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Shirley Temple in Nevada
by Harry Spencer
Feb 17, 2014 | 699 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
“Aren’t you going to ask me to dance?” The question came from the lips of America’s childhood screen sweetheart Shirley Temple, who was 20 years old when she sat beside me in the SkyRoom of the Mapes Hotel.

I replied that my skill at terpsichore was very limited. Besides that, she had danced with many of the great hoofers in Hollywood.

How we happened to arrive at this moment is probably explained by some events that occurred weeks before.

To begin with, it was a mild fall day in 1948. A bunch of us were sitting around the editorial table at the offices of the Sagebrush, the University paper, when the editor, Gene Evans tossed me an envelope and said “Here, Harry, you’re interested in the movies.” I noticed the logo on the outside of the envelope was 20th Century Fox and opening the missive, I read the contents which proclaimed that a location scout named Pat O’Hara would be arriving at the Reno train station in a few days to prepare for a movie entitled ‘Belvedere Goes to College.’ The Reno scenes were to be shot primarily at the University, while a few of the others would occur in some of Reno’s older neighborhoods.

Since my roommate at that time possessed a very nice late-model convertible, we decided to meet O’Hara at the train station and offer our services as chauffeurs. Our motive was two-fold; one was to get some material for the newspaper and the other was to lobby for ‘extra’ work in the film. We were successful on both counts.

Working as extras in the movie was rewarding both financially and serendipitously, since we were excused from daily classes.

After about a week of shooting, O’Hara approached me and asked, “Do you have a steady girlfriend?” “What’s it to you?” I replied. He said, “I don’t care, but the director wants to know.” I said, “Why? Is he some kind of queer?” “No, no! He just needs someone to be an ‘escort’ for Shirley Temple when she comes up to do her scenes.”

I asked him what that would entail, and he said it would mainly be to stay at her side during the evening dinner festivities in the SkyRoom of the Mapes. I told him that I thought I could handle it and he informed the director.

The next day, I got ahold of O’Hara and said I didn’t think I could do the job. He asked me, “Why not?” I said that I only had one good sport coat and slacks for ‘dress up’ and I didn’t think that would be fitting for two or three nights in the SkyRoom. He said not to worry, just get a purchase order from the wardrobe manager and I could go downtown and buy several outfits.

So that’s how I found myself at a ringside table in the showroom in the company of the principals in the movie and hotel-owner Charles Mapes.

As we approached the dance floor, I asked Shirley if it was okay if I lead. I got a sharp poke in the ribs from her elbow for that remark.

Harry Spencer is a long-time northern Nevada resident.
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