April 25th, 2008

carole lombard 05
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Shirley, no jest: Temple turns 80

With the passage of time, there aren't very many people left who not only knew Carole Lombard, but acted with her. And one of them celebrated a birthday earlier this week.

We are referring to Shirley Temple, certainly the top child star in movie history. No juvenile player meant more box office than Shirley, and her string of hits helped guide 20th Century-Fox to prominence after its two predecessors (Fox and Darryl Zanuck's upstart Twentieth Century studio) had struggled earlier in the thirties.

But before the Shirley Temple film formula was finalized, she made a few films at Paramount, where she, Lombard and Gary Cooper starred in "Now And Forever" in the fall of 1934.

It's not that prominent a film in the resumes of any of these three legends. Shirley doesn't do any dancing and has only one musical number (although she exhibits her usual charm), and at times Lombard fades into the woodwork; it's not really her film.

Then again, it never was meant to be -- she only received the female lead because the original choice, Dorothy Dell, had died in an automobile accident (http://community.livejournal.com/carole_and_co/48367.html). Dell had worked with Temple on "Little Miss Marker" earlier in the year, so it was natural that Paramount wanted to team them again.

Cooper and Lombard (who had worked together on "I Take This Woman" three years earlier) portray Jerry and Toni Day, husband and wife con artists, who are suddenly thrust into custody of Jerry's young daughter Penny. In order to care for the child, Toni persuades Jerry to give us his criminal career and get an office job -- but it turns out that the "victim" of one of his earlier cons is a con artist himself, and blackmail ensues. The elderly con man is portrayed by Sir Guy Standing, a respected British character actor (http://community.livejournal.com/carole_and_co/46538.html).

For a Shirley Temple film, it's atypical and a bit downbeat. Nevertheless, it did okay at the box office -- and it would be the last film Shirley would make as a child star for a studio other than Fox.

Carole and Shirley had a good working relationship on the set. The understandably skeptical Lombard, who had seen enough child stars in Hollywood -- and the pressures their parents put them through -- was pleased that Temple had a good sense of self, wasn't a scene stealer and genuinely seemed to enjoy her work. In later years, Shirley has commented that Lombard always treated her with respect.

Videocassettes of "Now And Forever" (at least one of them colorized) were made in the 1980s and 1990s. As for DVD, it can be found as part of a set, "Shirley Temple: The Franchise Collection," with "Little Miss Marker" and a pre-stardom short.
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