Remembering Shirley Temple


The child actress Shirley Temple died on 10th February 2014. The first anniversary since her death is a good time to remember her contribution to the world of film. Shirley Temple – that cherubic girl with a pouty smile, who sang and danced the people’s troubles away during The Great Depression.

The little girl was just three years old when she first appeared in films. Although she was born in 1928, Fox Studios changed her birth certificate to 1929 to stretch the appeal of her young age. She appeared in forty three feature films and many shorts, all in the space of just seventeen years. Two months before her seventh birthday, she received the first ever Academy Juvenile Award at the Annual Academy Awards (1935) and to date, she is still the youngest person to have received the honour.

Her fame was unrivalled and her image became the product of merchandise that included Shirley Temple dolls, which are now vintage collectibles. Her name even lends itself to a non-alcoholic cocktail.

Her films include Heidi (1937) and The Little Princess (1939) but it was Wee Willie Winkie (1937) which got her the hottest review of all. Graham Greene, writing for Night and Day, caused a stir with his suggestions that her appeal was more sexual than childish. 20th Century Fox sued for libel and Greene’s remarks became so unpopular he had to flee to Mexico.

It is rumoured that MGM wanted Shirley to play Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz and there are various stories explaining why the role went instead to Judy Garland. Temple’s own reference to the subject in the autobiography Child Star is likely the most correct.

With her first failures (The Blue Bird and Young People) and at the age of twelve, her parents bought out her contract and sent her to a day school for a more conventional education.

At seventeen, she married John Agar. The union produced one daughter but ended after only four years. The divorce was finalised in 1950. That year, she retired from Hollywood and remarried. During her happy second marriage to Charles Black she became a mother to a son and a daughter and the couple remained married till Charles’ death in 2005.

Away from Hollywood, Shirley Temple Black eventually became involved in politics, holding various important posts including that of U.S. Ambassador, as well as U.S. Chief of Protocol.

In 1972, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and following a mastectomy she announced the news to the world, at a time when the issue was still considered to be taboo.

Aged 85, she reportedly died of natural causes but her death certificate reveals the primary cause as being pneumonia, resulting from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease caused most probably by her smoking habit, which she picked up in her teens but liked to keep hidden from cameras.