Researcher delves into magic of Shirley Temple

RHONDA MARKBY
Last updated 05:00 21/11/2012
Shirley Piddington
NATASHA MARTIN

University of Waikato Associate Professor of Screen and Media Geoff Lealand shows Shirley Piddington a collection of Shirley Temple memorabilia in a book he found and purchased at a High Street second hand shop in Christchurch, including her picture during a Shirley Temple contest.

Shirley Piddington
SUPPLIED
A young Shirley Piddington.

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She had the name, the curls, the dresses. And almost 80 years later Shirley Piddington still recalls the competitions to find New Zealand's Shirley Temple lookalike.

Those experiences brought Waikato University screen and media studies associate professor Geoff Lealand to Timaru yesterday, researching the influence Hollywood's first child star had on this country.

It's also the story of an old homemade scrapbook of Shirley Temple photos, bought in a now earthquake-demolished Christchurch second-hand store a decade ago. In it were photos and the story of a Shirley Temple lookalike photo competition held in Christchurch in 1935. One photo showed consolation prizewinner Shirley Patricia Sweeney, now Shirley Piddington, aged 4 years and 10 months.

Mrs Piddington recalls the signed Shirley Temple photo she received and kept for many years. She also remembers thinking she might be sent away from her parents.

"I was talking to the girl next to me and she said if we won we would be sent to Hollywood and be taken away from our Mum and Dad." She was truly relieved when another girl was named the winner. Mrs Piddington's mother then entered her photo in a national competition organised by Radio Record (the New Zealand Listener's predecessor), in which she came second.

"I remember the envelope arriving. Mum was so excited. She ran to the neighbour.

"I can't remember seeing any money," she said of the £5 prize.

She also won a sitting with a professional photographer and a new dress, a copy of a pink and white number Shirley Temple wore in a movie.

The dress is still among her Shirley Temple collection, but is looking rather battered because she wore it to school.

Her granddaughters have all worn it and struck a Shirley Temple pose for the camera.

"I adored her [as a child] and so did our mothers," Mrs Piddington said, explaining how in the 1930s, girls would have their hair wrapped in rags to produce a head of Shirley Temple curls.

Mr Lealand remains interested in Shirley Temple.

"Her influence is still very strong. Even my 18- and 19-year-old students still know who she is."

The lookalike competitions were important community events, given the glamour Hollywood exuded in the 1930s.

The scrapbook is the cornerstone of a story he hopes will become a television programme or a book. Which leaves just one question: Who is the 2012 Shirley Temple?

In his eyes, there isn't one.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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