I attended the Lincoln Center Film Society tribute to Fred Astaire in the 1970s and was headed over to the party at The New York State Theater afterwards. There in the lobby was Shirley Temple Black–standing by herself. I went over and told her how much I loved her work and that my mother had had a Shirley Temple doll growing up. She was charming. Very dignified in a dark blue sequined gown. She looked every inch the world ambassador she had become.
People pressed forward so we both headed for the staircase leading to the party. We were still talking, so I offered her my arm and we climbed the stairs together. She told me that she and Astaire had always wanted to dance together but her Fox contract wouldn’t let her appear at another studio. Suddenly I realized I was going up the stairs with her and inspiration struck. I paused and executed a clumsy version of the step at 2:17 in the clip below. Ms. Temple Black looked at me and her eyes flashed with excitement. Like a race horse hearing the bell she did the step perfectly beside me. We then laughed and trotted up the rest of the steps. At the top of the staircase, a huge crowd of stars and movie fans showered her with applause. Shirley blushed and flashed that incredible smile of hers. I shook her hand again and she pulled me close and said, “Thanks.” It was one of the most thrilling moments of my life. Thank YOU, Shirley. You were a giant talent packed into a tiny curly-headed person. And a class act to the end. RIP. // Mike Bencivenga