Thursday, January 17, 2013

Spotlight On: America's Little Princess

Shirley Temple
Shirley's mother pin-curled her hair each night, always with 56 curls.

When I was a little girl in the 60s and early 70s, my mom would always make a special dinner after church, usually some form of chicken because that was a treat for us to have, and after the meal was finished and the table cleared, we would all gather around the tv to watch an afternoon movie on one of the two channels that we could get.  This is where I first saw Shirley Temple light up my tv screen.  A darling dimpled, cherub faced girl with golden ringlets that bounced while she sang and danced and kept pace with a long list of grown up actors.  She could do it all, and at the ripe old age of five! 

Shirley Temple at 18 months with ball
18 Months Old

Shirley Jane Temple was born April 23, 1928 and at the age of three was discovered in a dance class and given a small acting job with Educational Pictures in a series of short films called "Baby Burlesks", in which they were all children between the ages of three and five and did spoofs of the adult movies at the time.  Shirley played Marlene Dietrich and Mae West, among others.

Shirley Temple as Mae West 1933
A little femme fatale, 1933

Shirley Temple in Little Miss Marker
Little Miss Marker, 1934

Morelegs Sweettrick, Kid in Hollywood
Morelegs Sweettrick, Kid in Hollywood, costume by her Mother, 1933.

Shirley Temple with Marlene Dietrich
With Marlene Dietrich in 1934

After a few small roles in feature films, she was contracted to Fox where she made a startling debut in the 1934 musical, "Stand Up and Cheer", singing and dancing with James Dunn to the song - Baby, Take a Bow.  Within the first week of the movie's release, Shirley had became the symbol of family wholesomeness.   Her career took off like wildfire and her movies were credited with restoring the Fox Film studio to profitability when it had been teetering on the brink of bankruptcy.  There were millions of dollars spent on merchandise with her likeness on it, such as dolls, records, mugs, hats, dresses.  There's even a drink made in her honor.  

Shirley Temple and Father
Signing contract with her Father at Fox Studios in 1934

In all, Shirley made 14 short films, 43 feature films, and over 25 storybook movies, most all of them before she was even a teenager.  In 1935, theater owners voted her the No. 1 box-office star in America, and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presented her with a miniature Oscar for her outstanding contribution to screen entertainment.  She was six years old at the time, making her the youngest actor ever to receive an Oscar.  In 2002, Shirley was awarded a life size Oscar in exchange for her miniature Oscar awarded more than 50 years before.  Her life size Oscar currently stands at the Fox studios lot where it will remain forever.

Shirley with her Oscar 1935
Juvenile Oscar award with Irvin S. Cobb, 1935

Her box office popularity waned as she reached adolescence, and she left the film industry at the age of 12.  She appeared in a few films of varying quality in her mid-to-late teens, (one of which was The Bachelor and The Bobbysoxer which I plan to do a review on in an upcoming post) and retired completely from films in 1950 at the age of 22.  She was the top box-office draw four years in a row from 1935 to 1938, beating out such great grown-up stars as Clark Gable, Robert Taylor, Gary Cooper and Joan Crawford.  

Shirley Temple
I love this darling hat and suit she is wearing.

Shirley Temple 1940s
Shirley in the early 40s

Shirley Temple, The Bachelor and The Bobbysoxer 1947
Shirley in The Bachelor and The Bobbysoxer, 1947

Shirley Temple color photo
Shirley in the mid to late 1940s

Shirley Temple
This is probably one of my favorite photos of her.

In 1945, at the age of 17, Shirley married Sergeant John Agar.  Though the marriage was a troubled, short lived one, lasting only five years, they did have a daughter, Linda Susan in 1948.  

Shirley Temple and John Agar wedding day
Shirley and John's wedding day, 1945

Shirley Temple with daughter Susie, 1948
Shirley with daughter Linda Susan "Susie", 1948

Shortly after filing for divorce, while attending a dinner party in Honolulu, she met Charles Black, a former Naval Officer, who was working for a shipping company there.  She admits that it was love at first sight.  They dated for the next 12 days and on the 13th day, Charles proposed.  He is reported as saying, "The more I saw her the more I realized she was a very unusual comet flying through my sky."  They were married 10 months later, in December 1950, just a few days after her divorce was finalized.  

Shirley Temple with husband Charles Black
Shirley and Charlie Black at The Egyptian premiere, 1954.

Shirley Temple Black and Charles Black 1953
Shirley and Charlie at the Stork Club, 1953

Shirley and Charlie were married until his death in 2005 from a bone marrow disease.  She has said that while they were dating, Charles wooed her with a Tahitian love song, and as he lay dying, she sang the same song to him.  They have two children, Charles Alden Black, Jr born in 1952 and Lori Alden Black born in 1954.  Her daughter from her previous marriage, Linda, also took Black's name.  

Shirley Temple with son
Shirley with  son, Charlie, Jr  - 1952

Shirley Temple with daughter Lori
Shirley with daughter, Lori - 1954

Although she tried to revive her career in the late 1950s, she wasn't able to make a comeback. Both of her television series, Shirley Temple Storybook (1958-59) and The Shirley Temple Show (1960-61) failed to capture enough of an audience.  

The Shirley Temple Show 1960
The Shirley Temple Show

Shirley Temple Storybook 1958
Shirley Temple Storybook television series

Having worked all her life, Temple Black kept busy on corporate boards and humanitarian causes: Her dossier includes 18 councils and associations, including The Walt Disney Company, Del Monte Foods, and the National Wildlife Federation.  She also tried her hand at politics and in a special election in 1967, she made a failed run for Congress as a Republican representative from her home district.

Shirley Temple Black
Shirley Temple Black in politics

Her career in diplomacy began when her brother George was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1952.  She got very active on the Los Angeles board, then the national board and finally was a co-founder of the International Federation of Multiple Sclerosis Societies. 

In 1969, President Nixon appointed Shirley as delegate to the United Nations General Assembly.  In 1974, President Ford made her ambassador to Ghana.  Returning to Washington in 1976, she was appointed by Ford as the first female U.S. chief of protocol, a job that she describes with a thumbs down. A lot of parties for one who doesn't like parties, she explained.  She lasted six months, her tenure ending with Jimmy Carter's election.

Shirley Temple politics
Shirley giving a political speech 

For eight years, under the administration of her co-star in "That Hagen Girl", Ronald Reagan, she undertook another government job, as teacher at the State Department, conducting seminars for ambassadors and their wives.

Shirley Temple with Ronald Reagan in That Hagen Girl, 1948
With Ronald Reagan in That Hagen Girl, 1948

In 1972, Shirley was diagnosed with breast cancer and went on to have a modified radical mastectomy.  After the operation, she announced it to the world, and in doing so, she became the one of the first prominent women to speak openly about breast cancer.

In 1988 she released her autobiography, Child Star, and in 1989, while traveling to promote the first half of her autobiography, President Bush reached her in Seattle and asked her to be the ambassador to Czechoslovakia.  She immediately accepted.

The Clinton years ended her diplomatic career, though she remains vice president of the American Academy of Diplomacy, which she co-founded, and belongs to other groups fostering foreign relations.

In 2006, the Screen Actors Guild awarded Shirley a Lifetime Achievement Award.

Shirley Temple SAG award 2006
Shirley at the 2006 SAG awards

Today, Shirley is still living in Northern California, writing the second half of her autobiography and has released The Shirley Temple Storybook Collection, which contains her favorite fairy tale episodes from her television series.  You can buy the DVDs on her website.

Shirley rose to stardom during the worst of times - the Depression - and ruled as the most popular movie star in America.  She won an Academy Award and helped save a major studio from bankruptcy.  Kings and presidents asked to meet her.  She is number 18 on the American Film Institute's list of the greatest female American screen legends of all time, making her the highest ranked living person on the list.  Child stars come and go, but there is only one Shirley Temple, she truly was America's Little Princess.

{Most all photos came from here, here, here and here}


  1. Oh my-where do I start!? She is one of my favorite actresses and I adored her on the big screen when I was a child and now as an adult. My favorite film of hers is "The Little Princess" bc I could relate to the story growing up. I was glued to my screen reading your post and added her book to my very long amazon cart heheh Thank you! So nice someone admires and adores Shirley as much as I do. That is a person who was blessed with a VERY long and amazing life. And btw her 2nd hubby...can I say GORGEOUS!! Wow lucky girl hehe xox

    1. So many times, especially these days, child actors have difficulty adjusting to life after their acting career ends, but she just seemed to take it all in stride and move on. Such a class act! And I totally agree about her hubby!

    2. How funny! When I saw the picture of him, I thought the same handsome he was.

  2. Great review. I am a huge Shirley fan, so much so that as a child my Mom went out of her way to lighten my hair to her shade and put in all the curls. I also owned the doll and a few outfits.

    1. My mom was never really much on styling our hair, she usually chopped it all off so she didnt have to deal with it. lol. I can remember her chasing me through the yard trying to catch me for a haircut. That was the year I got a pixie cut, I cried for days. HA!

  3. What a heartwarmingly sweet recollection of your childhood memories of watching Shirley's films and an awesome profile of this endlessly talented actress. She really was one in a million!

    ♥ Jessica

  4. I was actually looking up about her life the other day. Wouldn't it be great if she put together a collection of her clothing and items from her life?

    1. Oh yes! She was a very stylish lady. I could sit and look at photographs of her for hours. I love that beautiful suit she is wearing in the The Bachelor & Bobbysoxer. I found something similar on ebay last night and am thinking seriously that it needs to come home with me. lol


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