Shirley Temple Treasure Trove Up for Auction
The July 14 event will feature hundreds of costumes from her films, a massive doll collection and Hollywood memorabilia.
Even under the best circumstances, it’s difficult to watch a child star grow up — or pass away, as Shirley Temple did last year at the age of 85 after succumbing to emphysema. A child actor that appealed to young and old audiences across the globe, there never has been another like her, nor is there likely to be. Temple was the first lady of the box office in the mid '30s, before her star flickered out at the end of the decade as quickly as it ignited. She left behind a treasure trove of memorabilia to be auctioned at The Little Theatre in Kansas City, Mo., on July 14.
Over 550 items will be up for sale, including Temple’s film costumes and an extensive doll collection numbering in the hundreds. Handling the bidding is Theriault’s auction house, which controls 70 percent of the world’s auction market for dolls. Luckily, Temple’s mother, Gertrude, insisted in her daughter’s contracts on ownership of nearly 100 film costumes, which have been preserved in a Brentwood vault.
“Our grandmother knew it was going to be very important someday,” Temple’s daughter Linda Agar tells The Hollywood Reporter. “Someday, she said, people are going to remember the films, they’re going to be happy, get excited to see them again and to actually be physically present. Not to see them in black and white, but to see the actual costumes.”
But will they pay $20,000 for Temple’s iconic red polka-dot dress, the one she wore when she sang “Baby Take a Bow” from her breakout movie, Stand Up and Cheer!? If that’s a little steep, they might buy a pair of letters written to Temple by J. Edgar Hoover regarding matters of her own pretend police department, starting at $300.
It turns out Hoover and Temple were pretty tight, judging by the photos of her visit to FBI headquarters and others of Hoover joining her on a trip to Yosemite. It could be on account of the time Temple shot Eleanor Roosevelt in the butt with her slingshot while at a Hyde Park barbecue, or it could be that the president was a bit jittery after the ordeal of the Lindbergh kidnapping and wanted to ensure the same thing wouldn’t happen to Temple. “It was really a very, very special friendship. She had a real respect for him,” says Theriault President Stuart Holbrook. “J. Edgar Hoover absolutely adored Shirley.”
He might have adored her less if he saw her wantonly breaking the speed limit on the lot at 20th Century Fox in the little white racing car (suggested $10,000) given to her by co-star Bill "Bojangles" Robinson. Fitted with a lawn-mower engine, it was supposed to reach speeds of 10 miles per hour, but in fact, it was capable of over 30. “Shirley drove it with Bill Bojangles riding on the back of it, hanging on for dear life,” recounts Holbrook. “He ripped his pant leg, and she nearly ran over two Fox employees.”
A vaudevillian tap dancer, Robinson co-starred with Temple in four movies, including The Little Colonel, in which he taught her his signature stair dance in an iconic scene marking cinema’s first interracial pairing. But Temple, who made a career out of softening the hearts of grumpy old men, met her match in Southern theater owners, who insisted the scene be cut if they were to show the movie.
One legendary curmudgeon she won over easily was John Ford, who directed her in Wee Willie Winkie. At first, Ford, who didn’t care for child actors, passed on the project. But when Darryl Zanuck promised him his favorite leading man, Victor McLaglen, he reluctantly agreed. “By the end of that film, he was doing nothing but raving about the talent of Shirley Temple and what an honor it was to work with her,” explains Holbrook. “It is an unlikely matching, and it created what Shirley had called her most favorite film.”
Reviewing the movie for the magazine Night and Day, novelist Graham Greene noted Temple’s “neat and well-developed rump” and a coquetry calculated to appeal to “middle-aged men and clergymen.” Fox and Temple sued for libel and won. More bizarre than Greene’s comments was a lurking suspicion in Europe that Temple was not, in fact, a small child but rather an adult dwarf in disguise. But most of those fears were put to rest after the Vatican dispatched Father Silvio Massante to verify that she was indeed a child.
Needless to say, neither Greene nor Massante signed Temple’s autograph book (suggested $8,000), but nearly everyone else who was anyone in 1930s Hollywood did, including Orson Welles, who drew a picture of himself. Walt Disney also signed, along with eight of the original animators of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck.
Of all the items up for sale, the one piece Linda Agar will miss most is the Steinway piano ($30,000), inscribed by Theodore Steinway to her mother. “We had practice lessons on the piano,” she recalls. “My grandchildren loved the piano when they came to visit.”
Sadly, after July 14, the family won’t have it anymore. But, like the rest of us, at least they’ll have the movies to remember Temple by.