The Old Lady Baby

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RIP Shirley. One of her youngest fans, the daughter of a good friend, discovered her on “the YouTube” and was mightily taken by her performance as “the old lady baby” in this clip ~

Mark Cousins excerpts the same scene in The Story of Film, and makes the complaint that Temple is too performative, not natural enough — I think a difficult point to make stick when the kid is singing a song, but he has a point more generally. Of course ST was the consummate pro even as a toddler — what you see is an incredibly skilled artifice, amazing in one so young, and a different kind of talent than those kids who are simply able to behave onscreen. With the amazing Bobby Henrey in THE FALLEN IDOL, which Monte Hellman has called the best-directed film he’s ever seen, we have a series of authentic bits of behaviour, extracted by director Carol Reed and assembled into a narrative. AD Guy Hamilton thought Henrey couldn’t act at all, because all he saw was the effort it took from Reed to get those moments, and all the other moments which were wrong and couldn’t be used.

Shirley, of course, would have been perfect every take of every shot. It’s just a different kind of talent — and she had more of her particular kind than any other kid who’s acted on the screen.

Unsettling images from BABY TAKE A BOW, or as I call it, THE BLUE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE.

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6 Responses to “The Old Lady Baby”

  1. David Boxwell Says:

    My favorite greatest performance by a kid (in classic Hollywood): Ann Carter in THE CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE (44). Nothing cutesy-poo about her.

    Second greatest: Natalie Wood in Dwan’s DRIFTWOOD (47).

    Third greatest: Margaret O’Brien in MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS.

    Also good: Bobby Driscoll in THE WINDOW (49).

    As for ST, it seems I can always sense her mother there–just out of the frame–giving her cues to “sparkle”, supplanting the director.

  2. Ann Carter just died last week, aged 77.

    O’Brien is spoken of as another scary pro (“Do you want the tears to run all the way down or stop halfway?”) but there’s also the horrible story about them MAKING her cry in Meet Me in St Louis.

    Driscoll is great in The Window but terrible in Treasure Island the next year — all in the direction. I think they might have been afraid the film would be a horror movie if he acted realistically. Meeting Ben Gunn, a raving madman, his Jim Hawkins looks… charmed and delighted.

    Bobs Watson was great at blubbering. The kid in Zinnemann’s The Search is heartrending.

  3. IMDB sez:

    “Bobby Driscoll was a natural-born actor. Discovered by chance at the age of five-and-a-half in a barber shop in Altadena, CA. and then convincing in anything he ever undertook on the movie screen and on television throughout his career spanning 17 years (1943-1960). Includes such notable movie screen appearances as The Fighting Sullivans (1944), Song of the South (1946), So Dear to My Heart (1948), and The Window (1949), which was not only the sleeper of 1949 but even earned him his Academy Award in March 1950 as the outstanding juvenile actor of 1949. For his role as Jim Hawkins in Walt Disney’s Treasure Island (1950), he eventually received his Hollywood Star on 1560 Vine Street, and in 1954 he was chosen in a nation-wide poll for a Milky Way Gold Star Award (for his work on TV and radio). But all the more tragic, then, was his fruitless struggle to find a place in a pitiless adolescent world after severe acne had stalled his acting career at 16. When his face was no longer charming and his voice not smooth enough to be used for voice-over jobs, his last big movie hit was the voice of animated Peter Pan (1953), for which he was also the live-action model. When his contract with the Disney studios was prematurely terminated shortly after the release of Peter Pan (1953) in late March 1953, his mother additionally took him from the talent-supporting Hollywood Professional School, which he attended by then. On his new School, the public Westwood University High School, on which he graduated in 1955, all of a sudden his former stardom became more burden than advantage. He successfully continued acting on TV until 1957 and even managed to get two final screen roles; in The Scarlet Coat (1955) and opposite of Mark Damon and Connie Stevens in The Party Crashers (1958). His life became more and more a roller coaster ride that included several encounters with the law and his eventual sentencing as a drug addict in October 1961. Released in early 1962, rehabilitated and eager to make a comeback, Bobby was ignored by the very industry that once had raised and nurtured him, because of his record as a convict and former drug addict. First famous… now infamous. Hoping to revive his career on the stage after his parole had expired in 1964, he eventually traveled to New York, only to learn that his reputation had preceded him, and no one wanted to hire him there, either. After a final appearance in ‘Piero Heliczer”s Underground movie _Dirt_, in 1965 and a short art-period at Andy Warhol’s so-called Factory, he disappeared into the underground, thoroughly dispirited, funds depleted. On March 30, 1968, two playing children found his dead body in an abandoned East Village tenement. Believed to be an unclaimed and homeless person, he was buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave on Hart Island, where he remains.”

  4. David Boxwell Says:

    When I saw Frances Farmer and Bobby Driscoll together as mother and son in THE PARTY CRASHERS, it was if someone walked over my grave . . .

  5. That’s a powerful lot of dark future to pack into one scene…

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