Today’s throwback Thursday is a bittersweet one. Boulder City’s ties to Hollywood are strong, and one of our more nationally recognized limelight moments comes via a visit to Boulder City High School by actress Shirley Temple in 1938. I say bittersweet because Temple’s childhood was nothing like the social and educational experiences our local children have.
Our kids reap the benefits of growing up in a city where old-fashioned values and chivalry are instilled and where neighbors still talk to one another and look out for each other’s children. And yet with all the fame and fortune at the tips of her well-manicured finger tips, movie star Shirley Temple never got to experience the simple pleasures of being a child. Temple never attended traditional school. Instead, she attended school on the lot for Fox Films and then 20th Century Fox, where she was not only under contract, but where her role as America’s Little Sweetheart helped to save the production company from going under with hits like “The Little Princess” and “Stowaway.” John F. Kasson’s book “The Little Girl Who Fought the Great Depression” documents the pressure upon Temple’s career as a child actress. Kasson writes in his book, “Fox Film’s ‘Stand Up and Cheer!’ was a film specifically created to reassure the public during the darkest days of the Depression.”
Shirley Temple’s carefully crafted image, including fake curls and false teeth, made her an iconic figure of wealth to be envied and reflected the happy innocence our country had before the Great Depression. And during the troubled financial times our country faced, it was the Shirley Temple merchandising, and the movies she stared in, that allowed hard-working people a needed break from the harsh realities of life.
For Temple, however, there was no break from the grueling filming schedule (over 60 movies to her credit), the behind-the-scenes sex scandals that she later noted in her 1989 book, “Child Star: An Autobiography,” and there was no down time to simply figure out who she was outside of the movie business. Hollywood brought Temple to Boulder City long enough for our residents to stop, stare and cheer. Sadly, Temple was also staring back, probably wondering what life as a child in our picturesque town was like, reportedly even stating at the time that “school seems swell” to both her mother and the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Temple’s career dimmed after age 12, and so did her finances. The up to $50,000 a flick paychecks were mismanaged by her father. Temple went on to marry twice, work in politics, became the United States ambassador to Ghana and then to Czechoslovakia, and she even sat on the board of directors for Walt Disney Productions. Temple’s daughter, “Lorax” (Lori Black), followed in her mother’s footsteps, joining the realm of the entertainment business as the bass player for the rock band The Melvins.
Temple’s well-publicized visit to Boulder City High School, and her overnight stay at the Boulder Dam Hotel, remain a national point of interest for our city. And while Shirley Temple’s movies, her jewelry, and her persona are something we can all admire, it is important to remember that not everything that glitters is gold and that sometimes small-town living offers even more riches than the backdrop of Hollywood.
Tanya Vece is an entertainment and music writer who resides and volunteers in Boulder City. You can follow her adventures on Instagram @hollywoodwriter.