Who hasnt seen Shirley Temples work, even if in grainy black and white footage of the ringletted, precocious tyke singing On the Good Ship Lollipop or dancing with Bill Bojangles Robinson?
Youve probably seen Brian Ewings work, too, but didnt know it.
Last Monday, on the day Shirley Temple Black died at age 85, their lives intersected. Okay, sort of.
Ewing is no hoofer: hes a master plaster artisan living in Burlington who has been honored by Capital Area Preservation Inc. for his work on the Senate chambers at the state Capitol.
On the day Temple Black died, Ewing was fixing to do his thing which was to fix a frame on a picture his wife had bought when he found beneath it a picture of Temple, apparently autographed by her.
His wife, he explained, had bought a framed picture of some beautiful cherry blossoms from a flea market at the Daniel Boone Village in Hillsborough in 1988 or 1989. The picture had been lying around since then, much remarked upon but pretty much undisturbed.
I dont know what got into me, he said of that day last week. I was looking at the painting and decided to do some work on the frame. I was going to tighten it back down because it was kind of loose.
It still is, because I stopped working on it when I found the picture. The first thing I did was take the pins out and I took the brown paper from the back of the painting, and underneath was the picture.
This was before Id heard that she had passed away, he recalled. When I heard ... I said Wow, I just found her picture today. Thats what I call serendipity.
Inscribed in ink on the picture is Hello Everybody, Shirley Temple.
A Durham performance
The Carolina Theatre stamp on the back of the picture gave some clue to the pictures provenance, so Ewing said he called the theater to see if there was any record of her performing there.
Aaron Bare, the theaters director, called Ewings find a really neat story. ... Ive always heard rumors that she played the theater. We put an exhibition together in 2011 and looked pretty extensively into our background but saw nothing on Temples possible appearance, he said.
That means little, Bare told me, because judging by Temples age in the picture, it was probably taken in the early to mid-1930s. Temple was born in 1928 and looks to be 4 or 5, 6 at the most, Bare said. We have nothing in our archives on that period ... it wouldnt surprise me if she played here. In the 40s, we had Katharine Hepburn, Ronald Reagan, a lot of the touring acts of the day.
Temple at one time was the biggest star in Hollywood. The New York Times said Clark Gable was a distant second. Gable never had a famous, non-alcoholic drink named after him, either.
Theres a lot of circumstantial evidence (that the former ambassador traipsed across the Durham stage), but I just dont know, he said.
A high-class lady
Was Ewing a Temple fan even before his serendipitous discovery, I asked?
Who wasnt? he replied.
It wasnt just her irrepressibility on the screen that made Ewing a fan, though. He had heard from his father about what a kind person she was, he said.
It was after a USO event when my dad was in the Navy and he was seated in the chow hall and Shirley Temple came in and sat down next to him and the other guys at the table, he recounted. My dad said she was nothing but a high-class lady. ... Easy to make laugh, he said.
Ewing said his wife and he are debating whether to donate this photo or put it on eBay.
Whether it proves to be worth major moolah hey, have you seen what an autographed Bieber or One Direction photo goes for? or turns out just to be a sentimental conversation piece, Ewing said hes glad he found it.
I was pretty sad when she died, he said.