Editor’s note: Shirley Temple died Tuesday at the age of 85. The story below was adapted from a story originally published June 18, 2000. For more coverage, read the story on Page A2 or go to ohio.com.
Child actress Shirley Temple was the nation’s No. 1 box-office star in the 1930s — not to mention the most popular little girl on the planet.
No wonder Akron residents could hardly believe their eyes in June 1938 when “America’s Sweetheart” showed up unannounced in the Rubber City.
The 10-year-old rolled into town June 22 with her parents, George and Gertrude Temple, three bodyguards, one maid and two dolls.
The Temples said they were driving to Maine and Akron seemed to be a good place to stop. They reserved the entire 16th floor at the Mayflower Hotel and then headed downstairs to the Puritan Room for dinner.
Word trickled out about the famous guest. Newspaper reporters high-tailed it over to the hotel as a small crowd gathered in the lobby.
Akron Beacon Journal reporter Helen Waterhouse listened in on some of the dinner conversation. Shirley dined on tomato juice, split pea soup, asparagus and pork chops, but set aside a piece of celery that she said had been “associating too much with a green onion.”
Waterhouse watched as Temple played a joke on her Mayflower waiter. The actress used her cloth napkin to sop up water from a finger bowl on the table. Then she plunked an ice cube in the bowl and called the waiter over.
“Waiter, do you usually put ice in your finger bowls?” she asked with a straight face.
The waiter hemmed and hawed, but then the actress let him off the hook. “It’s just a joke,” Shirley said with a giggle.
The waiter smiled, too.
In 2000, Catherine (Johnston) Bryant told the Beacon Journal about the night she met Temple. Her uncle was having dinner when the child star and her family sat down at the table next to them. He raced to call Catherine’s parents and told them to bring their daughter to meet the movie star.
Catherine, then 8, and her friend Nancy Osburn sat behind the actress, who offered them candy and quickly befriended them. They were invited to Temple’s room to see her dolls and chat about their pet dogs and other childhood subjects. Temple’s parents allowed a news photographer to take pictures.
“She was adorable,” Bryant said in 2000. “She was a dimpled darling and she was a plump little thing with all those curls and she was the cutest little girl you ever saw in your life.”
Soon it was bedtime and Temple had to bid farewell, leaving Catherine with fond memories and a story to last a lifetime.
The next day, Temple and her parents toured Saalfield Publishing Co.’s South Akron plant, casting some doubt on the family’s assertion that their visit to Akron was by chance.
President A.G. Saalfield had the publishing rights to all books and paper products relating to Shirley Temple, a lucrative deal for the company and the actress. Saalfield sold more than 50 million Shirley Temple books, including coloring books, paper dolls and movie tie-ins of The Little Colonel, Curly Top, Dimples, Poor Little Rich Girl and dozens of others.
Temple greeted Saalfield workers and watched in awe as one of the company’s massive presses rolled off thousands of copies of one of her books.
“It’s swell,” she said.
After the tour, the Temples got in their automobile and prepared for the journey eastward. Shirley Temple waved to an excited group of neighborhood children gathered in the Saalfield parking lot, then the greatest child star of all time was gone.