|Heroic George O'Brien protects Shirley Nail in Riders of the Purple Sage.|
Over the years, a number of reports in the Arizona press have repeated a fanciful tale of curly-haired moppet Shirley Temple going to Sedona in 1931 for a role in Fox Film’s second remake of Zane Grey’s Riders of the Purple Sage. Cute, but not true. Temple, the most famous child star in movie history, never made a film in Sedona; the little girl who played in Riders was a 3-year-old named Shirley Nail.
Riders was filmed in 1931; Temple did not make her screen debut until the following year, an uncredited appearance in The Runt Page, a 1932 Educational Pictures “Baby Burlesks” short directed by Ray Nazarro, who also helmed the Sedona-made 1952 Indian Uprising starring George Montgomery. In 1933, Temple had an uncredited bit in a Randolph Scott western based on Zane Grey’s To The Last Man, filmed at Big Bear Lake, Calif. Her one pertinent link to Riders of the Purple Sage: Its director, Hamilton MacFadden, directed Temple’s star-making turn in Fox’s 1934 musical comedy Stand Up and Cheer. Temple appeared in only one Western after To The Last Man, John Ford’s 1948 Fort Apache, when she was 19.
Not much is known about Shirley Nail, who seems never to have been in another film. Critics of the day took note of the little platinum blonde haired girl, although even then there was some confusion about her name. Nelson B. Bell wrote in The Washington Post that Riders’ supporting cast “...all contribute effective support, but none with quite the charm of little Shirley Nails, a precocious and precious baby.” Variety’s “Sid” noted the film is “...entirely void of comedy other than for the antics of the diminutive Miss Niles.”––Joe McNeill