Beauty and the Beast : The Shirley Temple version

The Shirley Temple version

No, its not what you think - long after her 'Curly Top' days, Shirley Temple Black had a deal with NBC to host a series of hour-long 'Fairy Tale Theater'-style episodes. And, the inaugural show they did was an adaptation of 'Beauty and the Beast.'

Apparently, it was filmed in full color, and was shot live. To my knowledge, the version is completely lost and no copy or print exists, although a few random news clippings can be found on Google summarizing how the show went.

But what's most interesting about this version is the cast. Claire Bloom plays Beauty, while Shirley just narrates and introduces the show (she did act in a handful of episodes but not this one apparently). The father is played by E.G. Marshall (probably best known to younger audiences for his role as the President in Superman II). And, the Beast is played by Charlton Heston of all people! Interestingly, all three were co-starring in 'The Buccaneer' in the same year the episode was broadcast, which makes me wonder if this wasn't some promotional effort the studio put them up to.

But, what I wonder even more is about Claire Bloom as Beauty. Have you seen her?

I've heard endless theories about who Belle's physical designs are based on, from Katharine Hepburn to Audrey Hepburn to Vivien Leigh to Sherri Stoner to Paige O'Hara to Judy Garland, but I've yet to see such a close match in terms of the bone structure/facial features/eye color/hair/etc. Shirley Temple's Storybook, while not all that remembered today, was quite popular when it came out, and remarkably baby boomers still talk about their memories of the show when it aired.

Because this was a live broadcast with no surviving footage to my knowledge, I rather doubt that Wise/Trousdale/Henn/Baxter consulted it directly. But is it possible they may have known about the Heston/Temple version? Or is it at least possible that the Purdums, who storyboarded the original late-eighties project in London, may at least have known about it? Bloom remains a known presence in British drama, and the drawings of Belle look even more like Claire Bloom in their depiction than in the Disney version, which clearly did derive some inspiration from their drawings of the Belle character (if nothing else). I have no idea but its an interesting thing to think about; I wish that it was on YouTube or something so the two versions could be compared. Although there is a promotional photo that survives (Claire Bloom is on the bed in the background).

Again I seriously doubt that this version specifically was a blueprint for the later animated film, but the similarities between Bloom/Belle are amazing. Its just a shame no surviving photos or footage can be found of Moses/Ben-Hur as the Beast!

Re: The Shirley Temple version

I'm familiar with Claire Bloom from Sir Laurence Olivier's 1955 Richard III film (as Anne Neville) and as the Doctor's mother (though not stated on screen) in Doctor Who's The End of Time (2009-2010).

I think you've indeed found the correct influence for Belle's visual design.

A lot of the visuals from the 1946 French film really found their way into the Disney production as well. The influence is unmistakable when you see it. Especially with how objects within the enchanted castle are alive (such as candelabras).

Re: The Shirley Temple version

Oh, I remember first seeing La Belle et La Bete years ago as a student and remember being absolutely spellbound by it. Everything about it was so much larger than life - its almost no wonder that Walt Disney allegedly backed out of producing a version of his own in the early 50s after seeing the Cocteau version - what an act to try and follow (and obviously its the root of the Gaston character).

Interesting to note that Shelley Duval's "Fairy Tale Theatre" episode (with Susan Sarandon and Klaus Kinski) almost copies the film "exactly" frame by frame - which is cool if only to see it in full color and spoken in the English-tongue, even if its still vastly inferior to the original. But, Disney certainly couldn't have done the same - masterful though Cocteau's version was, some of the scenes - like the Beast's claws spouting smoke every time he kills for food - would have terrified children (to be honest, I always imagined that if Disney had gone through with a version of his own, it would have resembled the Purdum "Storyboard" project - which moves slower than the final version, but had a pace that would have suited the "Golden Age" of animation).

That, and my personal theory is that Beauty/Belle would have been a very difficult heroine to "Americanize" for the period, in the way that they did - say - Cinderella. The way Cinderella was portrayed she always struck me as a spiritual cousin to the young post-WWII housewives who had held down their husbands' jobs and worked the war effort factories while the men were overseas. The "Nine Old Men," most of whom had served in some form, variously seemed to have had Rosie the Riveter (the "we can do it" working woman), Betty Grable (the full-figured "pin-up girl"), and Donna Reed (the classy "homemaker") in mind at the same time when they drew her - for instance, Marc Davis and Eric Larson reportedly clashed on "what kind of girl" she would be depicted as.

But, "Beauty" would have needed to be more "introspective" - as in the original fairy tale (where she experiences almost prophetic "dreams" which are crucial to the story) - - in order to see the good in "a hideous beast." And, at the time, movies in America just weren't made granting female characters that level of profound agency, and I imagine it would have been as big a challenge as it would have been to depict a "lovable Beast." But, by the late-80s feminism was in full swing and audiences would have been more ready to accept a heroine who "knew her own mind" in a way that the average "Princess."

Re: The Shirley Temple version

I've seen the 1946 French version not too long ago and I really liked it, but not as much as Disney's version.

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Re: The Shirley Temple version

It annoyed me how Roger Ebert took time to disparage the Disney version as a "kids film" when he praised Cocteau's version. Its really a matter of apples vs. oranges; both masterful in different ways. Clearly the 1991 version owes something to the 1946 version though, most evidently the Gaston character (whom I don't believe was in the original story).

Re: The Shirley Temple version

Yep, the Cocteau film definitely has a very, very Gaston-like character by a different name (Avenant). Jean Marais (played both the Beast and Avenant) is clearly the character model for Gaston. The magic mirror and enchanted castle imagery is strongly reminiscent, too. Same with the scenes of the Belles running.

But there are also tons of differences, such as the two greedy, vain sisters and a brother, the garden with the enchanted statue of Diana (this basically became the rose in the Disney version, rather than the rose the father plucks from the garden), a magical teleportation glove, the Beast's claws smoking after he has killed, Avenant turning into the new Beast because of the Diana statue, etc...

The Disney version has lots of things that are new additions to the story, though. Maurice the inventor is a notable difference from other versions. The Disney version also moves the story from full-on 17th century baroque to mostly the 18th century (though weirdly mixes 17th, 18th and 19th quite a bit).

One thing the Disney version did better than any other is the Beast himself. It's just so much easier to make that character impressive via animation than prosthetics and fur. And the voice makes the character. And I hate to say it, but Marais sets off the gaydar when it comes to chemistry between Belle and her Beast.

We watched the film in my French class years ago. I've seen it on TCM since then, as well.

Re: The Shirley Temple version

I don't recall Ebert disliking Disney's version because he found it inferior to Cocteau's version. I believe Ebert gave it a good review. The Disney version pretty much justified rave reviews.

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Re: The Shirley Temple version

No he didn't review it negatively, he raved about it when it was released. BUT when he reviewed Cocteau's film years later he dismissed the animated version as "a children's film" at the end of the review. As I recall he also dismissed it as a "jolly comic musical" that couldn't affect its audience more deeply.

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