"Child Star: The Shirley Temple Story" (2001), which premiered on ABC Television's THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF DISNEY on Mother's Day, May 13th, is one of several made-for-TV bio-pics that have been hitting the airwaves in recent months, with earlier presentations on the lives of the Three Stooges, Judy Garland, etc., just to name a few, but I somehow find "Child Star" to be a pleasant surprise among the others. Based on Shirley Temple Black's autobiography of the same name, it deals with a little girl's incredible rise to fame in motion pictures during dark days of the Great Depression in the 1930s, making box office gold for Fox Films, later 20th Century-Fox. Sadly, like many top box office stars, Temple's winning streak would come to an end with a few flops, especially with "The Blue Bird,", before being dismissed by the studio where she made her home for seven years in 1940. In retrospect, Temple continued to act in some movies during her teenage years, but found true happiness leaving the spotlight and going to regular school amongst other children her age, something she was deprived in doing as a tottler. However, the movie concludes with Shirley, now 14, being called by producer David O. Selznick to interest her in a role in his upcoming project, "Since You Went Away? (1944) starring Claudette Colbert.
Seeing every Shirley Temple movie that was either presented on local television and later available on video cassette, I feel I know whatever there is to know about this talented little girl who became the biggest and most recognizable box office child star of her day, and whose movies have seemed to have stood the test of time today. What makes this particular TV bio worth viewing is that the writers kept the story as accurate as possible, without adding some fiction to give the story some lift. At least I didn't seem to find any inaccuracies in the story that didn't belong there, but felt her meeting with aviatrix Amelia Earhart being one of the few slowpoints of the plot. Little added details having Temple on loan from Fox to Paramount to appear in "Little Miss Marker" and the not-so-famous "Now and Forever" (both 1934) are captured, which could have had the writers say these two movies were produced at Fox, hoping its viewers wouldn't have known the difference. Even the one who played "Little Miss Marker" co-star, Dorothy Dell (1915-1934), is almost a hum-dinger to that late actress.
As for the performance of newcomer Ashley Rose Orr as child star Shirley Temple, while there is only ONE Shirley Temple, Orr does her best in portraying her, right down to the curls, giggle and that nose twitch. Obviously she must have studied Temple's mammerisms down to the simplest detail by watching all her movies, and like the person she portrayed, she must have been coached well by her mother. Orr singing Temple songs such as "The Good Ship Lollipop" and "Animal Crackers in My Soup" was not Temple's voice dubbed into hers, but Orr's herself. The recreation of the dancing sequence with both Bill "Bojangles" Robinson and later Buddy Ebsen will possibly bring back that nostalgic feel to those who grew up watching Temple movies on TV for many years.
"Child Star" is possibly a long overdue movie tribute to Shirley Temple, but again, maybe it came at the right time. Had it been made in the 1950s or so, possibly her life story would have been very disjointed with a child actress appearing in movies with fictitious name titles and/ or having her appear in films with actors she never met.
Also featured in the cast are Hinton Battle as Bojangles (who also choreographed the dance steps Bojangles had made famous), Connie Britton as Gertrude Temple, and Colin Friels, with executive producers being Paula Hart and daughter Melissa Joan Hart. Melissa's sister, Emily Anne Hart, is the one who plays the role as the teenaged Shirley during the final ten minutes or so.
In spite that "Child Star" leaves some questions unanswered, it may not be the best TV-bio ever made, however, it's definitely recommended for those familiar with her film work and ardent fans of Shirley Temple herself.
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