My wife answered the phone, and the voice on the other end said, "Hello, is Stan Brown there? This is Shirley Temple Black." Now my wife is seldom at a loss for words, but she stammered on that one.
The famous child star, more lately a U.S. ambassador, had called to apologize that she would not be able to visit Payson for the showing of her earliest film. It was a big plan the Museum had for a film festival around Zane Grey's movie ... .But I am ahead of the story.
It began in those early years when Hollywood discovered the box-office potential for Zane Grey stories. By the time Grey arrived at Payson in 1918, three of his novels had been made into successful movies. When the novelist found out the producers of the films were making more money than he was, he formed his own motion picture company, Zane Grey Productions. '
It was 1919, and that fall he was headed for his second hunting season with Babe Haught on Tonto Creek.
After several tries, Zane Grey found that making films was more of a headache than it was worth, so he bought out his partner and then sold the company to Jesse Lasky. Lasky went on to expand the company and it became Paramount Pictures.
They produced two to five films a year based on Grey's novels, and other companies soon got on the bandwagon. Zane Grey movies were coming out of RKO, Republic, United Artists and 20th Century Fox, making stars of actors little known until then. Among them were Randolph Scott, Gary Cooper, John Wayne, Wallace Beery, Jean Arthur, Buster Crabbe, Gail Patrick, and Warner Baxter.
Zane Grey insisted that the settings for his films be as authentic as his books, and by 1920, he was able to include a clause in his contract with Paramount requiring the filming be done in the actual location of the stories.
Henry Hathaway was the director for many of Grey's films, shooting them on the Colorado Plateau. Grey's lodge on the edge of the Grand Canyon became production headquarters. In 1924, the author leased his Tonto Creek lodge to Hathaway and Paramount for the filming of "To The Last Man." That was the only year from 1918 to 1922 Grey did not make his annual trek to the Rim country.
His book about the Henry Haught family was entitled "The Code of the West," and much of it was filmed at the Haught's Little Green Valley ranch, including appearances by Haught children.
A local celebration was held at the Elk Hall and Saloon on Main Street, with owner Polly Brown hosting a special showing of the film. Then in 1933, Paramount did a remake of "To The Last Man." This time, it was filmed at their Hollywood studios. Gail Patrick played the mother of a 3-year-old girl. The script called for a party scene in which a pet pony was to enter, be slapped on the rump by the little girl and then leave. It was rehearsed without a flaw, but when the camera rolled for the take, things got out of hand. The pony entered as planned, was slapped by the little girl, but then raised up on its hind legs, kicking the tables and dishes to pieces. With the camera still rolling the young actress dressed down the pony in clear, ad-libbed lines. She told the animal how badly it was behaving and ordered it to leave the party, which it did. The scene rolled to a conclusion and the entire cast and crew applauded the child actress for her excellent ad-libbing and calm handling of the scene.
Henry Hathaway, who was directing the film, watched the takes the next day and rushed out to tell the Paramount executives they had a potential child star on their hands. They had better sign her up with a contract. One of the executives was unimpressed and blocked any such action. Instead, 20th Century Fox found out about her and signed her to a long-term contract. Not many months later Paramount needed a small girl for a script and was forced to rent the newly found actress from Fox studios. The Paramount film was an Academy Award winner, "Little Miss Marker," and Shirley Temple began her illustrious career.
So it was that Zane Grey's tale about the Pleasant Valley War, "To The Last Man," occasioned the first movie acted in by Shirley Temple.
What a great idea it would be to ask the distinguished lady to come to Payson and introduce a rerun of her debut film in a Zane Grey Film Festival. George Spears had the idea, and a great one it was. I went to work on it. My first letters to Mrs.Temple Black at her home address came back unopened, stamped that she no longer gave autographs. A routine screening, I figured. So I sent an open letter with my request to the Screen Actors Guild, asking them to pass it on to her.
"I loved his letter; it was so much fun," she said to my wife on the phone. I had told Shirley Temple Black how we were born in the same year (she two months before me) and how she had been a fixture in our home all through the years. Could she come to Payson for the film festival? She went on to explain how many thousands of invitations she has to turn down, and we fully understood. However, she hoped I would let her know if we located a copy of that original film. We did, in a video edition that we now have at the Rim Country Museum, and I let her know where she could obtain it.
By the way, we have been unable to find any copies of Zane Grey's original films, but at least we all share Shirley Temple's connection with the Rim country.