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BACKShirley Temple brought out the kid in all of us

time:2014-02-27Source:By Raymong Zhou ( China Daily )

When Shirley Temple visited China in April 1977, it did not cause a sensation. As a matter of fact, it went totally unheeded, with no media coverage or any personal account from the Chinese host.

Like many Hollywood celebrities who descended on the Middle Kingdom shortly after it opened up again to the world, she was a virtual unknown to much of its population. For almost three decades, the Chinese mainland had not screened any Hollywood pictures in public.

Eight years later, Temple, who died this week at the age of 85, became the talk of the nation as many of her major films from the 1930s were broadcast on China Central Television. This came at a time when television sets were available mostly to urban households and viewing options were limited. But still, the size of the audience was enormous in absolute number.

Her films were part of a 20th Century Fox package licensed to CCTV as Rupert Murdoch, the new owner of the Hollywood studio, used the broadcasting rights to these vintage films as a plum to knock on the door to the vast Chinese market. They were aired each Sunday and garnered a loyal following who got their first exposure to entertainment products not stamped with ideology. Movies like The Sound of Music and those starring Shirley Temple were audience favorites.

I first heard her name, in Chinese, in 1983 when my professor of American literature was explaining an allusion in a text. Xiulan Dengboer had a catchy ring to it, unlike most transliterated foreign names of today. Even though I had not seen a photo of her, let alone one of her movies, I instantly remembered it. Many Hollywood stars of the golden era had such fortune, as the translation style of 1930s Shanghai was more elegant and even poetic.

That name was all over the Shanghai newspapers in 1934. The Chinese ads for Little Miss Marker and Now and Forever are on display in the new Shanghai Film Museum, a treasure trove of film memorabilia from that golden era of Chinese cinema.

Temple was so popular she spawned the surest form of flattery. China's own film industry, then based in Shanghai, produced its imitators: One of them, Hu Rongrong, imitated her look and tap dance moves to a tee. Ironically, Hu quickly outgrew her image as China's Shirley Temple and became a professional ballerina, with such achievements as dancing China's first Nutcracker and choreographing part of the revolutionary piece White-Haired Girl.

For the younger generation, Temple's movies, along with other (limited) imports, served to open eyes to the outside world. Shen Xiaotai, a staff member of the Shanghai Film Group, got her first exposure to tap dancing through the US child star's movies.

The second wave of Temple fever had other beneficiaries: Liu Chunyan became a minor celebrity after she dubbed many of her movies and won the title of "Best Dubbing Actress of the Year" in 1989 for her work in Poor Little Rich Girl.

Nowadays, film lovers in China have the option to watch Temple's work either in dubbed versions or the English original. (Her singing was never dubbed, though..

The funniest thing is a clip of her in Stowaway, set in Shanghai, where she blurts out a few words in Chinese and even plays erhu, the Chinese string instrument. It never fails to bring a chuckle to whoever happens to catch it.

In a Sina.com poll, Curly Top, The Little Colonel and The Little Princess came out as the top three Temple movies with the Chinese audience. But for many who did not watch her movies in the original sequence, it may be difficult to name a favorite. It is Temple's image-and the innocence, precociousness and vivacity she exudes in all her roles-that melts our hearts, and simply transcends time and national boundaries. 

 

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