News flash: I’m a planner. To borrow a line from another RENT song, “I make lists in my sleep, baby!” Palooza III was in the planning stage almost as soon as I landed back in NJ last April, but it reached a whole ‘nother level about five months ago. I received an email from the curator at the Santa Monica History Museum on December 1st, asking me if I’d reach out to someone who was researching one of Shirley Temple’s homes. First of all, how nuts is it that I’m the one the curator contacted – I’m just a dumb schoolteacher from New Jersey who suddenly, happily, found herself leading a troop of incredible people who have joined forces to continue Shirley’s legacy. But a colonel takes command, and I contacted one David Silverman, recruiting him into our Army. He had no idea what he was in for….and neither did we. A kindred, OCD spirit, I think it’s safe to say he was swept up in the Shirley whirlwind, and once he discovered that some of us made our way to CA each April, he began to plan a long weekend of events for us. I’ve said this a million times, to anyone who will listen, but I will say it again – he did not have to do this. He did not know us, he did not owe us, but he went out of his way…for us, for Shirley. Let that sink in for a moment, please.
Now remember, I’m a planner, so the countless emails, calls and lists, lists, lists were pure joy for me. Kinda going through withdrawals now, if the truth is to be told. But as I was stuffing my purse with paperwork on the way to the airport, I promised myself that now would be the time to enjoy it. Be present. Stay in the moment. No day but today. And as much as is humanly possible, I think I did it. It means I took less photos, posted less social media updates, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. So, here are a few highlights of the whirlwind that was Friday, April 20th.
Nobody gets in to see the Wizard….not nobody, not no how. That’s the way it was with the campus of Harvard-Westlake, formerly Westlake School for Girls. Not generally open for tours, David, aka King Midas, connected with Eric the archivist, and managed to get a small group of us in. While the original buildings are no longer there, it wasn’t hard to imagine Shirley on these grounds. What was initially supposed to be a 45 minute tour lasted nearly 90 minutes….guess Eric was caught up in the magic of Shirley too.
There wasn’t one part of Palooza that I wasn’t excited for, but visiting the Fox lot….high on my list, to be sure. Eating in the commissary, where Shirley’s enormous birthday parties were held? Check. Visiting the Shirley Temple Dining Room, known in Shirley’s day as the East Dining room, where she held private luncheons? Check. Matching photos of Shirley in these locations? Crying copious amount of tears? Touching the walls of the stages where she filmed those movies I know by heart? Check, check and check.
But if anticipation could be measured, what I felt about returning to the Fox archives would have broken the thermometer. No photography was allowed, so I summoned all of my mental power (such as it is) and tried to capture the hundreds of photos displayed in binders, many never before seen, and commit them to memory. Wish I could stick a flash drive into my brain and download them all. A tremendous thank you to Heather, who was patient and gracious, and who didn’t warn me not to get tear stains on the photos. I appreciated the hug too.
Shirley’s bungalow – may not look the same, but it’s still hallowed ground to me.
The Fox Commissary
“Oh….can I show you what I’m proudest of?” This Hamilton lyric should be David’s, because Friday’s gala was unparalleled. The venue – a gorgeous home, opened to us for this event. The guest list – the family of the famed Nicholas Brothers, child actresses Cora Sue Collins and Marilyn Knowlden, Shirley’s original stand in, Marilyn Granas, Danny Selznick, son of producer David O. Selznick. Plus entertainment, presentations, and impromptu singalongs. A breathless, beautiful evening.
Unimaginable. Unbelievable. Unforgettable. I took a total of one photo (and borrowed these), because I could not absorb it all otherwise. I will return to this evening in my memory many, many times.
Marilyn Granas and Mary
As the evening wound down, I found myself in a conversation with the hostess. There was no way to adequately express my thanks to her, but I certainly tried. And although she didn’t really know me, she said words to me that I’ll treasure forever. I write them here so that I can remember and revisit them. “Melissa, I can tell you’re a great teacher. If I had to do it all over again, I’d move East and have you teach my children.” Or maybe I dreamed that….it was late, after all. But if it all turns out to be only a beautiful dream, let’s keep on dreaming.
Act One: No Day But Today
Act Two: A Musical in Four Acts: A HEART FULL OF LOVE