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Shirley's career was guided largely by her over protective mother Gertrude who would grab her by shoulders before each scene and say," Sparkle Shirley, sparkle." Zanuck frustrated Mrs. Temple by not allowing Shirley to play more varied parts (not realizing she was a child, George Bernard Shaw offered her lead in his stage version of Caesar and Cleopatra). Zanuck felt Shirley's spunky movie character had to be repeated for her to stay popular. Gertrude would demand that studio cut any scene where another child looked better than her daughter. This caused great distress for other parents who retaliated by starting a rumor that Shirley was actually a midget.
Shirley's conservative banker father George had a difficult time dealing with trappings of fame. One time he requested a meeting with Zanuck. "Mr. Zanuck, I want your advice about this fan mail I've been getting. I haven't shown them to Gertrude and I'm tempted." Zanuck was startled to read letters from women across country wishing for George to father their children. Zanuck, who was famous for his own womanizing ways gave simple advice,"If you can't promise them a little girl, stay loyal to your wife."
Zanuck kept spies to inform him of child's activities at studio. One time he interrupted a meeting with John Steinbeck to tend to her after hearing she had fallen and broke a tooth. On another occasion she was visited by HG Wells. Shirley was polite and after famous author left, little moppet was told she had just met most important man in world. "Uh uh. President Roosevelt is most important man. And Governor Merriam is second." Later Zanuck heard this report while furiously puffing on a cigar. "Who did she say is third?"
No matter how much Zanuck hid it on screen Shirley aged. When World War II broke out movie goers turned away from sentiment. Twentieth Century Fox began to make weightier films like Steinbeck's The Grapes Of Wrath (1940). Shirley was declared over hill at age of ten. As a teen she became more independent. Without her mother to push her she never achieved same acting success as an adolescent that she had as a child. But her grit and determination represented American spirit to world. A false report of her death in Hirohito's Japan in 1943 set off a wild celebration in streets.
Stephen Schochet is the author and narrator of the audiobooks "Fascinating Walt Disney" and "Tales Of Hollywood". The Saint Louis Post Dispatch says," these two elaborate productions are exceptionally entertaining." Hear realaudio samples of these great, unique gifts at www.hollywoodstories.com.