Child Star: The Shirley Temple Story
At the height of America’s Depression, the number-one movie star was a six-year-old with ringlet curls and dimples who tap-danced, sang and captivated the entire nation. This two-hour movie-for-television dramatizing the early years of the world’s most famous child star – and based on the autobiography of Shirley Temple Black – will air on ABC, Sunday 5/13/01 (7:00-9:00 p.m., ET/PT).
This year I have seen TV biopics on Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Marilyn Monroe and Judy Garland, with Jennifer Love Hewitt’s version of Audrey Hepburn from last season not yet out of memory. In each case, the producers are to be congratulated for finding actors game enough and talented enough to take on the personalities of movie entertainment icons. In each case, I was entertained and even found important messages about fame and fortune being unable to satisfy the soul of man. But there are reasons why these legends are being placed under television’s microscope. They were each a phenomenon. It wasn’t just their talent, which can be imitated, that made them stars. They had a uniqueness that simply cannot be copied. So, is there a purpose to placing their life stories on TV for close scrutiny? Well, if nothing else, these films remind younger generations that there were singers before Britney Spears, sexual temptresses before Madonna, and child performers before Macaulay Culkin.
But there also seems to be a lurid fascination with the pitfalls of stardom that draws the attention of many viewers. The popularity of the E Channel’s “Mysteries and Scandals” proves that. That show takes a shallow look at the celebrity’s talent before spending the majority of the show examining his or her downfall. There is merit to those programs, so long as the viewer is learning a lesson about the dangers of self-abuse and the fraudulent importance of fame. That said, this look at the greatest child star of all time is most entertaining. And the exception to this behind-the-scenes look at a movie phenom is that Shirley was a good kid, beloved by her fans and the people she worked alongside. It is based on Shirley Temple Black’s book, Child Star, and Ms. Black serves as a consultant on the movie. I wish the ending of the film had mentioned her accomplishments as an adult. But perhaps her conservative politics and views of life left the filmmakers not so impressed.
Ashley Rose Orr as Shirley does a bang-up job. If you weren’t comparing her to Shirley, you’d see this youngster as a very talented singer, dancer, and actress. “Child Star” may be her first film, but she is no amateur. Her stage background includes Broadway revivals of “Annie Get Your Gun,” “The Sound of Music” and “Les Miserables.” She has recorded eight CDs for various soundtracks and musicals, and has done several national commercials for products like Downey and Pillsbury. This 11-year-old is gifted and I expect we will see her in many roles. Let’s just hope those projects are as uplifting as the ones that ringlet-mopped icon gave us.