With Shirley In Kipling’s India (1937) 🇺🇸

Shirley Temple and Cesar Romero | www.vintoz.com

December 09, 2021

Little La Temple had the most fun of her full career while making “Wee Willie Winkie”. She had a kiltie uniform to wear.

by Sonia Lee

Through a narrow, jagged, almost perpendicular break in the mountains, comes the caravan! The fleet Arabian horses step gingerly and surely — and their turbaned, burnoosed riders shout their greeting to waiting, welcoming brethren. Perilously they climb, and perilously they ride up the steep, dangerous stairway hewn out of the rock-walls — entrance to their mountain fortress.

A curly-haired, golden child, clinging close to the hand of a swarthy native, is stretching her little legs to span the distance between steps, quite unheeding of the shouting riders. She falls, she sits up, flashes her famous dimple — and improvises dialogue! “Cut — that does it!” orders Director John Ford through the loud speaker. And another scene in Shirley Temple’s new picture — Wee Willie Winkie, is finished.

Once again Shirley Temple has confounded her elders with her instinctive response to a situation — with her unfailing ability to do the right thing — whether in a situation devised by script writers, or materializing without forethought.

To Director John Ford, Academy winner for his powerful, tragic "Informer," directing a child is something new. He had heard tales of Shirley’s almost clairvoyant comprehension of what was needed in a scene. Of her fabulous aptitude, her perfect sense of timing, her qualities of genius. Given to few words, he hadn’t said much. He wanted to see for himself. In directing Shirley in this Kipling story, he has seen for himself!

This short classic was originally the tale of a drummer boy, and his devotion to his flag and his country. As it has been revised into a star-vehicle for Shirley — it is the story of a little American girl who comes to Raj pore, India, with her widowed mother to live at the frontier army post commanded by her grandfather, the colonel, a gruff old disciplinarian, who resents the coming of “women” into his masculine heaven.

Shirley decided that as she could only be as good a soldier as the drummer boy, she would gain the friendliness of her grandfather. And so her education as a soldier is begun. She manages to get into one escapade after another, to the disruption of the colonel’s quiet life.

There’s a war imminent with Khoda Khan, a proud native chieftain, who is suspected of gun smuggling. Shirley decides that war is silly, and that if she could only see the Khan for herself, hostilities would be called off.

She goes to call on him in his mountain fortress, accompanied by a native spy. It looks like a kidnapping, and the Seventh Highlanders, the regiment the colonel commands, march to her rescue.

The Khan is in Shirley’s debt. On her arrival in India, she had found and restored a sacred amulet to the chieftain. He is intrigued by the child — and is eager that no harm come to her.

The rescuing regiment arrives at the Pass. To go into it means certain death. The colonel goes forward alone! Shirley sees him and runs to greet him. The Khan gives orders to his men to hold their fire so that the child might not be endangered. The Khan and the colonel meet — and a peace is arranged. For Winkie comes commendation from the Viceroy, which is read at the regimental review held in honor of the little girl!

It is a story which offers many dramatic possibilities. It has tested Shirley Temple’s ability, and reveals a new phase of her genius. In previous pictures she has followed the lightning feet of Bill Robinson; the eccentric footwork of Buddy Ebsen with equal skill. She has been the singing, dancing darling! Here she is an actress, primarily! She proved it to Director Ford in the first few days of shooting. The scene was difficult and very long. A scene between the child and her grandfather (C. Aubrey Smith).

A few moments after the scene was finished — and lights were dimmed, John Ford was found in a corner of the stage, laughing until the tears were running down his face!

“That child beats me,” he commented. “She knows what I want before I tell her! And she does it perfectly every time!”

Perhaps he was really laughing — but the other eyes which had watched Shirley were dim — and there had been audible clearing of throats when the cameras ceased grinding!

This is the most elaborately-invested production in which Shirley has as yet appeared. At an isolated spot in the rocky Santa Susanna Mountains, forty miles from Hollywood, nature has provided a geographic replica of India’s famous Khyber Pass, where much of the action takes place.

Over an area one mile square, Kipling’s frontier India of 1898 has been reproduced. Crude stone look-outs of fierce Pathan warriors; a two-acre parade ground; twenty-two buildings to form the British army post; a native mountain village and fort — they are all here, made into reality by Hollywood magic.

Perhaps Mr. Kipling didn’t order the poison-ivy which infests this region. Nor the periodic flights of planes, airport bound; nor the whistle of the train in the valley below. But these are matters which are dealt with efficiently.

A corps of laborers look after the ivy — standing by watchfully that the uninformed don’t touch it. The cameras are timed to stop when the whirr of wings sound, or when the train begins its mournful plaint.

To Shirley this longest location schedule is heaven! Twenty-five days on location meant only one thing to her — twenty-five box lunches, to be eaten out-of-doors in her trailer. A sandwich, an apple, a glass of milk never tasted like this in her bungalow on the lot. The only fly in her ointment is that teacher is along. The moment a scene is finished — there are the books waiting to be read. There is her penmanship; there is arithmetic to be learned.

Geography, of course, is a lot easier. India is on the schedule at the moment — for wisely she is taught history and geography in correlation with the locale of her pictures currently in production. It becomes a painless and fascinating method of absorption of learning. And explains in part why Shirley is two grades ahead of her age-group.

With every new picture, tales to the Hollywood Saga of Shirley are added. Wee Willie Winkie is no exception. Jack Pennich, a retired British army man, relates wiith awe that it took Shirley exactly six hours to learn the British Manual of Arms.

“And I have seen grown-up soldiers take six weeks to master it — and they couldn’t do it half as well as Shirley by then!”

It took some coaxing to get Sgt. Pennich to enlist in the service of a child. For years he has been handling the training of men for difficult army maneuvers for Ford productions. “Teach a girl?” he exclaimed, when the idea was suggested to him. “Nothin’ doin’!”

But he finally capitulated — and now he considers her his prize pupil — and practically nothing will stop Sgt. Pennich from talking about Shirley! He is captivated!

Wee Willie Winkie has brought to Shirley her most important possession — a kilted soldier’s uniform, which she wears during the major portion of the picture. It is complete with khaki jacket, sporran, white spats, Kilkenny hat. The first time Shirley tried on the uniform in the studio wardrobe department, she did her persuasive best to obtain her mother’s consent to wear it to lunch at the studio cafe.

Later, when the company went on location, Shirley pleaded for the privilege of wearing the uniform home each evening and back to the location in the morning, instead of changing into a dress. The first night she was permitted to wear her kilties home, she carefully laid them out on a chair beside her bed. Just before her mother turned out the lights, Shirley looked at her and said :

“I’m going to close my eyes right away because when I wake up it will be time for me to put on my uniform again.”

Shirley Temple is still the amazing, the miraculous child who brought the world to her feet with her first picture. With the same charm, the same directness. To her, acting is still a game — and director, crew and company conspire to make it continue so!

Wee Willie Winkie promises many surprises. First and foremost — a new Shirley Temple, a greater child-actress, with new laurels for her already laden brow, definitely in order. Twentieth Century-Fox has surrounded her with a superb cast — Victor McLaglen, C. Aubrey Smith, June Lang, Cesar Romero, Michael Whalen, et al.

But most important of all, young Miss Temple, recently eight, has had the most fun in her full career while making it! She has had twenty-five days on location and a kiltie uniform to wear!

Shirley sees the battle raging in Hollywood’s Khyber Pass, opposite. Above, with Indian Cesar Romero

Shirley was so fond of her uniform, she wore it off the set

The nasty old battle waits as Michael Whalen and June Lang put on the love

The Temple joins the bathing beauties at Palm Springs and it looks like Shirley can hold her own. She swims, too.

Source: Motion Picture, July 1937