Little Miss Broadway (1938): Cummings’ Musical Melodrama, Starring Shirley Temple

Irving Cummings directed Little Miss Broadway, a Shirley Temple star vehicle that begins to show some fatigue and repetition, due to overexposure in too many features of the past half a decade.

The screenplay, written by Harry Tugend and Jack Yellen, centers on a theatrical boarding house and its occupants.

Temple plays a typical role, a girl named Betsy Brown released from orphanage into the care of Pop Shea (Edward Ellis), her parents’ friend who runs a boarding house for theatrical performers.

Sarah Wendling (Edna May Oliver), the curmudgeon owner and next-door neighbor of the building, detests “show people” and their noise and nuisance. She demands that Pop pay the $2,500 back rent he owes, or move out immediately.

However, Sarah’s nephew Roger (George Murphy) is in love with Pop’s daughter Barbara (Phyllis Brooks) and files suit against his aunt to gain control of his inheritance, with which he plans to stage a show starring the hotel residents.

Sarah questions the soundness of Roger’s investment in the show, but Betsy convinces the judge to see the production before making a decision.

With her friends’ assistance, Betsy presents a lavish musical revue in the courtroom, causing one observers to offer the troupe $2,500 a week to star in his International Follies. Sarah, having a change of heart, insists the show is worth $5,000 and convinces the impresario to double his offer.

In the happy ending, Roger and Barbara announce their intent to wed and to adopt Betsy.

Six songs, written by Harold Spina (music) and Walter Bullock (lyrics), were performed by Temple: “Little Miss Broadway,” “Be Optimistic,” “How Can I Thank You?” “We Should Be Together,” “If All the World Were Paper,”
“Swing Me an Old Fashioned Song”

Temple works (too) hard to perform with her customary gaiety, pouty face, and dimpled charm, but there’s a certain weariness to the effort.


Shirley Temple as Betsy Brown
Edward Ellis as Pop Shea, Betsy’s parents’ friend
Edna May Oliver as Sarah Wendling
Donald Meek as Willoughby Wendling, her brother
George Murphy as Roger, Sarah’s nephew, Betsy’s adoptive father
Phyllis Brooks as Barbara, Pop’s daughter, Betsy’s adoptive mother
Jimmy Durante as Jimmy Clayton, a bandleader
Jane Darwell as Miss Hutchins


Directed by Irving Cummings
Produced by Darryl F. Zanuck and David Hempstead
Written by Harry Tugend, Jack Yellen

Music by Harold Spina, Walter Bullock
Cinematography by Arthur C. Miller
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release date: July 29, 1938
Running time: 70 minutes


I am grateful to TCM for showing the film on October 23, 2019.