Did you know that one of Shirley Temple's last film roles was a John Wayne western? Fort Apache was the first in the famed director John Ford's "cavalry trilogy," followed by She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and Rio Grande. Monument Valley, Arizona, served as the backdrop to capture the Arizona frontier in this masterful wild west film from 1947. It's got Wayne. The cavalry. A forbidden romance. History. America's favorite child star all grown up. All the makings of a truly superb story that really stands the test of time.
Screenwriter Frank S. Nugent based the classic film on the James Warner Bellah short story, "Massacre," published in The Saturday Evening Post in 1947. The story takes place in a post-Civil War America and is centered on John Wayne's character, Capt. Kirby York, a celebrated veteran at the U.S. Cavalry post, Fort Apache. With plenty of frontier experience, he advises the intense West Point grad, Lieutenant Col. Owen Thursday, played by Henry Fonda, who assumes command of the Fort Apache outpost. Shirley Temple plays his daughter, Philadelphia Thursday. The cast is rounded out with Ward Bond playing Sgt. Major Michael O'Rourke, Pedro Armendáriz playing Sgt. Beaufort, Jack Pennick playing Sgt. Daniel Schattuck and Victor McLaglen playing Sgt. Festus Mulcahy.
Col. Thursday lacks experience dealing with Native Americans which leads to conflict with the Apaches, led by Cochise (Miguel Inclan). Part of the story is also focused on Philadelphia's romance with Second Lt. O'Rourke played by John Agar, Shirley Temple's real-life husband at the time. The black and white film is widely regarded as one of the all-time classic western films.
Despite their compelling onscreen chemistry, Agar and Temple ended their marriage in 1950. Temple had only been 17 at the time of their marriage. She married Charles Alden Black and pretty much left Hollywood after that. Being the number one box office draw of the '30s must have been pretty exhausting, but Temple enjoyed some time off to be a wife and a mother to her three children. She went on to become a successful businesswoman and a diplomat.
Though she never appeared in another film, Temple did make television appearances. In 1958, she hosted a fairytale story show on NBC, Shirley Temple's Storybook. Though she will always be best remembered for her days as one of the biggest child stars in history, we can still look back and appreciate that Temple ended her film career on a high note, and be thankful that during her incredible career she made it out to the old west in Fort Apache.