Shirley Temple was the leading child actor of her time, receiving a special Oscar and starring in films like Bright Eyes and Heidi.
Shirley Jane Temple was born to a banker and a housewife with two older children, on April 23, 1928, in Santa Monica, California. When Temple was just 3 years old, she landed a contract with Educational Pictures, making her acting debut in a string of low-budget movies dubbed "Baby Burlesques." Temple's mother capitalized on the toddler's natural flair for dancing by enrolling her in dance classes at the age of 3 1/2. Her father became her agent and financial adviser.
The exposure that "Baby Burlesques" afforded Temple led her to a contract with the Fox Film Corporation. When the budding actress was 6 years old, she appeared in her first Hollywood feature film, Carolina. (When off-set, she attended the Westlake School for Girls.) With Fox, Temple made an additional eight films, including the smash hit Little Miss Marker. The young actress, singer and dancer with the bouncing golden corkscrew curls and infectious optimism proved to be an overnight sensation and a top earner for the studio.
Shirley Temple was a supreme technical actress unequaled for the amount of sentiment she could dispense without disturbing gullibility. In Wee Willie Winkie, for instance, Victor McLag- len seems clumsy and maudlin, but Shirley Temple acts to the inch. The fact that in their big scene lie is in bed and she sits beside him like a mother shows eerily the relationship that Shirley achieved with adults. It was not that a child spoke her lines, danced, mugged, and listened so shrewdly, but that she unnerved or outclassed the adults in her films so that they seem uneasy, shambling mon¬sters beside her. Only Bill “Bojangles" Robinson could stand up to her. But no matter the costars, or whether her directors were journeymen (Irving Cummings and David Butler) or craftsmen (Ford and Allan Dwan) she shapes and colors them.
Despite all the contrivance of her films, the evasions accomplished by so much sugar, she was a phenomenon who had only to be observed for an audience to be held. That is why so many of her big scenes both musical numbers and emo-tional set pieces are done in single setups.
There was an elfin perfection about her. Once she grew older, it was replaced by an unremarkable teenager. The public was bewildered at the loss and rejected her. She returned as a cheerful, wholesome mother, first on TV, then in the political arena. II she failed to win enough votes for the Senate, perhaps it was because the public knew she was an irretrievably retired lairy godmother, too large now to handle the wand that had cast her spells. Nevertheless, in the week that one American ambassador was killed in Cyprus, she was asked to be ambassador in Ghana.
The driving force in her career was her mother, and at the age of three Shirley was working for Educational Films. She had small parts in The Red-llaircd Alibi (Christy Cabanne) and To the Last Man (Henry Hathaway) before Jay Gorney recommended her to Fox for a featured spot in Stand Up and Cheer (Hamilton Mac- Fadden). Fox put her under contract and after Carolina (Henry King) and Change of Heart (John Blvstone), they starred her in Little Miss Marker (Alexander Hall). She rapidly achieved stardom: Note and Forever (Henry Hathaway) was a Paramount film that cast her with Gary Cooper and Carole Lombard, but Fox soon established a vehicle form for her Blight Eyes (Butler); The Little Colonel (Butler); Curly Top (Cummings); The Littlest Rebel (Butler); Captain January (Butler); Poor Little Rich Girl (Cummings); Dimples (William Seiter); and Stowaway (Seiter).
Her apogee came in 1937-38 with Wee Willie Winkie, Heidi. Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (Dwan), Little Miss Broadway (Cummings), and Just Around the Corner (Cummings). But after The Little Princess (Walter Lang), Susannah of the Mounties (Seiter), The Blue Bird (Lang), and Young People (Dwan), Fox and Miss Temple quarreled. Her rating was already declining, puberty beckoned, and war demanded the more knowing comforts of Grable and Veronica Lake.
In the event, MGM took Shirley on and kept her idle, save for Kathleen (Harold S. Bucquet). She made Miss Annie Rooney (Edwin L. Marin) and then passed her adolescence as a Selznick actress: awed by Claudette Colbert and Jennifer Jones in Since You Went Away (John Cromwell) and downright gauche in Be Seeing You (William Dieterle). Selznick noted, perhaps grudgingly, that Temple still drew more fan mail than bis other three ladies Jennifer |ones, Ingrid Bergman, and Joan Fontaine. Even so, she did not mature, and remained in movies another four, mistaken years: Kiss and Tell (Richard Wallace); Honeymoon (William Keighley); The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer (Irving Reis); Fort Apache (Ford); Mr Belvedere Goes to College (Elliott Nugent); Adventures in Baltimore (Wallace); and A Kiss for Corliss (Wallace).
In 1989, George Bush appointed her to be ambassador to Czechoslovakia.
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At the height of her popularity, Shirley Temple was often the subject of myths and rumors, some propagated by 20th Century Fox/Fox Films. Fox also publicized her as a natural talent with no formal acting or dance training. As a way of explaining how she knew stylized buck and weave dancing, she was enrolled for two weeks in the Elisa Ryan School of Dancing.
One persistent rumor was especially prevalent in Europe; fake news circulated that Shirley was not a child but a 30-year-old dwarf due in part to her stocky body type. The rumor was so prevalent that the Vatican dispatched Father Silvio Massante to investigate if she were indeed a child. The fact that she never seemed to miss any teeth led some people to conclude that she had all her adult teeth. Temple was actually losing her teeth regularly through her days with 20th Century Fox, most notably during the sidewalk ceremony in front of Grauman's Theatre, where she took off her shoes and placed her bare feet in the cement to take attention away from her face. When acting, she wore dental plates and caps to hide the gaps in her teeth. Another rumor pertaining to her teeth was the idea that they were filed to make them appear like baby teeth.
Shirley's biggest trademark was her hair, which was also the subject of rumors. A rumor circulated that she wore a wig. More than once, fans yanked her hair to test the theory. She later said she wished all she had to do was wear a wig. The nightly process she went through in the setting of her curls was tedious and grueling, with once a week vinegar rinses burning her eyes. Rumors also spread about her hair color, namely that she wasn't a natural blonde. During the making of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, news spread that she was going to do extended scenes without her trademark curls. During production, she also caught a cold, which caused her to miss a couple of days. As a result, a false report originated in Britain that all of her hair was cut off.
: 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.
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. When Temple was 17, she married him 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 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.