Shirley Temple (April 23, 1928 – February 10, 2014) was an American actress, singer, dancer, businesswoman, and diplomat who was Hollywood’s number one box-office draw as a child actress from 1935 to 1938. As an adult, she was named United States ambassador to Ghana and to Czechoslovakia, and also served as Chief of Protocol of the United States.
Temple achieved international fame in Bright Eyes (1934), a feature film designed specifically for her talents. Film hits such as Curly Top (1935) and Heidi (1937) followed year after year during the mid-to-late 1930s. She appeared in a few films of varying quality in her mid-to-late teens, and retired from films in 1950 at the age of 22.
In 1958, Temple returned to show business with a two-season television anthology series of fairy tale adaptations. She sat on the boards of corporations and organisations including The Walt Disney Company, Del Monte Foods, and the National Wildlife Federation.
She began her diplomatic career in 1969 when she was appointed to represent the United States at a session of the United Nations General Assembly In 1988, she published her autobiography, Child Star.
Temple’s mother encouraged her singing, dancing and acting talents, and in September 1931 enrolled her in a Los Angeles dance school. At about this time, she also began styling her daughter’s hair in ringlets. Whilst there, a casting director for Educational Pictures spotted Temple and took a liking to the young actress, inviting her to audition; signing her to a contract in 1932. Educational Pictures was going to launch its Baby Burlesks, multiple short films satirising 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 modelled 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, (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 theatre lobby. Recognising her from the screen, he arranged for her to have a screen test for the movie Stand Up and Cheer! 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, after which her contract was extended.
In 1934 Bright Eyes was released, 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 honoured 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 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.
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, A Little Princess, was Temple’s first Technicolor feature. It 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, Fox’s studio head Darryl F 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.
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, 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 an exclusive country day school in Los Angeles.
Temple had her own radio series on CBS. Junior Miss debuted March 4, 1942, in which she played the title role, sponsored by Procter & Gamble.
After announcing her retirement in 1950, Temple became active in the Republican Party in California and was extensively involved with the Commonwealth Club of California, a public-affairs forum headquartered in San Francisco. She spoke at many meetings through the years and was president for a period in 1984. Temple got her start in foreign service after her failed run for Congress in 1967 when appointed as a delegate to the 24th United Nations General Assembly by President Richard M. Nixon. She served as the United States Ambassador to Czechoslovakia (1989 – 1992), having been appointed by President George H. W. Bush.
Temple died in 2014, at her home in California. The cause of death, according to her death certificate, 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.