Sunday, November 9, 2014

FAIRY TALE BLOGATHON: Shirley Temple's Storybook - The Little Mermaid (1961)



Fritizi of Movies Silently is hosting the Fairy Tale Blogathon running from November 9 - 11.  Bloggers are looking at filmizations and adaptations of classic fairy tales that have inspired generations of artists and audiences.  Enjoy.

Hans Christian Andersen's story of The Little Mermaid was part of a collection published in 1837 which included The Princess and the Pea, The Emperor's New Clothes and Thumbelina.  The youngest of six mermaid daughters of the ruler of the sea is an introspective youngster who longs to experience the world above the waves.  She become enamoured of a young prince whose life she saves during a storm.  She is also intrigued by the concept of an immortal soul which she can only obtain if a human loves her.  If she becomes human she will lose the long life of a mermaid, but that is something she is willing to trade.  The girl makes a bargain with an evil sea witch giving up her power of speech and song for a draught that will exchange her fish tail for legs.  Each step she takes is excrutiating, but she endures the pain for the sake of the prince and her hoped for soul.  When the prince marries another she is to die upon the morning and this can only be averted by killing the prince with a magic knife.  Refusing to kill her beloved, the mermaid prepares to die, but her good action is rewarded by the daughters of the air who take her as one of their own.  After performing good deeds for humans for three hundred years, a daughter of the air may gain a soul and entry to Heaven.

Children are warned at the end of the story that their bad behavior adds an extra day to the travels of the daughters of the air, while good children lessen their journey by a year.  Such are the stuff of guilty nightmares.



The Little Mermaid has inspired an operas (Dvorak, Tailleferre), ballets (Auerbach) and a number of films including Jules Bass' The Daydreamer (1966), a Russian short from 1968, a Reader's Digest animated short in 1974, Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre episode of 1987, Disney's Oscar winning film of 1989 and novels, poems, symphonies, and the internationally recognizable statue by Edvard Eriksen in Copenhagen.



The anthology series Shirley Temple's Storybook aka The Shirley Temple Show ran first on NBC in 1958 with a second season in 1960 - 61.  Classic children's literature was imaginatively adapted for hour long television episodes.  Among the titles included were Beauty and the Beast, The Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, Winnie-the-Pooh, Madeline, Babes in Toyland and The Reluctant Dragon.  The episodes were presented with great care in production details.  Especially those in color transported young audiences to fantasy lands come to life with remarkable sets, costumes and guest casts working their charm.  The Little Mermaid, adapted by Oscar nominee (Caged) Bernard Schoenfeld, first aired in March of 1961.



Our lovely hostess, 33-year-old Shirley Temple, appears on screen in a lovely pink, sparkly gown.

Hello.  In just a moment we're going to present one of Hans Christian Andersen's immortal fairy tales.  Our play is based on one of the most beautiful, best-loved stories he ever wrote, The Little Mermaid.  This is a special occasion for me.  Ever since I was a child I've wanted to play the role of the innocent little mermaid who loses her heart to a land prince and tonight my dream has finally come true.

Shirley is the Mermaid who saves the life of a handsome Prince tossed from his ship during a storm.  She falls deeply in love with the human.  In turn, the Prince believes the pretty girl from a nearby sanctuary to be his rescuer and falls in love with her.  She is a Princess under the guardianship of a fussy and domineering keeper played by Nancy Kulp (The Beverly Hillbillies).  Don Harron plays the Prince.  The Canadian actor/writer is probably best known for his comic Charlie Farquharson character.  Francine York, familiar to TV audiences from the 60s to today, is the princess.


Shirley Temple, Cathleen Nesbitt

J. Pat O'Malley (The Adventures of Spin and Marty) is the Merking who loves his daughter and does not understand the depth of her feeling for the prince.  Cathleen Nesbitt  (The Parent Trap) is Granny Mermaid who understands only too well what her Little Mermaid is going through.  Years ago she fell in love with the prince's grandfather, but love between a human and mermaid was an impossible dream.

Ray Walston (Damn Yankees) plays the Sting Ray, an intermediary to the Sea Witch played by Nina Foch (Executive Suite).  They are a malicious pair who offer the Mermaid the means of growing legs and winning her prince.  Payment must be made and the consequences will be great including banishment from the sea forever, almost unendurable pain and, ultimately, death should the Little Mermaid not marry her Prince.

Prolific movie and TV actor John Hoyt (Spartacus) is the prince's aide and only confidant until the Little Mermaid arrives in the kingdom.  She becomes the prince's dearest friend, and a buffer between the prince and his father.  Torin Thatcher (The 7th Voyage of Sinbad) plays the king who cannot fathom his son's fidelity to a girl he saw only once.  Eventually, the prince must acquiesce to an arranged marriage to save his people from war.  His joy is great upon discovering that he is to marry the girl he saw that day on the beach.  She also has loved him since that time.

Granny Mermaid makes a bargain with the Sea Witch by trading 50 of her 400 years for the chance that her granddaughter will live and be happy.  The ideas put forth in the bargaining have stayed with me for years.  Granny says that her granddaughter deserves happiness to which the Sting Ray responds that nobody deserves happiness, and only the lucky get it.  When Granny hesitates at the thought of giving up any of her 400 years she is admonished by the Sea Witch who reminds her that years ago she lost her Prince because of her fear and now her selfishness will do harm to her granddaughter. 

Swimming to the shore, Granny Mermaid gives her Little Mermaid a magic dagger which she must plunge into the heart of the Prince turning him into a Merman.  The couple will live out their 400 years allotted Merpeople under the sea.  Our Little Mermaid cannot do this thing and waits on the shore the next morning to die and become nothing but foam on the sea.

The Little Mermaid:  Neptune, great god of the sea, I am ready to die.

Voice of Neptune:  Beloved daughter of the gods, have no fear.  You are blessed.  Love such as yours is as priceless as the perfumed (unintelligible) on the green sea.  It is only in giving that we receive.  Live.  Return to your family.  Go home to the sea.

Shirley as hostess:  The Little Mermaid returned to her family beneath the sea.  Someday perhaps she would fall in love agian, but already she had learned a profound lesson, that bringing happiness to those you love can be the most important way of loving them.

The story of The Little Mermaid and her sacrifice for love has spoken to generations.  Life and decisions are not easy for anyone and the stories that last are those that speak to our human frailties, fears and greatness.  

   

 

21 comments:

  1. Wow I never knew this existed! I really enjoyed reading this post.

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    1. Thanks. Happy to have been able to introduce you to something new.

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  2. Thanks for joining in! What an intriguing way of handling the ending! I have seen versions that follow the original Anderson ending and versions with Disney-fied happy endings. This is fascinating middle ground.

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    1. I think they took an interesting route with the story's end. Children don't always need a "happy ending" to a story. This is thoughtful without the burden of something terrifying.

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  3. I'm another one who's never heard of "Shirley Temple's Storybook". I would have loved this series as a child – especially this episode of The Little Mermaid. You've prompted me to learn more about this series.

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    1. I first saw the series on TV in the late 60s and I think that even children of today would be fascinated with it. It truly felt to be back then as if the pages of storybooks had come to life.

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  4. I've known about this series, but never saw an episode. What a great cast! It's remarkable what TV attempted in these early years, and especially how it succeeded.

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    1. I think I get even a greater kick watching the episodes today because I can remember how they impressed my younger self while "old" me enjoys the casts.

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  5. t's a marvelous fairy tale and I would love to see this adaptation. I don't remember seeing it, but I must have since I never missed Shirley's show as a kid. The two episodes I remember best are THE RELUCTANT DRAGON and THE CLOCK MAN. Do you have the DVD boxed set of the series? I have thought about getting it, but have read variable comments on the quality.

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    1. I have the available DVD set and, while I haven't watched everything yet, I can't say there are any major quality issues. The puppets in the "Winnie-the-Pooh" episode are delightful. I've been afraid to watch "The Terrible Clockman"! It freaked me out when I was a kid.

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  6. 'Nobody deserves happiness...' Very interesting concept to put forth in a kiddie story.

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    1. Definitely. It's wasn't dwelt on, but it made me think - even as a kid. I'm sure that there would be others in the age group for whom it just would have gone right over their heads. Sometimes ideas come to you when you're ready for them and sometimes they push you.

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  7. Thank you, Caftan Woman. I'll join the chorus that has never seen this series. My daughter would have loved it when she was younger. She'd probably enjoy it now. Thank you for sharing it with us.

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    1. Thank you, Joe. My daughter is in her 20s and when she checked out this post said she'd be interested in seeing the program. It seems we never lose our fascination with fairy tales, no matter how we approach them.

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  8. As a kid I was OBSESSED with the Disney version, I wanted to be Ariel and spent all my days singing like her. Probably lucky my parents didn't think to introduce this series to my viewing habits, I would have been (even more) unbearable!

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    1. My special needs son goes through periods where he obsesses on different movies, and we're more than familiar with Ariel in this house! Parents have two choices, they can become as great a Disney fan as their kid or they can go crazy.

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  9. I didn't know many things: that The Little Mermaid was one of Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales, and also that it originally ended with Little Mermaid becoming a Daughter of the Air...
    After your very complete review, I'm now wondering how Shirley's Winnie-the-Pooh was like!
    Oh, and Shirley always had the same face. Wow.
    Don't forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! :)
    Kisses!
    http://www.criticaretro.blogspot.com.br/2014/11/variacoes-sobre-um-mesmo-tema-snow.html

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    1. Thank you for your comment. I have fallen behind on my blog reading, but will make efforts to amend.

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    2. I always loved this fairy tale as a little kid, but by the time the Ariel version came out, I was disturbed by how much the girl was willing to sacrifice for a guy she barely knew. I like how this version highlights her family's love for her, and the uncertainty of such a newly formed love. Thanks for sharing it. I was interested to learn just how many versions of this story there have been!

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    3. Thank you so much for reading and commenting. These fairy tales can mean different things to us at different times in our lives. The Little Mermaid is equally disturbing as it is moving. I think the Shirley Temple program handled it appropriately. It provided food for thought, but didn't take its young audience to a dark place they couldn't leave.

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  10. I am a 38 year old married woman with no kids who adores Fantasy/ Fairy tales. I grew up on all the great Fairy tale anthology shows of the 80's like Fairy Tale Theater, Jim Hensen's The Storyteller and Cannon Movie Tales and own all of them on boxsets, or in the case of Cannon Movie Tales, the individual movies. Because of my purchases, I saw a show i'd never heard of in my suggestions at Amazon-Shirley Temple's Storybook. I took a chance, blind bought it, and am I glad I did! I've owned it for years now, but I have to echo the author's sentiments. It is a delightful show! Their are lots of classic actors/ actresses in it, the costumes, sets AND special effects are simply amazing (I also agree about the marionettes in Winnie the Pooh)_, and if i'm being honest, it's obvious that Shelley Duvall was more than "inspired" by it for Fairy Tale Theater-she emulated every aspect of it! I love each version of "The Little Mermaid" on both shows (they are almost identical) but when Shirley Temple as the mermaid is swimming underwater in STS, you truly believe that she's underwater. On Fairy Tale Theater, it obviously tries to duplicate the same look, but is not nearly as convincing and actually looks very dated. Don't get me wrong, I love both shows, but Shirley Temple's Storybook is the ORIGINAL and imo, the best. Anyways, I know i'm replying a little late, I just had to add my 2 cents.

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