Shirley Temple Black (née Temple; April 23, 1928 - February 10, 2014) was an American film and television actress, singer, dancer, and public servant, most famous as a child star in the 1930s. Temple began her film career in 1932 at the age of three. In 1934, she found international fame in Bright Eyes, a feature film designed specifically for her talents. Film hits such as Curly Top and Heidi followed year after year during the mid-to-late 1930s. Her box office popularity waned as she reached adolescence. She appeared in a few films of varying quality in her mid-to-late teens, and retired completely from films in 1950 at the age of 22.
Following her Hollywood career she spent a brief time in television but then moved on from acting. She entered politics and became a diplomat with an appointment to represent the United States at a session of the United Nations General Assembly, and then serving as United States Ambassador to Ghana and later to Czechoslovakia, and as Chief of Protocol of the United States. She also sat on the boards of many corporations and organizations including The Walt Disney Company, Del Monte Foods, and the National Wildlife Federation.
Temple was the recipient of numerous awards and honors including the Kennedy Center Honors and a Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award. She remains an inspirational cinematic legend, beloved by the public for her brilliant performances when just a child. Unlike many Hollywood child stars who lost their way, Temple retained her dignity and went on to serve her country both at home and abroad for many years.
LifeIn Glad Rags to Riches, 1933
Shirley Temple was born on April 23, 1928, in Santa Monica, California. She was the daughter of Gertrude Amelia Temple (née Krieger), a homemaker, and George Francis Temple, a bank employee. The family was of English, German, and Dutch ancestry.2 She had two brothers, George Francis, Jr. and John Stanley. Temple's mother encouraged her infant daughter's singing, dancing, and acting talents, and in September 1931 enrolled her in Meglin's Dance School in Los Angeles.34 About this time, Temple's mother began styling her daughter's hair in ringlets similar to those of silent film star Mary Pickford.2
Whilst at Meglin's she was spotted by Charles Lamont, a casting director for Educational Pictures. Although Shirley hid behind the piano, Lamont invited her to audition, and in 1932 signed her to a contract and her film career began at the tender age of three. When Educational Pictures went bankrupt the following year she was contracted by Fox Film Corporation and her performance in Stand Up and Cheer marked the beginning of her rise to stardom.5 In 1934, she found international fame in Bright Eyes, a feature film designed specifically for her talents. She received a special Juvenile Academy Award in February 1935 for her outstanding contribution as a juvenile performer to motion pictures during 1934, and film hits such as Curly Top and Heidi followed year after year during the mid-to-late 1930s.
In 1943, 15-year-old Temple met John Agar (1921-2002), an Army Air Corps sergeant, physical training instructor, and a member of a Chicago meat-packing family. On September 19, 1945, when Temple was 17 years old, they were married before 500 guests in an Episcopal ceremony at Wilshire Methodist Church. On January 30, 1948, Temple gave birth to their daughter, Linda Susan. Agar became a professional actor and the couple made two films together: Fort Apache (1948, RKO) and Adventure in Baltimore (1949, RKO).3 The marriage became troubled, and Temple divorced Agar on December 5, 1949.3 She received custody of their daughter and the restoration of her maiden name.6
In January 1950, Temple met Charles Alden Black, a World War II United States Navy intelligence officer and Silver Star recipient who was Assistant to the President of the Hawaiian Pineapple Company. Temple and Black were married in his parents' Del Monte, California, home on December 16, 1950, before a small assembly of family and friends.3
The family relocated to Washington, D.C., when Black was recalled to the Navy at the outbreak of the Korean War.2 Temple gave birth to their son, Charles Alden Black, Jr., in Washington, D.C., on April 28, 1952. Following the war's end and Black's discharge from the Navy, the family returned to California in May 1953. Black managed television station KABC-TV in Los Angeles, and Temple became a homemaker. Their daughter Lori was born on April 9, 1954. Lori went on to be a bassist in the grunge band the Melvins. In September 1954, Charles, Sr. became director of business operations for the Stanford Research Institute and the family moved to Atherton, California.3 The couple remained married for 54 years until his death of complications from a bone marrow disease on August 4, 2005, at home in Woodside.7
In 1972, Temple was diagnosed with breast cancer. The tumor was removed and a modified radical mastectomy performed. Following the operation, she announced it to the world via radio, television, and a February 1973 article for the magazine McCall's. In doing so, she became one of the first prominent women to speak openly about breast cancer.8
Shirley Temple died of natural causes on February 10, 2014, at the age of 85. She was at her home in Woodside, California, surrounded by family and caregivers.910
Shirley Temple's film career began at the age of three. Charles Lamont, a casting director for Educational Pictures, saw her at Meglin's Dance School in Los Angeles and immediately recognized her talent. Educational Pictures were about to launch their Baby Burlesks,6 series of short films satirizing recent film and political events, using pre-school children in every role. Because the children were dressed as adults and given mature dialogue the series was eventually seen as dated and exploitative.
Baby Burlesks was a series of one-reelers; another series of two-reelers called Frolics of Youth followed, with Temple playing Mary Lou Rogers, a youngster in a contemporary suburban family.3 To underwrite production costs at Educational, Temple and her child co-stars modeled for breakfast cereals and other products.6 She was loaned to Tower Productions for a small role in her first feature film (Red-Haired Alibi) in 19326 and, in 1933, to Universal, Paramount, and Warner Bros., for various bit parts.2
Fox filmsTemple's hand and foot prints at Grauman's Chinese Theater
Educational Pictures declared bankruptcy in 1933, and Temple signed with Fox Film Corporation in February 1934.6 In April 1934, Stand Up and Cheer! became Temple's breakthrough film. Her charm was evident to Fox heads, and she was promoted well before the film's release. Within months, she became the symbol of wholesome family entertainment.11 Her salary was raised to $1,250 a week, and her mother's to $150 as coach and hairdresser.3 In June, her success continued with a loan-out to Paramount for Little Miss Marker.2
On December 28, 1934, Bright Eyes was released. It was the first feature film crafted specifically for Temple's talents and the first in which her name appeared above the title.2 Her signature song, "On the Good Ship Lollipop," was introduced in the film and sold 500,000 sheet music copies. The film demonstrated Temple's ability to portray a multi-dimensional character and established a formula for her future roles as a lovable, parentless waif whose charm and sweetness mellowed gruff older men. In February 1935, Temple became the first child star to be honored with a miniature Juvenile Oscar for her 1934 film accomplishments, and she added her foot- and handprints to the forecourt at Grauman's Chinese Theatre a month later.6
Twentieth Century Fox
Fox Films merged with Twentieth Century Pictures to become Twentieth Century Fox in 1934. Producer and studio head Darryl F. Zanuck focused his attention and resources upon cultivating Temple's superstar status. With four successful films to her credit, she was the studio's greatest asset. Nineteen writers known as the Shirley Temple Story Development team created 11 original stories and several adaptations of the classics for her.2
In keeping with her star status, Winfield Sheehan, head of Fox Films before the merge, built Temple a four-room bungalow at the studio with a garden, a picket fence, a tree with a swing and a rabbit pen. The living room wall was painted with a mural depicting Temple as a fairy tale princess wearing a golden star on her head. Under Zanuck, Temple was assigned a bodyguard, John Griffith, a childhood friend of Zanuck's, and, at the end of 1935, Frances "Klammie" Klampt became Temple's tutor at the studio.2
Biographer Anne Edwards writes about the tone and tenor of Temple films under Zanuck, noting that the characters created for Temple would change the lives of the cold, the hardened, and even the criminal with positive results:
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.2
Edwards quoted a nameless filmographer:
She assaults, penetrates, and opens the flinty characters making it possible for them to give of themselves. All of this returns upon her at times forcing her into situations where she must decide who needs her most. It is her agony, her Calvary, and it brings her to her most despairing moments… Shirley's capacity for love… was indiscriminate, extending to pinched misers or to common hobos, it was a social, even a political, force on a par with democracy or the Constitution.2
Temple films were seen as generating hope and optimism, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt said, "It is a splendid thing that for just fifteen cents an American can go to a movie and look at the smiling face of a baby and forget his troubles."2 Temple and her parents traveled to Washington, D.C., in 1938 to meet President Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor. The presidential couple also invited the Temple family to a cook-out at their home in Hyde Park, New York.2First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and Shirley Temple in July 1938
Most films Temple starred in were cheaply made at $200,000 or $300,000 per picture and were comedy-dramas with songs and dances added, sentimental and melodramatic situations aplenty, and little in the way of production values. Her film titles are a clue to the way she was marketed-Curly Top and Dimples, and her "little" pictures such as The Little Colonel and The Littlest Rebel. Temple often played a fixer-upper, a precocious Cupid, or the good fairy in these films, reuniting her estranged parents or smoothing out the wrinkles in the romances of young couples. She was very often motherless, sometimes fatherless, and sometimes an orphan confined to a dreary asylum.12 Elements of the traditional fairy tale were woven into her films: wholesome goodness triumphing over meanness and evil, for example, or wealth over poverty, marriage over divorce, or a booming economy over a depressed one.13Temple leaving the White House offices with her mother and her bodyguard Grif, 1938
As Temple matured into a pre-adolescent, the formula was altered slightly to encourage her naturalness, naïveté, and tomboyishness to come forth and shine while her infant innocence, which had served her well at six but was inappropriate for her "tweens" (or later childhood years), was toned down.12
At Zanuck's request, Temple's parents agreed to four films a year from their daughter (rather than the three they wished), and the child star's contract was reworked with bonuses. A succession of films followed: The Little Colonel, Our Little Girl, Curly Top (with the signature song "Animal Crackers in My Soup"), and The Littlest Rebel in 1935. Curly Top and The Littlest Rebel were named to Variety's list of top box office draws for 1935.12 In 1936, Captain January, Poor Little Rich Girl, Dimples, and Stowaway were released.
Based on Temple's many screen successes, Zanuck increased budgets and production values for her films. In 1937, John Ford was hired to direct the sepia-toned Wee Willie Winkie (Temple's own favorite) and an A-list cast was signed that included Victor McLaglen, C. Aubrey Smith and Cesar Romero. The film was a critical and commercial hit.3 However, British writer and critic Graham Greene muddied the waters in October 1937 when he wrote in a British magazine that Temple was a "complete totsy" and accused her of being too nubile for a nine-year-old.
Temple and Twentieth Century-Fox sued for libel and won. The settlement remained in trust for Temple in an English bank until she turned twenty-one, when it was donated to charity and used to build a youth center in England.23
The only other Temple film released in 1937 was Heidi, which, according to Edwards, was a story suited to Temple's "slightly more mature personality."2 Edwards points out that Temple's hair had darkened and her ringlets brushed back into curls. Temple's theatrical instincts had sharpened, Edwards observes, and she suggested the Dutch song and dance dream sequence.Temple in The Little Princess
In 1938 Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, Little Miss Broadway, and Just Around the Corner were released. The latter two were panned by the critics, and Corner was the first Temple film to show a slump in ticket sales.2 The following year, Zanuck secured the rights to the children's novel, A Little Princess, believing the book would be an ideal vehicle for Temple. He budgeted the film at $1.5 million (twice the amount of Corner) and chose it to be her first Technicolor feature. The Little Princess was a 1939 critical and commercial success with Temple's acting at its peak. Convinced Temple would successfully move from child star to teenage actress, Zanuck declined a substantial offer from MGM to star Temple as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz and cast her instead in Susannah of the Mounties, her last money-maker for Twentieth Century-Fox.3 The film was successful, but because she made only two films in 1939 instead of the usual three or four, Temple dropped from number one box-office favorite in 1938 to number five in 1939.2
In 1939, Temple was the subject of the Salvador Dalí painting Shirley Temple, The Youngest, Most Sacred Monster of the Cinema in Her Time.
In 1940, Temple starred in two consecutive flops at Twentieth Century-Fox, The Blue Bird and Young People.4 Temple's parents bought up the remainder of her contract and sent her at the age of 12 to Westlake School for Girls, an exclusive country day school in Los Angeles.3 At the studio, Temple's bungalow was renovated, all traces of her tenure expunged, and the building reassigned as an office complex.2
Last films and retirement
In 1941, Temple worked on the radio with four shows for Lux soap and a four-part Shirley Temple Time for Elgin. She said about radio: "It's adorable. I get a big thrill out of it, and I want to do as much radio work as I can."3
However, within a year of her departure from Twentieth Century-Fox, MGM signed Temple for her comeback, and made plans to team her with Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney first for the Andy Hardy series, and then when that idea was quickly abandoned, teaming Temple with Garland and Rooney for the musical Babes on Broadway. However, realizing that both Garland and Rooney could easily upstage Temple, MGM replaced her in that film with Virginia Weidler. As a result, Temple's only film for Metro became Kathleen in 1941, a story about an unhappy teenager. The film was not a success and her MGM contract was canceled. Miss Annie Rooney followed for United Artists in 1942, but it too was unsuccessful. The actress retired for almost two years from films, throwing herself into school life and activities.3
In 1944, David O. Selznick signed Temple to a personal four-year contract. She appeared in two wartime hits for him: Since You Went Away and I'll Be Seeing You. Selznick however became involved with Jennifer Jones and lost interest in developing Temple's career. She was loaned to other studios with Kiss and Tell, The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer, and Fort Apache being her few good films at the time.3
According to biographer Robert Windeler, her 1947-49 films neither made nor lost money, but "had a cheapie B look about them and indifferent performances from her."3 Selznick suggested she move abroad, gain maturity as an actress, and even change her name. She had been typecast, he warned her, and her career was in perilous straits.3 After auditioning for and losing the role of Peter Pan on the Broadway stage in August 1950, Temple took stock, admitted her recent movies had been poor fare, and announced her official retirement from films on December 16, 1950.
Merchandise and endorsements
Many Temple-inspired products were manufactured and released during the 1930s. Ideal Toy and Novelty Company in New York City negotiated a license for dolls with the company's first doll wearing the polka-dot dress from Stand Up and Cheer!. Shirley Temple dolls realized $45 million in sales before 1941.6 A mug, a pitcher, and a cereal bowl in cobalt blue with a decal of Temple were given away as a premium with Wheaties.
Successfully-selling Temple items included a line of girls' dresses and accessories, soap, dishes, cutout books, sheet music, mirrors, paper tablets, and numerous other items. Before 1935 ended, Temple's income from licensed merchandise royalties would exceed $100,000, doubling her income from her movies. In 1936, her income would top $200,000 from royalties. She endorsed Postal Telegraph, Sperry Drifted Snow Flour, the Grunow Teledial radio, Quaker Puffed Wheat, and more.6
Between January and December 1958, Temple hosted and narrated a successful NBC television anthology series of fairy tale adaptations called Shirley Temple's Storybook. Temple acted in three of the sixteen hour-long episodes, and her son made his acting debut in the Christmas episode, "Mother Goose".2 The series was popular but faced some problems. The show lacked the special effects necessary for fairy tale dramatizations, sets were amateurish, and episodes were telecast in no regular time-slot, making it difficult to generate a following. The show was reworked and released in color in September 1960 in a regular time-slot as The Shirley Temple Show. It faced stiff competition from Maverick, Lassie, Dennis the Menace, the 1960 telecast of The Wizard of Oz, and the Walt Disney anthology television series however, and was canceled at season's end in September 1961.4
Temple continued to work on television, making guest appearances on The Red Skelton Show, Sing Along with Mitch, and other shows.2 In January 1965, she portrayed a social worker in a sitcom pilot called Go Fight City Hall that was never released.2 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.14
Motivated by the popularity of Storybook and television broadcasts of Temple's films, the Ideal Toy Company released a new version of the Shirley Temple doll and Random House published three fairy tale anthologies under Temple's name. Three hundred thousand dolls were sold within six months and 225,000 books between October and December 1958. Other merchandise included handbags and hats, coloring books, a toy theater, and a recreation of the Baby, Take a Bow polka-dot dress.2
Life after HollywoodShirley Temple Black in Prague in 1990
Following her venture into television, Temple became active in the Republican Party in California. In 1967, she ran unsuccessfully in a special election in California's 11th congressional district to fill the seat left vacant by the death of eight-term Republican J. Arthur Younger.2 She ran as a conservative and lost to law school professor Pete McCloskey, a liberal Republican who was a staunch opponent of the Vietnam War.15
She was appointed Representative to the 24th United Nations General Assembly by President Richard M. Nixon (September - December 1969), and was appointed United States Ambassador to Ghana (December 6, 1974 - July 13, 1976) by President Gerald R. Ford.2 She was appointed first female Chief of Protocol of the United States (July 1, 1976 - January 21, 1977), and was in charge of arrangements for President Jimmy Carter's inauguration and inaugural ball.2 She also served as the United States Ambassador to Czechoslovakia (August 23, 1989 - July 12, 1992), having been appointed by President George H. W. Bush.
Temple served on numerous boards of directors of large enterprises and organizations including The Walt Disney Company, Del Monte, Bank of America, the Bank of California, BANCAL Tri-State, Fireman's Fund Insurance, the United States Commission for UNESCO, the United Nations Association and the National Wildlife Federation.2
Temple was the recipient of many awards and honors including a special Juvenile Academy Award and the Life Achievement Award from the American Center of Films for Children,2 the National Board of Review Career Achievement Award in 1992,16 Kennedy Center Honors,174 and the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award.18 On September 11, 2002, a life-size bronze statue of the child Temple by sculptor Nijel Binns was erected on the Fox Studio lot.19
On March 14, 1935, Temple left her footprints and handprints in the wet cement at the forecourt of Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. On February 8, 1960, she received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for her work in films. She was the Grand Marshal of the New Year's Day Rose Parade in Pasadena, California three times in 1939, 1989, and 1999.
In addition to her many awards for her films, she also made an invaluable contribution to public awareness of breast cancer, as one of the first well-known women to speak openly about her mastectomy, and her public service at home and abroad.
Her legacy, unlike that of many Hollywood child stars who self-destructed under the pressure of their celebrity status, remains as a beloved and inspirational cinematic legend and American icon, one who served her country both at home and abroad.8
Most of the films from 1933 and 1934 were produced as part of the Baby Burlesks series.
- ↑ While Temple occasionally used "Jane" as a middle name, her birth certificate reads "Shirley Temple." Her birth certificate was altered to prolong her babyhood shortly after she signed with Fox in 1934; her birth year was advanced from 1928 to 1929. Even her baby book was revised to support the 1929 date. She admitted her real age when she was 21.