Born in 1928, Shirley Temple-Black is a Hollywood legend who has been making headlines since she was four years old, becoming the top moneymaker actor for 4 consecutive years before she had even started primary school, influencing pop culture all around the world with her curly hair (Robert Aldrich’s ‘Whatever Happened to Baby Jane’ is loosely inspired by her) becoming a recognizable screen persona on her own terms, as much as Charles Chaplin and delighting millions with her singing and dancing skills that made her the perfect dance partner of adult stars like Cary Grant, Gary Cooper and Fred Astaire.
Adding years to her career proved disastrous for the audiences who wanted to have the little curly girl forever, so when Temple entered her adult years she abandoned stardom to pursue other interests, which later on developed into the political arena, becoming ambassador of the US in Ghana and Czechoslovakia among her duties.
Always seen as a positive figure, Shirley Temple’s meteoric journey through Hollywood made her an eternal child full of hope and always above the political issues of her times (race and gender).
She made headlines again on February 13th, 2014, as her last day on Earth. Millions of fans and admirers have covered their social media with pictures of the bright eyed little colonel and the consensus is that she has had a life well lived.
Here are some important stopovers in the life-long journey of Miss Shirley Temple-Black.
Shirley Temple began her meteoric film career in 1932, in two films: ‘Red haired Alibi and ‘Kid’s Last Stand’. She was only three at that time and working tirelessly in numerous short films before she was noticed in 1934 in ‘Bright Eyes’ a vehicle for the newest star in Hollywood’s star system. The film’s storyline was designed to make Shirley a lovable poor little girl that everyone would like to take home.
Temple received her first Academy Award for her role as Shirley Blake. This was the first ever given to a child, which led her to be on the cover of Time magazine, another first for a child star.
Little Miss Marker
In 1934 she appeared in 12 films, including ‘Little Miss Marker’ with Adolphe Menjou, ‘Now I’ll Tell with Spencer Tracy, ‘Baby Take a Bow’ with James Dunn and Claire Trevor’ and ‘Now and Forever’ with Gary Cooper and Carole Lombard. This film grew Shirley Temple’s fan base to an extent that a reported 500 letters a day were shipped to her address. Famous for memorizing her lines, Shirley often prompted her co-stars, which ended up annoying them.
The Little Colonel
1935 saw her career elevated, getting better roles, stories and press coverage.
This year saw her in ‘The Little Colonel” with Lionel Barrymore, in which Temple is famously paired with Bill Robinson in the “staircase dance”, which was to become the first interracial dancing couple in American movie history. In a scene with Barrymore, the actor forgot a line and Temple prompted him, which made him furious. A member of the crew had to take her away for fear that Barrymore might harm her, but he later apologized. Temple was named the top box-office actor of that year (and she would hold this title for 3 more years in a row).
Poor Little Rich Girl
In 1936, Shirley Temple’s name was the only one above the titles. She didn’t need another big name to drag audiences to the movies, in films like ‘Captain January’, ‘Poor Little Rich Girl’, ‘Dimples’ and ‘Stowaway’. During the filming of ‘Poor Little Rich Girl’ Temple made headlines when a reporter was interviewing her mother and she asked the reporter, “Why don’t you talk to me, I’m the star”.
Among her films in 1937, she was catapulted to international stardom once again with her sentimental performance in ‘Heidi’. Temple was already giving advice on who should co-star with her. Shirley Temple was 9 when she starred in ‘Little Miss Broadway’ and ‘Just around the Corner’. When she turned 10, she made her first Technicolor films ‘The Little Princess’ and ‘Susannah of the Mounties’.
The Blue Bird
In 1940, after the success of Judy Garland with ‘The Wizard of Oz’, producer Darryl F. Zanuck decided to make ‘The Blue Bird’, which has become the first unsuccessful Shirley Temple film. It is believed that the proximity of World War II changed the mood of the audiences around the world and they were not interested in a fantasy film like this. As Shirley Temple’s child years go away, so her fan base and her teenage films failed to connect with the audiences, even with headlines like “Temple receives her first screen kiss” for ‘Miss Annie Rooney’ in 1942.
A Kiss for Corliss
Temple continued to act for seven more years, accepting supporting roles in films like ‘Since you Went Away’ in 1944, ‘Kiss and Tell’ in 1945, ‘The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer’ in 1947 and ‘A Kiss for Corliss’ in 1949 before retiring from films in 1950 at the age of 22. In 1958 Temple returned for a two-season television anthology series of fairy tale adaptations and filmed a sitcom pilot that was never released.
The men in her life
Temple got married twice, the first one to Army Air Corps sergeant/actor John Agar when she was 17, with whom she had her daughter Linda Susan. They were divorced four years later. Temple’s second marriage was to Charles Alden Black, a WWII US Navy Intelligence officer in 1950 and she later would give birth to their son Charles Alden Black Jr. and daughter Lori. They remained married for 54 years until his death in 2005.
Shirley Temple-Black was appointed Representative to the 24th UN General Assembly by then President Nixon and as Ambassador to Ghana by President Ford. Her political work includes becoming the first female Chief of Protocol of the US, and served as the US Ambassador to Czechoslovakia during George H. W. Bush’s administration.