Shirley, You Can’t Be Serious

Shirley TempleEnthusiasts of classic cinema should be interested to know that for a VERY limited time, the Frazier History Museum will be hosting an exhibition featuring items one wouldn’t normally expect to find this far away from the land of show business. From July 3 to 8, an astounding collection of relics from the career and life of child icon Shirley Temple will be on display.

This show arrives courtesy of Theriault’s, an auction house, which is the largest in the world to specialize in childhood memorabilia. The Shirley Temple collection is being taken on the road, giving everyone an opportunity to see the material remnants of a very special childhood before it arrives at its final destination in Kansas for an auctioning event.

I spoke with Stuart Holbrook, president and head auctioneer of the Maryland based firm about the importance of the exhibit.

What should people expect?

It is an amazing nostalgic look at one of the most iconic figures of the 1930s and of the 20th century … She really is the little girl that saved America from the Great Depression … This is an opportunity to go back from a nostalgic standpoint – not only to those who might have been a little girl in the 1930s and seen her movies in the cinemas – but many generations that have grown up with her films on TV or even DVDs. She really is a timeless person.

What makes this unique, as far as a collection goes, is that it’s never been documented in history that any star has kept a majority of their iconic costumes from the movies. Most of them go back to the studios, they’re reused, they’re destroyed or they’ve been sold off over the years. Shirley was the only star who was allowed to take home the costumes she wanted. Now, after 80 years, they come out for the first time ever to be seen by the public.

Is the exhibit primarily costumes?cat 1136_049new

A large portion of it is definitely the costumes and then some items from movies, but [also] personal memorabilia. She had, as an example, a wonderful friendship with Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, the legendary tap dancer. He was in a number of films and really credited with taking Shirley to the next level in her dancing. They had an amazing private friendship as well, and he showered her with gifts.

The car – which will be on exhibit – the miniature racing car in Shirley’s size, beautiful hand-crafted Swiss Wooden dolls in his likeness, the chief of police badge with a half carrot diamond embedded in it that he gave her as a gift, special tap shoes that he had made for her with her name inside. He just adored her. It was a mutual relationship and it was wonderful.

Why bring such an important show to Louisville?

It’s interesting. We were looking for a final location, and I had come up with the idea of Louisville being a perfect location, given its demographics. It’s so accessible to so many different regions. And then, the connection with “The Little Colonel,” which is interestingly enough, one of the very few movies that Shirley does that has a historic location that it documents. I thought it would be a wonderful thing to have that unique aspect rolled into one. So, we were researching, and I had seen the Frazier Museum and really had loved their vision and loved the building and the displays. I’d been once before. I was about to contact them when, low and behold, I got a call from them because some Shirley fans in Louisville had begged them to reach out to us to see if they could get us to come to Louisville. The Frazier, to me, is one of the very rare small to mid-size museums that I think incorporates an out-of-the-box view of what they display.

cat 1136_023What sort of power do these childhood objects have over people?

The emotions that have been evoked at these exhibits have been beyond belief. You cannot imagine the tears that have been shed as women walk into the room – and men walk into the room – and see Shirley costumes and Shirley pieces that they recognize from their favorite movies and they burst out in tears. Everything floods back, those magical moments of childhood.

My favorite was in New York when twin sisters about 85 years old … They walk into the exhibit and they see the dress that Shirley wore when she sang “Good Ship Lollipop,” and they both started dancing and singing the song together. At the end they both burst out in tears and they hugged each other for about five minutes and said, “We just relived our childhood again and it was the most beautiful feeling.”

To get visiting details, visit fraziermuseum.org. Also, go to theriaults.com for the traveling exhibition’s future auctioning.

Photos Courtesy of Theriault’s