Poor Little Rich Girl (1936 film)

This article is about the 1936 film. For other uses, see Poor Little Rich Girl.
Poor Little Rich Girl

Theatrical poster
Directed by Irving Cummings
Produced by Darryl F. Zanuck
Screenplay by Sam Hellman
Gladys Lehman
Harry Tugend
Story by Eleanor Gates
Ralph Spence
Starring Shirley Temple
Alice Faye
Jack Haley
Gloria Stuart
Michael Whalen
Claude Gillingwater
Music by Mack Gordon
Harry Revel
Cinematography John F. Seitz
Edited by Jack Murray
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release dates
  • July 24, 1936 (1936-07-24)
Running time
79 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $1.4 million[1]

Poor Little Rich Girl, advertised as The Poor Little Rich Girl, is a 1936 American musical film directed by Irving Cummings. The screenplay by Sam Hellman, Gladys Lehman, and Harry Tugend was based on stories by Eleanor Gates and Ralph Spence, and the 1917 Mary Pickford vehicle of the same name. The film focuses on a child (Temple) neglected by her rich and busy father. She meets two vaudeville performers and becomes a radio singing star. The film received a lukewarm critical reception from The New York Times.


Barbara Barry (Shirley Temple) is the young daughter of wealthy Richard Barry (Michael Whalen), a recently widowed soap manufacturer. Worried that his daughter is spending too much time alone and not with other children her age, her father decides to send Barbara to boarding school. At the train station, Barbara and her accompanying nanny are separated when the nanny Collins (Sara Haden), looking for her stolen handbag, is hit and killed by a car.

Barbara, left alone, wanders off and masquerades as an orphan. While wandering the streets, she encounters a friendly Italian street performer, Tony (Henry Armetta), the organ grinder. Barbara follows him home after his performance. She witnesses his many children run out to meet him at the door. Barbara lingers, lonely and sad. The kind and friendly family invite Barbara in. She has dinner with them, where she experiences eating spaghetti for the first time. After dinner, the mother puts her to bed with her own children.

She attracts the notice of two vaudeville performers, Jimmy Dolan (Jack Haley) and his wife, Jerry (Alice Faye), who put her in their radio act, posing as their daughter. With the help of advertising executive Margaret Allen (Gloria Stuart), the trio become an overnight success. Barry hears his daughter on the radio and the two are reunited. Subplots involve a romance between Barry and Allen, and a crook (John Wray) trying to kidnap Barbara.



The film’s tacked-on musical number, “Military Man”, encountered a great deal of difficulties. In her autobiography, Temple mentioned that Haley and her mother got into an altercation after multiple failed attempts by Temple, Haley, and Faye to synchronize their taps in the sound room. Her mother blamed Haley while Haley blamed it on Temple. To complicate matters, one of Temple's teeth fell out while she was doing the routine in the sound room. Finally, as it came close to Temple's legally allowed work hours for the day, they decided to let her do the routine by herself and dub it in with Haley's and Faye's taps recorded later. According to her, she nailed the routine despite reports to the contrary.[2]

While Mrs. Temple was being interviewed on the set, Shirley strolled over and asked the reporter, "Why don't you talk to me? I'm the star." (Edwards 95).


Mack Gordon and Harry Revel wrote the film’s songs: “When I’m with You”, “Oh My Goodness”. "You’ve Gotta Eat Your Spinach, Baby”, “But Definitely”, “Buy a Bar of Barry's”, “Military Man”, and “Peck’s Theme”. Shirley Temple sang all the songs and was joined by other cast members for several.


Critical reception

Frank Nugent of The New York Times described the script as “formless and generally ridiculous” and the picture “virtually non-existent” but “as a display window for the ever-expanding Temple talents, it is entirely satisfying. Miss Temple, as some one has said, never looked lovelier. She dances in a manner which must delight her mentor, Bill Robinson; her voice has begun to take on torch-singer and crooner qualities. Beneath the fascinated gaze of a world-wide audience, a conscious artistry is developing along Hollywood and Broadway lines. It is an engrossing phenomenon: The precocious infant becomes a knowing child.” He lamented on behalf of Haley and Faye: “Short of becoming a defeated candidate for Vice President, we can think of no better way of guaranteeing one’s anonymity than appearing in the moppet’s films.”[3]


The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

See also


Works cited
Web citations
  1. Aubrey Solomon, Twentieth Century-Fox: A Corporate and Financial History Rowman & Littlefield, 2002 p 217
  2. Shirley Temple Black, "Child Star: An Autobiography" (New York: McGraw-Hill Publishing Company, 1988), 129-130.
  3. "Miss Temple's Latest, 'The Poor Little Rich Girl,' Moves Into the Radio City Music Hall.". The New York Times. 1936-06-28. Retrieved 2011-04-13.
  4. "AFI's Greatest Movie Musicals Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-13.
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