Shirley Temple

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In almost all of these films, she played the role of emotional healer, mending rifts between erstwhile sweethearts, estranged family members, traditional and modern ways, and warring armies. Characteristically lacking one or both parents, she constituted new families of those most worthy to love and protect her. Producers delighted in contrasting her diminutive stature, sparkling eyes, dimpled smile, and 56 blond curls by casting her opposite strapping leading men, such as Gary Cooper, John Boles, Victor McLaglen, and Randolph Scott. Yet her favorite costar was the great African American tap dancer Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, with whom she appeared in four films, beginning with The Little Colonel (1935), in which they performed the famous staircase dance. [27]

Biographer Anne Edwards wrote about the tone and tenor of Temple's films:

This was mid-Depression, and schemes proliferated for the care of the needy and the regeneration of the fallen. But they all required endless paperwork and demeaning, hours-long queues, at the end of which an exhausted, nettled social worker dealt with each person as a faceless number. Shirley offered a natural solution: to open one's heart. [28]

President Franklin D. Roosevelt praised her performances, saying, "It is a splendid thing that for just 15 cents, an American can go to a movie and look at the smiling face of a baby and forget his troubles." [29]


Publicity photo of Temple and James Dunn in Bright Eyes (1934) James Dunn and Shirley Temple publicity photo for "Bright Eyes" - front (cropped).jpg
Publicity photo of Temple and James Dunn in Bright Eyes (1934)

On December 21, 1933, Temple's contract was extended to one year at the same $150 per week (equivalent to $3,391in 2022) with a seven-year option, and her mother Gertrude was hired at $25 per week as her hairdresser and personal coach. [30] Released in May 1934, Stand Up and Cheer! became Shirley's breakthrough film. [31] She performed in a short skit in the film alongside popular Fox star James Dunn, singing and tap dancing. Fox executives rushed her into another film with Dunn, Baby Take a Bow (named after their song in Stand Up and Cheer!). Temple's third film, also with Dunn, was Bright Eyes (1934), a movie written especially for her. [32]

After the success of her first three films, Temple's parents realized that she was not being paid sufficiently. Her image also began to appear on numerous commercial products without her legal authorization and without compensation. To regain control over the use of her image and to negotiate with Fox, Temple's parents hired lawyer Lloyd Wright to represent them. On July 18, 1934, Temple's contractual salary was raised to $1,000 per week, and her mother's salary was raised to $250 per week, with an additional $15,000 bonus for each finished film. [33] Cease-and-desist letters were sent to many companies and the authorized corporate licenses began to be issued. [34]

Bright Eyes, written with her acting style in mind, was released in 1934 [35] [36] The film included the song "On the Good Ship Lollipop", which is considered to be her signature song. She was awarded a miniature Juvenile Oscar in 1935. [37] [38] [39]


Temple's quota of films in each calendar year was increased from three to four in the contract that her parents signed in July 1934. Now and Forever starring Gary Cooper and Carole Lombard (with Temple billed third with her name above the title beneath Cooper's and Lombard's), The Little Colonel , Our Little Girl , Curly Top (with the signature song "Animal Crackers in My Soup") and The Littlest Rebel were released after the contract was signed. Curly Top was Temple's last film before the merger between 20th Century Pictures and the Fox Film Corporation. [40]

Temple's salary was $2,500 per week by the end of 1935. [41] Elaborate sets were built for the production at the famed Iverson Movie Ranch in Chatsworth, where a rock feature at the heavily filmed location ranch was eventually named Shirley Temple Rock. [42]

Heidi was the only other Temple film released in 1937. [43] Midway through shooting of the movie, the dream sequence was added to the script. Temple herself reportedly was behind the dream sequence and she had enthusiastically pushed for it, but in her autobiography, she vehemently denied this. Her contract gave neither her parents nor her any creative control over her movies. She saw this as Zanuck's refusal to make any serious attempt at building upon the success of her dramatic role in Wee Willie Winkie. [44]

One of the many examples of how Temple was permeating popular culture at the time is the references to her in the 1937 film Stand-In ; newly minted film studio honcho Atterbury Dodd (played by Leslie Howard) has never heard of Temple, much to the shock and disbelief of former child star Lester Plum (played by Joan Blondell), who describes herself as "the Shirley Temple of my day", and performs "On the Good Ship Lollipop" for him.


Temple in The Little Princess, her first color film

The Independent Theatre Owners Association paid for an advertisement in The Hollywood Reporter in May 1938 that included Temple on a list of actors who deserved their salaries while others' (including Katharine Hepburn and Joan Crawford) "box-office draw is nil". [45]

In 1939, she was the subject of the Salvador Dalí painting Shirley Temple, The Youngest, Most Sacred Monster of the Cinema in Her Time , and she was animated with Donald Duck in The Autograph Hound . [46] In 1940, Lester Cowan, an independent film producer, bought the screen rights to F. Scott Fitzgerald's Babylon Revisited for $80. Fitzgerald thought his screenwriting days were over, and with some hesitation, accepted Cowan's offer to write the screenplay titled "Cosmopolitan" based on the short story. After finishing the screenplay, Fitzgerald was told by Cowan that he would not do the film unless Temple starred in the lead role of the youngster Honoria. Fitzgerald objected, saying that at age 12, the actress was too worldly for the part and would detract from the aura of innocence otherwise framed by Honoria's character. After meeting Temple in July, Fitzgerald changed his mind, and tried to persuade her mother to let her star in the film. However, her mother demurred. In any case, the Cowan project was shelved by the producer. Fitzgerald was later credited with the use of the original story for The Last Time I Saw Paris starring Elizabeth Taylor. [47]

1941–1950: Final films and retirement

Temple in 1943 Shirley Temple - Image (1943).png
Temple in 1943

Shirley signed with MGM after leaving 20th Century-Fox. However, upon meeting with Arthur Freed for a preliminary interview, the MGM producer exposed his genitals to her. When this elicited nervous giggles in response, Freed threw her out and ended their contract before any films were produced. [48] The next idea was teaming her with Garland and Rooney for the musical Babes on Broadway . Fearing that either of the latter two could easily upstage Temple, MGM replaced her with Virginia Weidler. As a result, her only film for MGM was the relatively unsuccessful film Kathleen , released in 1941. Miss Annie Rooney followed for United Artists in 1942, but was unsuccessful. The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer starring Cary Grant and Fort Apache starring John Wayne and Henry Fonda were two of her few hit films in the 1940s. [49] Her then-husband John Agar also appeared in Fort Apache. She and former US president Ronald Reagan were both in That Hagen Girl (1947). She did not formally announce her retirement from full-length films until 1950. [50] [51]

Radio career

Temple briefly had her own radio series on CBS. Junior Miss debuted March 4, 1942, in which she played the title role. The series was based on stories by Sally Benson. Sponsored by Procter & Gamble, Junior Miss was directed by Gordon Hughes, with David Rose as musical director. [52] The series ended on August 26, 1942. [53]

Merchandise and endorsements

Temple leaving the White House offices with her mother and bodyguard John Griffith, 1938 Shirley temple library of congress a.JPG
Temple leaving the White House offices with her mother and bodyguard John Griffith, 1938

John Kasson states:

She was also the most popular celebrity to endorse merchandise for children and adults, rivaled only by Mickey Mouse. She transformed children's fashions, popularizing a toddler look for girls up to the age of 12, and by the mid-1930s, Ideal Novelty and Toy Company's line of Shirley Temple dolls accounted for almost a third of all dolls sold in the country. [27]

Successful Shirley Temple items included a line of girls' dresses and many other items. [54]

Alongside licensed merchandise came counterfeit items bearing Temple's likeness to capitalize on her fame, from dolls, clothing, and other accessories to even cigars with her face printed on the label. [55] Temple lamented in her memoirs that it "made no economic sense" to pursue litigation against those who made unlicensed goods under her name; a successful lawsuit was filed by Ideal Toy Company against a certain Lenora Doll Company, which manufactured and sold Shirley Temple dolls without authorization, with Temple herself cited as a co-plaintiff befitting her celebrity status. [56]

Myths and rumors

At the height of her popularity, Temple was the subject of many myths and rumors, with several being propagated by the Fox press department. Fox publicized her as a natural talent with no formal acting or dance training. As a way of explaining how she knew stylized buck-and-wing dancing, she was enrolled for two weeks in the Elisa Ryan School of Dancing. [57]

False claims circulated that Temple was not a child, but a 30-year-old dwarf, due in part to her stocky body type. The rumor was so prevalent, especially in Europe, that the Vatican dispatched Father Silvio Massante to investigate whether she was indeed a child. The fact that she never seemed to miss any teeth led some people to conclude that she had all her adult teeth. Temple was actually losing her primary teeth regularly through her days with Fox, for example during the sidewalk ceremony in front of Grauman's Theatre, where she took off her shoes and placed her bare feet in the concrete, taking attention away from her face. When acting, she wore dental plates and caps to hide the gaps in her teeth. [58] Another rumor said her teeth had been filed to make them appear like baby teeth. [59]

A rumor about Temple's trademark hair was that she wore a wig. On multiple occasions, fans yanked her hair to test the rumor. She later said she wished all she had to do was wear a wig. The nightly process she endured in the setting of her curls was tedious and grueling, with weekly vinegar rinses that stung her eyes. [60]

Rumors spread that her hair color was not naturally blonde. During the making of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, news spread that she was going to do extended scenes without her trademark curls. During production, she also caught a cold, which caused her to miss a couple of days. As a result, a false report originated in Britain that all of her hair had been cut off. [59]

Television career

Temple in 1965 Shirley Temple (1965).jpg
Temple in 1965

In 1999, she hosted the AFI's 100 Years...100 Stars awards show on CBS, and in 2001 served as a consultant on an ABC-TV production of her autobiography, Child Star: The Shirley Temple Story. [61]

Diplomatic career

Shirley Temple with Richard Nixon and Brent Scowcroft on February 28, 1974 President Richard Nixon, Shirley Temple Black, and Brent Scowcroft.jpg
Shirley Temple with Richard Nixon and Brent Scowcroft on February 28, 1974

Temple became active in the California Republican Party. In 1967, she ran unsuccessfully in a special election in California's 11th congressional district after eight-term Republican J. Arthur Younger died of leukemia. [62] [63] She ran in the open primary as a conservative Republican and came in second with 34,521 votes (22.44%), behind Republican law school professor Pete McCloskey, who placed first in the primary with 52,882 votes (34.37%) and advanced to the general election with Democrat Roy A. Archibald, who finished fourth with 15,069 votes (9.79%), but advanced as the highest-placed Democratic candidate. In the general election, McCloskey was elected with 63,850 votes (57.2%) to Archibald's 43,759 votes (39.2%). Temple received 3,938 votes (3.53%) as an independent write-in. [64] [65]

Temple (far left) with First Lady Pat Nixon, and Chief Nana Osae Djan II, in Ghana, 1972 Mrs. Nixon attends a ceremony in Ghana - NARA - 194403.tif
Temple (far left) with First Lady Pat Nixon, and Chief Nana Osae Djan II, in Ghana, 1972

Temple was extensively involved with the Commonwealth Club of California, a public-affairs forum headquartered in San Francisco. She spoke at many meetings throughout the years, and was president for a period in 1984. [66] [67]

Temple got her start in foreign service after her failed run for Congress in 1967, when Henry Kissinger overheard her talking about South West Africa at a party. He was surprised that she knew anything about it. [68] She was appointed as a delegate to the 24th United Nations General Assembly (September – December 1969) by President Richard M. Nixon [69] [70] [71] and United States Ambassador to Ghana (December 6, 1974 – July 13, 1976) by President Gerald R. Ford. [72] She was appointed first female Chief of Protocol of the United States (July 1, 1976 – January 21, 1977). [72] [73]

She served as the United States Ambassador to Czechoslovakia (August 23, 1989 – July 12, 1992), having been appointed by President George H. W. Bush, [74] and was the first and only woman in this job. Temple bore witness to two crucial moments in the history of Czechoslovakia's fight against communism. She was in Prague in August 1968, as a representative of the International Federation of Multiple Sclerosis Societies, and was going to meet with Czechoslovakian party leader Alexander Dubček on the very day that Soviet-backed forces invaded the country. Dubček fell out of favor with the Soviets after a series of reforms, known as the Prague Spring. Temple, who was stranded at a hotel as the tanks rolled in, sought refuge on the roof of the hotel. She later reported that it was from there she saw an unarmed woman on the street gunned down by Soviet forces, the sight of which stayed with her for the rest of her life. [75]

Later, after she became ambassador to Czechoslovakia, she was present during the Velvet Revolution, which brought about the end of communism in Czechoslovakia. Temple openly sympathized with anti-communist dissidents and was ambassador when the United States established formal diplomatic relations with the newly elected government led by Václav Havel. She took the unusual step of personally accompanying Havel on his first official visit to Washington, travelling on the same plane. [68]

Personal life

Shirley Temple with her daughter Linda Susan (1948) Shirley Temple with her daughter Linda Susan, May 1948.jpg
Shirley Temple with her daughter Linda Susan (1948)

In 1943, 15-year-old Temple met 22-year-old John Agar, whom she married two years later in 1945, at age 17. [76] [77] [78] She gave birth to Linda Susan Agar in 1948. [76] [79] [80] Agar was reportedly an alcoholic, and had extramarital affairs. Temple divorced Agar in 1950 on the grounds of mental cruelty. [81]

Temple was married to Charles Alden Black from 1950 until his death on August 4, 2005. [82] They had a son, Charles Alden Black Jr. Their daughter Lori became a bassist for the rock band the Melvins.

Breast cancer

At age 44, in 1972, Temple was diagnosed with breast cancer. At the time, cancer was typically discussed in hushed whispers, and Temple's public disclosure was a significant milestone in improving breast cancer awareness and reducing stigma around the disease. [83] [84]


Temple died at age 85 on February 10, 2014, at her home in Woodside, California. [85] [86] [84] The cause of death, according to her death certificate released on March 3, 2014, was chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). [87] Temple was a lifelong cigarette smoker but avoided displaying her habit in public because she did not want to set a bad example for her fans. [88] She is buried at Alta Mesa Memorial Park.

Awards, honors, and legacy

Temple wearing the Kennedy Center Honors, 1998 Shirley Temple 1998.jpg
Temple wearing the Kennedy Center Honors, 1998

On March 14, 1935, Shirley left her footprints and handprints in the wet cement at the forecourt of Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. She was the Grand Marshal of the New Year's Day Rose Parade in Pasadena, California, three times in 1939, 1989, and 1999. On February 8, 1960, she received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

In 1970, she received the Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement. [89] [90] In February 1980, Temple was honored by the Freedoms Foundation of Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. [91] In 1975, Temple was installed as an honorary deputy paramount chief of the Oguaa people of Ghana. [92]

Her name is further immortalized by the mocktail named after her, although Temple found the drink far too sweet for her palate. [93] [94] In 1988, Temple brought a lawsuit to prevent a bottled soda version from using her name. [95] [96]

On June 9, 2021, Temple was featured on that day's Google Doodle in celebration of the opening anniversary of "Love, Shirley Temple” a special exhibit featuring a collection of her rare memorabilia at Santa Monica History Museum. [97]


See also


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    Further reading

    Shirley Temple
    Temple in 1948
    Shirley Jane Temple

    (1928-04-23)April 23, 1928
    DiedFebruary 10, 2014(2014-02-10) (aged 85)
    Resting place Alta Mesa Memorial Park
    • Actress
    • singer
    • dancer
    • diplomat
    Years active1932–1965 (as actress)
    1967–1992 (as public servant)
    (m. 1945;div. 1950)
    (m. 1950;died 2005)
    Children3, including Lori Black
    27th United States Ambassador to Czechoslovakia
    In office
    August 23, 1989 July 12, 1992