While she is best known for being a child star in the 1930s, as an adult she was appointed United States Ambassador to Ghana by President Gerald R. Ford and United States Ambassador to the former Czechoslovakia by President George H. W. Bush.
The Red-Haired Alibi
Out All Night
To the Last Man
As the Earth Turns
Stand Up and Cheer!
Change of Heart
Little Miss Marker
Now I’ll Tell
Baby Take a Bow
Now and Forever
The Little Colonel
Our Little Girl
Poor Little Rich Girl
Wee Willie Winkie
Ali Baba Goes to Town
Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm
Little Miss Broadway
Just Around the Corner
Susannah of the Mounties
The Blue Bird
Miss Annie Rooney
I’ll Be Seeing You
Kiss and Tell
That Hagen Girl
Mr. Belvedere Goes to College
Adventure in Baltimore
The Story of Seabiscuit
A Kiss for Corliss
Shirley Temple received a juvenile Oscar in 1935 “In grateful recognition of her outstanding contribution to screen entertainment during the year 1934”.
I stopped believing in Santa Claus when I was six. Mother took me to see him in a department store and he asked for my autograph. ~ Shirley Temple
Shirley Temple was born on April 23, 1928 in Santa Monica, California, the third child of homemaker Gertrude Amelia Temple and bank employee George Francis Temple. She had two brothers, John Stanley and George Francis, Jr. The family moved to Brentwood, Los Angeles. Her mother encouraged her singing, dancing and acting talents, and in September 1931 enrolled her in Meglin’s Dance School in Los Angeles. At about this time, Shirley’s mother began styling her daughter’s hair in ringlets.
While at the dance school, she was spotted by Charles Lamont, who was a casting director for Educational Pictures. Temple hid behind the piano while she was in the studio. Lamont took a liking to the young actress and invited her to audition; he signed her to a contract in 1932. Educational Pictures was going to launch its Baby Burlesks, multiple short films satirizing recent film and political events by using preschool children in every role.
Baby Burlesks is a series of one-reelers, and another series of two-reelers called Frolics of Youth followed with Temple playing Mary Lou Rogers, a youngster in a contemporary suburban family. To underwrite production costs at Educational Pictures, she and her child co-stars modeled for breakfast cereals and other products. She was lent to Tower Productions for a small role in her first feature film, The Red-Haired Alibi, in 1932 and, in 1933, to Universal, Paramount and Warner Bros. Pictures for various parts. After Educational Pictures declared bankruptcy in 1933, her father managed to purchase her contract for just $25.
Fox Film songwriter Jay Gorney was walking out of the viewing of Temple’s last Frolics of Youth picture when he saw her dancing in the movie theater lobby. Recognizing her from the screen, he arranged for her to have a screen test for the movie Stand Up and Cheer! Temple arrived for the audition on December 7, 1933; she won the part and was signed to a $150-per-week contract that was guaranteed for two weeks by Fox Film Corporation. The role was a breakthrough performance for Temple. Her charm was evident to Fox executives, and she was ushered into corporate offices almost immediately after finishing Baby Take a Bow, a song and dance number she did with James Dunn. On December 21, 1933, her contract was extended to a year at the same $150/week with a seven-year option and her mother Gertrude was hired on at $25/week as her hairdresser and personal coach. Released in May 1934, Stand Up and Cheer! became Shirley’s breakthrough film. Within months, she became the symbol of wholesome family entertainment. In June, her success continued when she was loaned out to Paramount for Little Miss Marker.
After the success of her first three movies, Shirley’s parents realized that their daughter was not being paid enough money. Her image also began to appear on numerous commercial products without her legal authorization and without compensation. To get control over the corporate unlicensed use of her image and to negotiate with Fox, Temple’s parents hired lawyer Lloyd Wright to represent them. On July 18, 1934, the contractual salary was raised to $1,000 a week and her mother’s salary was raised to $250 a week, with an additional $15,000 bonus for each movie finished. Temple’s original contract for $150 per week is equivalent to $2,750 in 2015, adjusted for inflation. However, the economic value of $150 during the Great Depression was equal to $18,500. The subsequent salary increase to $1,000 weekly had the economic value of $123,000 and the bonus of $15,000 per movie (equal to $275,000 in 2015) was equivalent to $1.85 million in a decade when a quarter could buy a meal. Cease and desist letters were sent out to many companies and the process was begun for awarding corporate licenses.
On December 28, 1934, Bright Eyes was released. The movie was the first feature film crafted specifically for the girl’s talents and the first where her name appeared over the title. Her signature song, “On the Good Ship Lollipop“, was introduced in the film and sold 500,000 sheet-music copies. In February 1935, Shirley Temple became the first child star to be honored with a miniature Juvenile Oscar for her film accomplishments, and she added her footprints and handprints to the forecourt at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre a month later.
In 1935, Fox Films merged with Twentieth Century Pictures to become 20th Century Fox. Producer and studio head Darryl F. Zanuck focused his attention and resources upon cultivating Shirley’s superstar status. She was said to be the studio’s greatest asset. Nineteen writers, known as the Shirley Temple Story Development team, made 11 original stories and some adaptations of the classics for her. In keeping with her star status, Winfield Sheehan, built the girl 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 her as a fairy-tale princess wearing a golden star on her head. Under Zanuck, she was assigned a bodyguard, John Griffith, a childhood friend of Zanuck’s, and, at the end of 1935, Frances “Klammie” Klampt became her tutor at the studio.
Biographer Anne Edwards wrote about the tone and tenor of Shirley Temple films, “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.” Edwards pointed out that the characters created for the little actress would change the lives of the cold, the hardened, and the criminal with positive results. Her 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.
Most of the Shirley Temple films were inexpensively made at $200,000 or $300,000 apiece and were comedy-dramas with songs and dances added, sentimental and melodramatic situations, and bearing little production value. 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. Shirley 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. 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. As the girl 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.
In the contract they signed in July 1934, Shirley’s parents agreed to four films a year (rather than the three they wished). 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. In 1936, Captain January, Poor Little Rich Girl, Dimples, and Stowaway were released. Curly Top was Shirley’s last film before the merger of 20th Century and Fox.
Based on Shirley Temple’s many screen successes, Zanuck increased budgets and production values for her films. By the end of 1935, her salary was $2,500 a week. 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. Elaborate sets were built at the famed Iverson Movie Ranch in Chatsworth, Calif., for the production, with a rock feature at the heavily filmed location ranch eventually being named the Shirley Temple Rock.
The film was a critical and commercial hit, but British writer/critic Graham Greene muddied the waters in October 1937 when he wrote in a local magazine that Temple was a “complete totsy” accusing her of being too nubile for a 9-year-old:
Her admirers—middle-aged men and clergymen—respond to her dubious coquetry, to the sight of her well-shaped and desirable little body, packed with enormous vitality, only because the safety curtain of story and dialogue drops between their intelligence and their desire.
Shirley Temple and Twentieth Century-Fox sued for libel and won. The settlement remained in trust for the girl in an English bank until she turned 21, when it was donated to charity and used to build a youth center in England.
Heidi was the only other Shirley Temple film released in 1937. Midway through the shooting of the movie, the dream sequence was added to the script. There were reports that the little actress was behind the dream sequence and she had enthusiastically pushed for it, but in her autobiography, she vehemently denied it. Her contract gave neither her nor her parents any creative control over the movies she was in. She saw this as the collapse of any serious attempt by the studio to build upon the dramatic role from the previous movie Wee Willie Winkie.
The Independent Theatre Owners Association paid for an advertisement in The Hollywood Reporter in May 1938 that included Shirley Temple on a list of actors who deserved their salaries while others, such as Katharine Hepburn and Joan Crawford, were described as “whose box-office draw is nil”. That year, 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 of her films to show a slump in ticket sales. The following year, Zanuck secured the rights to the children’s novel, A Little Princess, believing the book would be an ideal vehicle for the girl. 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 Shirley’s acting at its peak. Convinced that the girl would successfully move from child star to teenage actress, Zanuck declined a substantial offer from MGM to star her as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz and cast her instead in Susannah of the Mounties, her last money-maker for Twentieth Century-Fox. The film was successful, but because she made only two films in 1939 instead of three or four, Shirley dropped from number one box-office favorite in 1938 to number five in 1939.
In 1939, she was the subject of the Salvador Dalí painting, Shirley Temple, The Youngest, Most Sacred Monster of the Cinema in Her Time, and she was animated with Donald Duck in The Autograph Hound.
In 1940 Lester Cowan, an independent film producer, bought F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story, “Babylon Revisited and Other Stories” for $80, which was a bargain. Fitzgerald thought his screenwriting days were over and with some hesitation accepted Cowan’s offer to write the screenplay titled “Cosmopolitan” based on the short story. After finishing the screenplay, Scott was told by Cowan that he would not do the film unless Shirley Temple starred in the lead of the youngster Honoria. Fitzgerald objected, saying that at age 12, going on twenty, the actress was too worldly for the part and would detract from the aura of innocence otherwise framed by Honoria’s character. After meeting Shirley in July, Fitzgerald changed his mind and tried to persuade her mother to let her star in the film. However, her mother demurred. In any case, the Cowan project was shelved by the producer. F. Scott Fitzgerald was later credited with the use of the original story for The Last Time I Saw Paris starring Elizabeth Taylor.
In 1940, Shirley starred in two flops at Twentieth Century-Fox, The Blue Bird and Young People. Her 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. At the studio, the girl’s bungalow was renovated, all traces of her tenure expunged, and the building was reassigned as an office.
Temple had her own radio series on CBS. Junior Miss debuted March 4, 1942, in which she played the title role. The series was based on stories by Sally Benson. Sponsored by Procter & Gamble, Junior Miss was directed by Gordon Hughes, with David Rose as musical director.
After her departure from Twentieth Century-Fox, Shirley was signed by MGM for her comeback; the studio made plans to team her with Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney for the Andy Hardy series. The idea was quickly abandoned, but MGM then teamed her with Garland and Rooney for the musical Babes on Broadway. Fearing that either of the latter two could easily upstage the girl, MGM replaced her with Virginia Weidler. As a result, her only film for Metro was Kathleen in 1941, a story about an unhappy teenager. The film was not a success, and her MGM contract was canceled after mutual consent. Miss Annie Rooney followed for United Artists in 1942 but was unsuccessful. The actress retired from films for almost two years, in order to instead focus on school and activities.
In 1943, 15-year-old Temple met John Agar (1921–2002), an Army Air Corps sergeant, physical training instructor, and member of a Chicago meat-packing family. She married him at age 17 on September 19, 1945 before 500 guests in an Episcopal ceremony at Wilshire Methodist Church in Los Angeles. On January 30, 1948, Temple bore a daughter, Linda Susan. Agar became an actor, and the couple made two films together: Fort Apache (1948, RKO) and Adventure in Baltimore (1949, RKO). The marriage became troubled, and Temple divorced Agar on December 5, 1949. She was awarded custody of their daughter. The divorce was finalized on December 5, 1950.
In 1944, David O. Selznick signed Shirley Temple to a four-year contract. She appeared in two wartime hits: Since You Went Away and I’ll Be Seeing You. Selznick, however, became romantically involved with Jennifer Jones and lost interest in developing Shirley’s career. Temple was then lent to other studios. Kiss and Tell, The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer and Fort Apache were her few good films at the time.
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”. Selznick suggested that she move abroad, gain maturity as an actress and even change her name. He warned her that she was typecast and her career was in perilous straits. After auditioning for and losing the role of Peter Pan on the Broadway stage in August 1950, Temple took stock and admitted that her recent movies had been poor fare. She announced her retirement from films on December 16, 1950.
In January 1950, Temple met Charles Alden Black, a World War II Navy intelligence officer and Silver Star recipient who was Assistant to the President of the Hawaiian Pineapple Company. Conservative and patrician, he was the son of James Black, president and later chairman of Pacific Gas and Electric, and reputedly one of the richest young men in California. Temple and Black were married in his parents’ Del Monte, California home on December 16, 1950, before a small assembly of family and friends.
The family moved to Washington, D.C. when Black was recalled to the Navy at the outbreak of the Korean War. In 1952, Temple gave birth to a son, Charles Alden Black, Jr., in Washington. 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 Black was born on April 9, 1954; she went on to be a bassist for the rock 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. The couple were married for 54 years until his death on August 4, 2005, at home in Woodside, California of complications from a bone marrow disease.
Between January 1958 and September 1961, Temple hosted and narrated a successful NBC television anthology series of fairy-tale adaptations called Shirley Temple’s Storybook. Episodes were one hour each, and Temple acted in three of the sixteen episodes. Temple’s son made his acting debut in the Christmas episode, “Mother Goose”.
The series was popular but faced issues. The show lacked the special effects necessary for fairy tale dramatizations, sets were amateurish, and episodes were not telecast in a regular time-slot. 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 and was canceled at season’s end in September 1961.
Temple continued to work on television, making guest appearances. In January 1965, she portrayed a social worker in a pilot called Go Fight City Hall that was never released. 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.
Temple became active in politics in 1967. Temple got her start in foreign service after her failed run for Congress in 1967 when Henry Kissinger overheard her talking about South West Africa at a party. He was surprised that she knew anything about it. She was appointed as a delegate to the 24th United Nations General Assembly (September – December 1969) by President Richard M. Nixon and United States Ambassador to Ghana (December 6, 1974 – July 13, 1976) by President Gerald R. Ford. She was appointed first female Chief of Protocol of the United States (July 1, 1976 – January 21, 1977) and in charge of arrangements for President Jimmy Carter’s inauguration and inaugural ball.
She served as the United States Ambassador to Czechoslovakia (August 23, 1989 – July 12, 1992), having been appointed by President George H. W. Bush. She was the first and only female US ambassador to the former Czechoslovakia. Temple was a witness to two crucial moments in the history of Czechoslovakia’s fight against communism. She was in Prague in August 1968, as a representative of the International Federation of Multiple Sclerosis Societies and going to meet with Czechoslovakian party leader Alexander Dubček on the very day that Soviet-backed forces invaded the country. Dubček fell out of favor with the Soviets after a series of reforms known as the Prague Spring. Temple, who was stranded at a hotel as the tanks rolled in, sought refuge on the roof of the hotel. She later reported that it was from here she saw an unarmed woman on the street gunned down by Soviet forces, a sight that stayed with her for the rest of her life. Later, after she became ambassador to Czechoslovakia, she was present in the Velvet Revolution, which brought about the end of communism in Czechoslovakia. Temple played a critical role in hastening the end of the communist regime by openly sympathizing with anti-communist dissidents and later establishing formal diplomatic relations with the newly elected government led by Václav Havel. She took the unusual step of personally accompanying Havel on his first official visit to Washington, travelling on the same plane.
Temple served on boards of directors of large enterprises and organizations such as The Walt Disney Company, Del Monte Foods, Bank of America, Bank of California, BANCAL Tri-State, Fireman’s Fund Insurance, United States Commission for UNESCO, United Nations Association and National Wildlife Federation.
At age 44 in 1972, Temple was diagnosed with breast cancer. The tumor was removed, and a modified radical mastectomy performed. She announced the results of the operation on radio and television and in a February 1973 article for the magazine McCall’s.
Temple died at age 85 on February 10, 2014, at her home in Woodside, California. The cause of death, according to her death certificate released on March 3, 2014, was chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Temple was a lifelong smoker and avoided displaying her habit in public because she did not want to set a bad example for her fans.