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Director John Ford wanted Shirley Temple for Fort Apache. He knew that the film, based on a short story by James Warner Bellah entitled Massacre, would benefit from adding female characters and a romantic subplot. And so, he paid $100 thousand to RKO to loan Temple out for the film.
Ford and Shirley Temple had worked together approximately ten years earlier when making Wee Willie Winkie. At that time, the director worked hard to infuse that film with sincerity and reality, rather than making a saccharine story that would simply exhibit Temple’s trademark charm.
At this point in her career, now about twenty, Temple was working to expand her work and had success teaming with Cary Grant and Myrna Loy in The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer.
While making Fort Apache, Temple was actually pregnant.
“Mr. Ford knew I was going to have a baby more than a month before I announced it. I had informed him, naturally, in discussing his picture. But he did not tell a soul,” she said. “He has assured me that he will have me ‘carried around on a feather cushion’ if necessary. I won’t have to ride horseback or do anything else that could possibly hurt me.”
Unfortunately, Temple’s long dresses were the main pain as temperatures reached 115 degrees while filming in Monument Valley, Utah.
Playing Temple’s love interest was none other than her husband at the time, John Agar, who was making his film debut.
Agar was quite nervous, and Ford sometimes teased him for his lack of confidence while riding horseback, calling him “Mr. Temple”. While he was sometimes Ford’s “whipping boy”, the position allowed him to bond with John Wayne and have the sympathy of the other cast members.
Fort Apache was a success at the box office and one of Temple’s final films before taking a break from acting in 1949.