Sunday, April 24, 2011

Captain January

If it isn't by design, it is ironic that Shirley Temple's rendition of "Early Bird" from the movie "Captain January" is being used in the current advertising for Target.

You see, today is the 75th anniversary of the debut of "Captain January." It premiered the day after Temple's eighth birthday.

In April 1936, I gather that Temple was something of a national sensation. She was already a veteran of the movie business, having appeared in films since 1932. Two of her films in 1935 — "The Littlest Rebel" and "Curly Top" — were among the top 10 box–office draws for the year, and two of her 1936 films were among the top 14 moneymakers for that year.

But "Captain January" wasn't one of them. It was, apparently, a hit — just not enough of one to be among the industry's leaders.

It was based on a children's book that was written before the turn of the century. I don't know how popular the book was, but apparently it was good enough to be made into two movies, and it was good enough to be reprinted nearly 60 years after it was first published.

It also led to a memorable moment in movie history — Buddy Ebsen (about a quarter of a century before he achieved fame as Jed Clampett on the Beverly Hillbillies) danced with Temple. Considering how tall and lanky Ebsen was — and how diminutive Temple was, at least when she was a tyke — that was nothing to sneeze at.

Ebsen, it is also worth noting, was 20 years older than Temple, but he wasn't the movie veteran that Temple was. "Captain January" was only his fourth film.

I've never seen "Captain January" myself, just clips, but when you see one, it isn't hard to see why Temple was so popular, why so many mothers wanted their little girls to look and sound just like her.

She was very cute, adorable, appealing in every way. But that appeal definitely had a shelf life — and, when Temple outgrew her childhood, she outgrew her movie career.

So she did other things. She married and had children. She entered politics as a conservative Republican, and she was diagnosed with breast cancer nearly four decades ago. After undergoing treatment, she became one of the first celebrated women to speak openly about her experience — and may have helped save the life of someone you know.

She's still alive, too. She celebrated her 83rd birthday yesterday.