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Child star Shirley Temple fled to safety of Victoria in 1930s

When Shirley Temple needed a break from the limelight about 75 years ago, her parents knew just where to take her: Victoria’s Empress Hotel.
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Shirley Temple was nearly 10 when she came to Victoria from California in 1937, reportedly to escape kidnapping threats. In this Daily Colonist photo, she is shown the sights outside the Empress Hotel with the help of B.C. Police Insp. Bob Owens.

When Shirley Temple needed a break from the limelight about 75 years ago, her parents knew just where to take her: Victoria’s Empress Hotel.

The legendary child star, who died Monday at age 85, was just short of her 10th birthday when she fled to Victoria from California, reportedly because of kidnapping threats.

The dimpled, curly-haired cutie dubbed America’s Little Princess stayed at the hotel in the late 1930s with her parents, a spokesperson for the Fairmont Empress confirmed Tuesday.

“[That] story seemed to be borne out by the two huge bodyguards who took the room opposite hers and who always left their door open,” according to the late Terry Reksten’s book The Fairmont Empress: The First Hundred Years.

Hotel marketing representative Rebecca MacDonald said while no more details were available — the hotel has always been highly protective of its guests’ privacy — the Empress was privileged to have hosted her.

Her mother, Gertrude, was famously protective of her daughter, who appeared in dozens of films, including 1934’s Little Miss Marker and Bright Eyes in which she first sang On the Good Ship Lollipop, and Wee Willie Winkie (1937).

Hugely popular during the Great Depression, the Hollywood child star was one of hundreds of celebrities who have passed through Victoria’s grande old lady, albeit at a much earlier age than most. Others famous hotel guests include Rita Hayworth, Jack Benny, Katharine Hepburn, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Barbra Streisand and Harrison Ford.

In Victoria, the little girl who by then had become North America’s top box-office draw, got an enthusiastic reception from B.C. Police Insp. Bob Owens.

In a 1937 Daily Colonist photograph, Owens holds the smiling youngster in his left arm while pointing out the sights.

Temple, who received more than 135,000 presents from around the world on her ninth birthday, according to Robert Windeler’s 1978 book The Films of Shirley Temple, seemed tickled.

And, yes, you still can order a Shirley Temple, the classic non-alcoholic drink she inspired — a mixture of ginger ale, grenadine and a maraschino cherry — at the Empress, and most anywhere else.

mreid@timescolonist.com