiny, thanks so much for sharing the exhibit that I had to miss. I am second generation Shirley fan, my mother having shared her with me when I was a child. I have given her movies to my nieces to pay her forward and still watch her movies. Who cannot forget her tearful cry of "Grandfather, Grandfather" in Heidi? The book "the Little Girl Who Fought the Depression" is a lovely read about her impact on America in the depression and touches on her later years. She seems to be one of the fortunate child stars that continued to live a lovely, giving life after being famous as a child.

    1. My pleasure! I'm so glad I went and have been able to share what I saw. What great memories. I think my favorite ST movie is "Poor Lottle Rich Girl." I don't know what I was doing at 3-4 years old, but it certainly wasn't tap dancing!!!

  4. Great pics, thanks for sharing them with us! Lovely blog! Ciao from Italy

    1. Grazie!!! I'm so glad I got to see the collection; but if I had to choose between that and living I'm Italy, I think you got the better deal!

  5. I read a really interesting little story about how Shirley Temple's career was ending, In her autobiography, she said the MCA studio head, billionaire Lew Wasserman called her in and said, You're all Washed up Kid. And she said why? And he said she was just DONE. When she began to cry, he said Have a Tissue on me. And her career was over bec he was the most powerful man in Hollywood.

    1. That's wild! Many people I know only like her juvenile roles but I thought she was pure genius in THE BACHELOR & THE BOBBY-SOXER with Cary Grant and Myrna Loy. It's one of my favorites.

  6. Those dresses are gorgeous! Looks like an amazing exhibit to browse.

    1. It was pretty great! Having crown up an old movies (Miss Temple very much included), it was a rare treat to see the pieces close up - and in COLOR!!!

  7. oh wow! that teeny tiny dress in the first picture makes my heart go pitter patter. what a wonderful exhibit, im' so glad you shared it!

    1. Thanks, Rae! Even if these were just random vintage clothes it would have been an exciting exhibit. The Shirley Temple movie provenance put it over the top!!!