A Monkey Bite, A Stubborn Horse, and More in The Little Princess

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At the age of ten, Shirley Temple was already an established star. She found her next hit with The Little Princess, which had a budget of 1.3 million. Go behind-the-scenes of this classic below.

1. Authenticity was key.

Since The Little Princess is a riches-to-rags story, the wardrobe department purchased new items and artificially aged them by sandblasting her shoes and ripping seams. They also created a Victorian doll from scratch (even adding each strand of hair individually) so it would be true to the period. Authenticity was hard on one account as Temple found it especially hard to wear the large hoop dress, which was hard to take off and noisy. In her autobiography, she wrote this advice, “For those in period dresses, emulate a camel.”

2. It was all about fitting in for Temple.

When others were clocking in to work, per the wage requirement at the time, Shirley wanted to too. However, she didn’t have a name card like the others. Director Walter Lang accommodated her request, and she was able to punch in and out like the others. IBM later made a special machine and punch card for her and publicity photographs were taken. However, Temple preferred the normal machine because she wanted to be like the others on the crew.

3. Shirley really liked dumping those ashes.

In the film, Temple’s character gets revenge on a fellow classmate by dumping ashes on her head. At the time, Shirley was struggling with a bit of jealously toward her co-star Sybil Jason, who was getting laughs due to her scullery maid accent. Her bottled up emotions came out when she dropped the ashes on the other girl. Afterwards though, she invited her over to share a bottle of Coke, and her mother gave them both chocolates.

4. The ballet was hard.

Since Temple had never been trained in ballet, Ernest Belcher, a veteran of dance, instructed her using music from The Nutcracker. However, the technical acumen required was still too much to learn in a short time. So the steps were made easier for Temple, while the girls around her performed the ballet moves. She said, “It was one of those discouraging moments… To be found wanting after trying my hardest was even worse.”

5. Temple got her pony a job.

When she found out that the stunt horse received $200 per jump in the riding sequence, Shirley wisely offered up her own horse for a scene at the rate of $10 for sleeping. However, when the time came for her horse, Spunky, to sleep, he wouldn’t lay down and bared his teeth at his master. Maybe her horse was camera shy!

6. The monkey bite her!

Shirley also had a problem with the monkey that played Cesar Romero’s pet. In the scene, she was to chase it and then pick it up. Unfortunately, the monkey wasn’t keen on being picked up in a certain way – something the star didn’t know. As a result, the monkey grabbed her arm and took a bite. The monkey apparently got a spanking for its bad behavior.