Temple, Shirley (b. 1928)

In the annals of movie history, no actor or actress represents the phenomenon of child stardom better than Shirley Temple. "Discovered" by Hollywood at the age of six, Temple achieved extraordinary fame during the 1930s and became, for a decade, the world's most celebrated child. When Temple became a TEENAGER, however, her career declined and by her sixteenth birthday she had fallen out of public favor. Her phenomenal rise and sudden fall, amply documented in the magazines and tabloids of the period, illustrated to Americans both the joys and perils of childhood stardom.

Born in 1928 in Santa Monica, California, Temple began her movie career as a toddler, when she appeared in a series of low budget films called "Baby Burlesks." Trained in singing and tap dancing, in 1933 Temple was hired by Hollywood's Fox studio to appear in the musical Stand Up and Cheer, and her performance instantly catapulted her to stardom. Between 1934 and 1940, Temple appeared in over a dozen films for Fox and became not only the studio's biggest asset but, between 1935 and 1938, the most popular film star in America, surpassing such screen giants as Clark Gable and Mae West.

To moviegoers in the 1930s, Temple's appeal was obvious. Perky, talented, and cute–her trademarks were her dimples and ringlets of golden hair–Temple conveyed a message of hope and optimism to Depression-era America. Her on-screen tap dances and renditions of such popular tunes as "The Good Ship Lollipop" won the affections of millions of fans worldwide, who purchased thousands of Shirley Temple dolls, tore at her clothes during her personal appearances, and on her eighth birthday, showered her with over one hundred thousand gifts. Perhaps her most famous admirer was President Franklin Roosevelt, who credited "Little Miss Miracle" with raising the nation's spirits during the economic crisis.

For nearly a decade, Temple enchanted audiences with her appearances in such childhood classics as Poor Little Rich Girl (1935), Wee Willie Winkie (1937), Rebecca of SunnybrookFarm (1938), and The Little Princess (1939). In the early 1940s, Temple left Fox and signed on with producer David Selznick, who cast her in a series of more mature roles, including a part as an adolescent daughter in Since You WentAway (1944) and a high school girl with a crush on an older man in the Bachelor and the Bobbysoxer (1947). By then, the teenage Temple could no longer attract audiences, and after a role in Fort Apache (1948), in which she starred with her husband, John Agar, she retired from the screen.

Unlike many fallen CHILD STARS, however, Temple made a comeback. After a decade hosting television programs, during the 1960s she began a second career, in politics. After an unsuccessful run for Congress in 1967, she was appointed by President Richard Nixon as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. In 1974, she became U.S. ambassador to Ghana, and in 1976, Chief of Protocol during the Ford administration. Her autobiography, Child Star, was published in 1988.

See also: Media, Childhood and the; Movies.


Black, Shirley Temple. 1988. Child Star. New York: McGraw-Hill.