April 23, 1928 – February 10, 2014
Shirley Temple was Hollywood’s biggest star from 1935 to 1938 while she was age 7 to 10. As #1 box-office earner, the curly-haired actress with her iconic 56 ringlets made 20 feature films for Fox Studios and single-handedly kept the company from bankruptcy during the Great Depression. By 1940, she was a washed-up child star and left Fox with her parting gifts of an upright piano and a few of her costumes. You can read about her wild ride of kiddie stardom in her 1988 best-selling autobiography, Child Star, in which Shirley vividly remembers every twist and turn.
The films made Shirley and her family extremely wealthy in the 1930s when most people were unemployed and struggling to afford a 25 cent meal or a 15 cent day at the cinema. It was during this time, in 1935, that President Franklin D. Roosevelt (in a scenario straight out of the musical ANNIE) said, “During this Depression, when the spirit of the people is lower than at any other time, it is a splendid thing that for just 15 cents an American can go to a movie and look at the smiling face of a baby and forget his troubles.” In her movies, Shirley (often missing a parent or completely orphaned) used her pluck and adorable charms to make adults fall in love, inherit riches, and melt the frozen hearts of villains. She was America’s little princess.
“At the end of the Depression…They fell in love with a dog ( Rin Tin Tin) and a little girl. It won’t happen again.”
Nowadays it would be a little girl and a dog.
When I was very young I saw the film Bright Eyes. Before the story begins we learn that Shirley’s dad died in plane crash. During the film, her mother ran across the street with a birthday cake for Shirley in a box and was hit and killed by a car. Close-up on the smeared, crushed cake. Next scene – handsome godfather takes Shirley up in a plane and tells her she (Shirley) is in heaven and now her mother is too. This little death hag was coming to life. Mesmerized. I was five.
Shirley Jane Temple’s story begins Monday, April 23, 1928 when she was born in Santa Monica Hospital to George and Gertrude Temple. The couple had two older sons, Jack and Sonny, and were excited to have a daughter. George Temple was an assistant manager of a bank branch at Washington Blvd & Vermont while Gertrude was a homemaker at their modest residence at 948 24th Street in Santa Monica. They parked Shirley’s crib in the living room next to the record player and at 8-months old she was standing and swaying to the music. By age 3, she was enrolled at Miss Meglin’s dance studio on Radford Ave in the Valley. Judy Garland, age 9, was a fellow student.
Little Shirley was noticed at the Meglin dance class by a producer who cast her in his “Baby Burlesks” short film series in which diaper clad tots reenacted popular films. Shirley played scorned women and Marlene Deitrich-style vamps – and yes, it all looks very Minipops. Shirley herself called it a “cynical exploitation” of childhood innocence.
On set, if the kids misbehaved they had to go sit on an ice block in a dark wooden box used as a camera sound booth. Shirley later recalled, “as far as I can tell, the black box did no lasting damage to my psyche.” Right? The experience taught her to pay attention and get it right the first time because time is money. When the production company ran into financial issues, Shirley’s father promptly bought her out of the existing contract to make her a free agent. These borderline sordid films fell into public domain and landed in 1980s VHS bargain bins.
Shirley’s big break came when Hollywood songwriter Jay Gorney saw the adorable dimpled tyke singing and dancing in the lobby of the Ritz Movie Theater at Wilshire & LaBrea. He invited Shirley to the Fox lot on Pico Blvd. for a singing/dancing audition on December 7, 1933. Shirley nailed his ‘Baby Take a Bow’ song and was immediately cast and put under contract. Film star Harold Lloyd saw the audition and proclaimed, “My God! Another Coogan!”. Jackie Coogan had paved the way for child actors, but unlike Coogan, Shirley wouldn’t be left penniless after her film labors…although she surprisingly didn’t end up a millionaire either. More on that later.
Shirley could cry on cue.
“I wouldn’t think of anything sad. I would just make my mind a blank. In a minute, I could cry. I didn’t like to cry after lunch because I was too content.”
The year 1934 would begin Shirley’s new 6-day-a-week life at Fox making 6 films that earned her a miniature Oscar statuette for her hard work. Her parents and brothers moved to a bigger house at 259 19th St. Santa Monica when the Shirley merchandising money flooded in along with the thousands of fan letters delivered to Fox weekly.
Future Dr. Smith on the television show Lost in Space acted with Shirley when they were youngsters. He referring to her as Shirley Pim… well, let him tell you.
Fox Studios gave Shirley a picket-fenced bungalow with living room, dressing room and kitchen. It is still on the Fox lot as Bungalow #69 (great photographs!). Shirley had her daily lessons in the dressing room from her beloved tutor Frances ‘Klammie’ Klampt. The classroom also had a day bed for nap time. Shirley reportedly practiced dance routines on the kitchen floor and played outside on her swing and watched her rabbits in the cage next to the bungalow. She worked 6 to 7 hours a day.
Shirley’s mother Gertrude also made a weekly salary as her daughter’s coach and hairdresser – and on set, Gertrude would whisper “Sparkle, Shirley, Sparkle” as her cue to focus. To prepare for a film, Gertrude read the entire script for Shirley and acted all the parts, then would practice her daughter’s next day’s scenes. Shirley developed a near photographic memory and could annoy fellow actors by knowing everybody’s dialogue. She corrected Lionel Barrymore one day and he stormed off set. He made sure to bite his tongue, because Shirley could be sent home immediately by welfare workers if an adult cussed on the set in her presence. Shirley was told to go apologize to “Uncle Lionel”. She won Barrymore back to set with her apology and flattery of his acting. As Jan Hooks’ SNL “Bette Davis” once said, “The ONLY thing worse than a man is John Barrymore!”
Shirley wore teeth caps when she started losing her baby teeth – and said her first tooth fell out when she was putting her hands and feet in cement at Graumann’s in 1935. She was 7 years old that year, but her mother lied to her daughter and to Fox, so the world thought she was age 6. Shirley eventually found out about her real birth year a half dozen years later.
“I stopped believing in Santa Claus when I was six. Mother took me to see him in a department store and he asked me for my autograph.”
By 1936, the Temple family needed a larger home with more security – so they moved to 227 N. Rockingham in Brentwood. In the backyard was a large playhouse where Shirley kept her vast doll collection. This would later become a honeymoon cottage for Shirley and her first husband.
Miss Temple, your nightmare fuel has arrived.
It was a smash and MGM decided it was time to try a Technicolor fantasy musical version of The Wizard of Oz. Shirley wanted the part of Dorothy but Fox refused to loan her out. MGM producers soon realized Shirley’s singing voice was limited anyway – and it was nothing compared to the pipes of their own contracted talent, the 16-year-old Judy Garland.
Fox decided to compete with MGM’s OZ so they began production on a lavish color feature of The Bluebird (1940). The pre-adolescent Shirley played an ghastly little monster on a journey searching for the bluebird of happiness. Along the way, she visits her dead grandparents in The Land of the Past, and meets her soon-to-be-born sister in the Land of Unborn Children. Land. Of. The. Un. Born. Children. Click below to SEE THIS MOVIE, preferably on mushrooms. I’m not kidding.
In 1937, Shirley attended the December 21st premiere of Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at the Carthay Circle Theatre at Crescent Heights and San Vincente Blvd in L.A.
Nobody wanted to see a beastly Shirley – or unborn children talking about their upcoming brief lifespan for that matter. It flopped. Fox Studios knew 12-year-old Shirley’s appeal was dwindling and Mickey Rooney (ugh) had taken her spot as the #1 er… attraction.
In the shade of today’s attention towards sexual abuse, Shirley had to withstand so much of this and at such a young age. According to published sources David O. Selznik chased her around the office. George Jessel tried to force himself on her and she kneed him in the crotch. She was “nearly raped” by a “studio executive”.
There was also a murder attempt.
Shirley’s press tour for The Bluebird would be her last for her home studio – and could have been her last ever. Shirley recalled singing The Bluebird theme for a radio show when a woman stood in the audience and pointed a gun at the stage. She was wrestled to the ground and Shirley’s life was spared. The would-be assassin told police that her baby girl had died the same day that Shirley was born – and that Shirley had stolen her soul. In her book, Shirley stated, “The tale seemed understandable to me.”
The dolt didn’t know Shirley’s real birth year.
Oh yes, there was also extortion attempts and death threats.
And later in life a kidnapping attempt.
There are several Temple costumes/artifacts on display in the Hollywood History Museum, alongside the toaster from Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. Because. That’s why.
Fox was happy to let her go, but first her parents had to pay the studio $300,000 to buy her out of her final contract term and be legally free to pursue other offers. At age 12, she was immediately enrolled at Westlake School for Girls and graduated in 1945. The other children were cruel to her, she recalled,
“I was not hurt, just surprised” – surprised to learn that being Shirley Temple didn’t solve everything.
Shirley moved on to pretty ingenue roles and after kicking around MGM and Selznick Studios for a few films, she eventually ended up making B-films at Warner Brothers like The Story of Seabiscuit. Grown-up Shirley was never much of a draw for audiences.
At age 15, Shirley met her 1st husband, 23-year-old John Agar of Chicago at her neighbor Zasu Pitt’s pool party, as you do. Shirley was smitten with the Air Force flyer and they married when she was age 17 at Wilshire United Methodist Church – where military and local police had to hold back throngs of fans. The wedding reception was held in her Brentwood backyard – where they moved into the remodeled playhouse cottage and later brought home their baby daughter, Linda Susan (born 1948). Shirley helped to get her handsome hubby into films but their marriage failed. Agar was reportedly a heavy drinker and philanderer. According to one source he came home with a woman and danced in their playroom for two hours, kissing her many times, while Shirley was home. She filed for divorce in 1949 on the grounds of mental cruelty. He had issues with being “Mr. Shirley” which I get, but still. There were rumors of Shirley having suicidal thoughts, once considering driving her car off of a cliff. She was awarded custody of their daughter.
“I saw the blow coming. Twisting half around, I fell to the floor.”
At age 22, Shirley was told by her banker father and his business advisors that she only had $44,000 left from her $3.2 million dollar earnings. Shirley kept calm while hearing of her parents free spending and her Dad being misguided with investments. Shirley recapped this tense moment years later saying, “My attitude has always been get it over with and get on with life.”
On a 1950 trip to Honolulu, 22-year-old divorcee Shirley met 31-year-old Charlie Black at a cocktail party. He was the rich son of the president of Pacific Gas & Electric and a (Silver Star) decorated war hero working as an assistant to Jim Dole of the Hawaiian Pineapple Co.
Black asked Shirley if she was a secretary? She replied, “I can’t even type. I make films.” She immediately became enthralled when the handsome man confessed he had never seen any of her films. During WWII, Black had served in the South Pacific and afterwards lived for a time in Tahiti, so he wooed Shirley with a Tahitian love song. After having J. Edgar Hoover do a safety background check, (who declared Black “clean as a hound’s tooth, patriotic, from a fine family”) the couple married that December and eventually settled in Northern California. Their marriage produced two children and lasted 54 years. While Charlie Black lay dying of cancer in Summer 2005, Shirley sang to him that same Tahitian love song, and said farewell to the love of her life.
“I’m not quite myself yet. I still have his voice on our answering machine. I don’t want to erase it.”
“There’s nothing like real love. Nothing.”
Charles Black, who later dedicated his business career to aquaculture and oceanography, was supportive of Shirley when she returned to host and star in a weekly series called Shirley Temple’s Storybook for NBC-TV. The show ran 1958 to 1961 for 41 episodes and then Shirley returned to her Northern Californian Republican suburban housewife lifestyle. Shirley ran for CA Congress (on a pro-war platform) in 1967 and lost. She quickly pivoted to diplomacy. Richard Nixon appointed her as a UN delegate (1969), Gerald Ford appointed her as Ambassador to Ghana (1974-76), Jimmy Carter appointed her as Chief of Protocol (1976-77), and George H.W. Bush appointed her as Ambassador to Czechoslovakia (1989-1992). She didn’t work during the Reagan Administration which Shirley surmised was due to her telling a convention crowd (in front of Nancy) that she remembered co-star Ronald Reagan as a really good kisser.
“The doctor can make the incision, I’ll make the decision.”
Shirley lived a private life after her marriage to Charlie Black, but at age 44 in 1972, she called for the press and they came. Shirley wanted to tell the world that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after a biopsy, she had consulted with her doctors and insisted upon a “simple mastectomy” with only the breast tissue removed. This is now standard procedure but in the years prior to 1972, a woman would be routinely put under for a biopsy, and if preliminary pathology suggested cancer, would awaken from her unconsciousness having undergone a radical mastectomy ( with chest muscles removed along with breasts and many lymph nodes). Shirley told women that they had the right to question doctor’s orders and demand input into their treatment and make decisions. After going public with her illness, she received 50,000 letters of support – and inspired many other high-profile women including First Lady Betty Ford to speak of their breast cancer survival.
Shirl sans breasticle.
She lived in this home that she and Charlie had built in 1992 in Woodside, California.
Thanks Eric Van Pelt (and Amanda!) for the photographs.
In 1988, Shirley released her book and met lifelong fans all over the country. She appeared on numerous talk shows and told stories and demonstrated poise and a game sense of humor. One time, Shirley Temple Black was called for jury duty and the panel learned that the case involved erotic bondage. Shirley told that the judge read out case details – items like velvet handcuffs and blindfolds, then he stopped and dismissed Shirley from the jury selection. He told her that he didn’t want to be the judge who put Shirley Temple on a sexual bondage case. Shirley ended the story with: “And I was just getting interested!”
Shirley Temple joined Charlie at age 85 on Monday, February 10, 2014 in her Woodside CA home surrounded by family members and caregivers. A friend commented:
She went quietly, just as she wanted.
She died from COPD.
Shirley had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease which probably came about because she was a lifelong smoker. She kept this secret from the public. Only a few photos exist of Shirley smoking.
Shirley Temple was survived by her daughters, Linda Susan, Lori ( formerly of the grunge band, The Melvins), her son Charles Jr; granddaughter Teresa and great-granddaughters Lily and Emma.
Her funeral was private and she is in a crypt in Alta Mesa Memorial Park in Palo Alto California.
Fans left tributes on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Are you making fun of me, Riz?
With regard to the Shirley Temple drink that was invented at Chasen’s Restaurant, it was a mixture of ginger ale, grenadine syrup and a cherry. shiver.
“If I’m on a plane , the pilot sends the stewardess over with one. When I’m in a restaurant, someone would send one over. I wish my name was Cobb. Then they would send over a Cobb salad!”
Proof of that, here is one of the most recent acquisitions to the Dearly Departed Tours Artifact Museum: The Shirley Temple that Shirley Temple refused to drink.
In February 2018 there was a show running in the West End in London called Ruthless.
I was going to try and find a trailer for the show but honestly it looks vile and who cares.
Here is the poster.
Michael Jackson once asked to meet her of which she was surprised but agreed. Of the meeting, Jackson said, “We said nothing to each other at first, we simply cried together. She could share a pain with me that only others like my close friends Elizabeth Taylor and Macaulay Culkin know.” allllrightythen.
Shirley’s children auctioned off all of her shit in 1995. Damn. I wish I knew about it but then reviewing the lots, its very tchotchke heavy.
Wanna see her mailbox?
Thank you ever so much, Mark Langlois.