Shirley Temple (1928-2014)

Shirley Temple
Shirley Temple
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Shirley Temple will always be remembered as the most famous child actress in movie history. After getting her first film role at the age of three, in 1932, her charming smile and blonde curls quickly made her one of the most popular stars of the 1930s.

For four years, from 1935 Shirley was Hollywood's number one box-office draw and she was given a special juvenile Oscar in 1935, when she was just six years old. To this day, she is still the youngest person ever to receive an Academy Award.

She made a total of 43 feature films and 14 shorts up to 1949 but after a short television career in the early 1960s she retired from acting. Under her married name of Shirley Temple Black, she ran unsuccessfully as a Republican candidate for Congress in 1967. She then began a highly successful political career in 1974 when she was made US ambassador to Ghana, and in 1989 she was made the US ambassador to Czechoslovakia.

On the American Film Institute's list of the greatest female American screen legends, Shirley is ranked at number 18.


She was born with the name Shirley Temple on April 23, 1928, in Santa Monica, California, She had two brothers and her father was a bank clerk. Her mother encouraged Shirley to develop her obvious natural musical talents and when she was three years old she was enrolled in Meglin's Dance School in Los Angeles, a school started in 1928 by ex Ziegfeld girl, Ethel Meglin.

The school had numerous contacts in the movie business and in 1931 Shirley was talent spotted by Charles Lamont, the casting director of Educational Pictures. She was auditioned and, aged three years, was signed up to a contract. Her first films were a series of eight shorts jointly titled 'Baby Burlesks' which were parodies of movie stars, films and current events, using young children in every role. They had such titles as 'Runt Page' and 'Glad Rags to Riches'. The children also did modeling for various commercial products.

Shirley's first feature film came in 1932 when she was lent out to Tower Productions for a small role in 'The Red-Haired Alibi' and,the following year she was again lent out to Universal, Paramount, and Warner Bros for various movies including 'To the Last Man' in 1933 and 'House of Connelly' the following year.

Shirley auditioned for the starring role in 'Stand Up and Cheer!' in December, 1933 and won the part. It proved to be her breakthrough role and she very quickly became an established child star.

Hollywood Star 1934

The Shirley Temple films only cost about $200,000 or $300,000 each to make and were highly profitable for the studio.

The first movie created specifically for Shirley was 'Bright Eyes' in late 1934. The song which helped to make her famous, "On the Good Ship Lollipop", was introduced in the film and it sold 500,000 sheet-music copies. In February 1935 Shirley was presented with a Juvenile Oscar, the first ever, and just like established adult stars, she added her foot and handprints to the forecourt at Grauman's Chinese Theatre a month later.

Most of Shirley's childhood films followed a predictable pattern and were like modern day fairy tales. Shirley always represented dimpled, curly haired goodness and always triumphed over evil, represented by poverty or parental separation. Her best known films are 'Little Miss Marker' in 1934, 'Poor Little Rich Girl' in 1936, 'Wee Willie Winkie' in 1937 and 'Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm' in 1938.

She became a phenomenon, a national institution, and she was one of the first Hollywood stars to enjoy the financial marketing spinoffs of her popularity, with look-alike dolls, dresses and dozens of other Shirley Temple novelties. By 1935 Shirley Temple dolls accounted for almost a third of all dolls sold in America.

Later Movie Career

As the years passed, Shirley found one of the main disadvantages of being a child star - growing up. The studios altered the basic formula of her movies to reflect a more mature, although still young and naive young girl. She had her last box office success in 1939 with 'The Little Princess', co-starring Randolph Scott. She was by now eleven years old but still was able to show the charm and mannerisms that had always stood her in good stead and which kept the focus of attention on her.

Shirley's career as a child actress finally came to an end in 1940 when she was twelve years old. In that year she starred in two flops at Twentieth Century Fox—'The Blue Bird' and 'Young People'. She was given some pre-teen roles such as in 'Kathleen' in 1941 which proved disappointing and she then tried some more mature roles as in 'Since You Went Away' in 1944 and 'That Hagen Girl' with Ronald Reagan in 1947.

Her appearance as Henry Fonda's daughter in 1948's 'Fort Apache' was well received but by then Shirley's career was effectively over. She had become just another young actress in Hollywood.

After unsuccessfully auditioning for the role of Peter Pan on Broadway stage in August 1950, Shirley announced her retirement from films in December, 1950.

After Hollywood

Shirley had a short career on television starting in 1958 with 'Shirley Temple's Storybook', a two-season anthology series of fairy tale adaptations such as 'Babes in Toyland' and 'The Little Mermaid'. She also made guest appearances in television shows such as 'The Red Skelton Hour' in 1963.

During the 1960s she became interested in the business world and for a time sat on the boards of corporations and organizations including The Walt Disney Company and Del Monte Foods. In 1940 she had served as an honorary chairman at the National Wildlife Federation to help with fundraising and in 1970 she joined it again, serving two years on theFederation’s Board of Directors.

Diplomatic Career

Shirley developed a great interest in politics. In 1967she ran for a vacant seat in Congress, advocating an escalation of the Vietnam War. She lost, but with Richard Nixon's election in 1968, she was appointed a U.S. delegate to the United Nations where she worked at the U.S. Mission under Ambassador Charles W. Yost.

She gradually built a fine reputation in the difficult and often murky world of international diplomacy. In 1974 she was appointed U.S. ambassador to Ghana, and two years later became the State Department's first female Chief of Protocol, essentially a teaching position for newcomers to the U.S. diplomatic corps.

In 1989, Shirley was appointed by President George H.W. Bush to be the ambassador to the Czech and Slovak Republic. She had stints with the Council on Foreign Relations, the Council of American Ambassadors, and the Institute for International Studies at Stanford University. It was a long way from her Hollywood beginnings, and she loved it.


Shirley was the presenter when Walt Disney won his unique Academy Award for 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs' in 1937. It was a normal sized Oscar with seven little Oscars.

In 1988, she published her autobiography 'Child Star'.

Shirley was married twice. Her first husband was a young G.I. named John Agar. They married in 1945 when Shirley was aged 17 at a ceremony attended by movie moguls and thousands of fans. Agar soon became interested in acting and worked twice with Shirley before the marriage turned sour. They had one child but Agar proved to be a philanderer and Shirley filed for divorce in 1949.

Her second marriage was much happier. She met Charles Black in Honolulu where he was working for a shipping company. He later co-founded Mardela Corp., a fishery and hatchery company headquartered in California, which conducted ventures such as catfish and salmon farming. After a 12 day courtship, he and Shirley married in 1950, and the couple had two children. They lived for many years in the San Francisco suburb of Woodside, the marriage ending with his death in 2005.

Shirley Temple died of lung disease at her home in Woodside, on February 10, 2014. She was 85 years old.

Shirley Temple Academy Awards

One Honorary Award:
Special Juvenile Oscar (1935)


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Shirley Temple Filmography

Runt Page (Short)(uncredited)
War Babies (Short)
Red-Haired Alibi
The Pie-Covered Wagon (Short)
Kid's Last Stand
Glad Rags to Riches (Short)
Kid in Hollywood (Short)
Out All Night (as Shirley Jane Temple)
The Kid's Last Fight (Short)
Polly Tix in Washington (Short)
Dora's Dunking Doughnuts (Short)
To the Last Man (uncredited)
Merrily Yours (Short)
Kid 'in' Africa (Short)
What's to Do? (Short)
Pardon My Pups (Short)
House of Connelly(uncredited)
Mandalay (scenes deleted)
As the Earth Turns(uncredited)
Managed Money (Short)
Stand Up and Cheer!
Change of Heart
Little Miss Marker
When New York Sleeps
Baby, Take a Bow
Now and Forever
Bright Eyes
The Little Colonel
Our Little Girl
Curly Top
The Littlest Rebel
Captain January
Poor Little Rich Girl
Wee Willie Winkie
Ali Baba Goes to Town (uncredited)
Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm
Little Miss Broadway
Just Around the Corner
The Little Princess
Susannah of the Mounties