The movie business has produced many big names through the decades. But during the 1930’s, an era which produced Clark Gable, Marlene Dietrich, and James Cagney, few stars were bigger than a little girl.
Temple was born in 1928 in Santa Monica, California. Enrolled at an early age in dance school, she was quickly discovered by Educational Pictures and cast in a series of Baby Burlesks shorts. She was soon signed to a contract with Fox Films (later 20th Century-Fox) where movies were specifically produced to capitalize on her talents.
Temple was the top box office star for four years in a row (1935-1938) while America was struggling during the Great Depression. President Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “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.” Films during this period were Baby Take a Bow (1934), Bright Eyes (1934), The Little Colonel (1935), Curly Top (1935), Dimples (1936), Heidi (1937), and The Little Princess (1939). She is rumored to have been offered the role of Dorothy in MGM’s The Wizard of Oz (1939), but Fox refused to loan her out.
After taking a break for Hollywood, a teenage Shirley Temple returned in such films as Since You Went Away (1944), The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer (1947), and Fort Apache (1948). Later films failed to live up to her earlier success and she retired from acting in 1950, at the age of 22.
In the 1960s, Temple turned her interested in politics into a newfound career. She was appointed representative to the United Nations, served as U.S. Ambassador to Ghana and later to Czechoslovakia. She was also appointed Chief of Protocol to the United States, the first woman to hold that position.
Shirley Temple was married twice. First to actor John Agar from 1945-1950 (she made two films with him, including Fort Apache), giving birth to a daughter. Later in 1950 she married businessman Charles Black (1919-2005), giving birth to a son and a daughter. She was known as Shirley Temple Black for the rest of her professional and personal life.
One cannot under-estimate the incredible influence of a young Shirley Temple. Her films were major successes for 20th Century-Fox (she’s credited with saving the studio). Dolls, dresses, toys and books with her likeness were hugely popular and continue to be much sought after by collectors. She was also featured in advertising for household products, radios, automobiles and even breakfast cereal.
Thankfully many of Shirley Temple’s films are on DVD (and available for check-out) allowing us to revisit the career of this movie legend. Do you have a favorite Shirley Temple movie?