The most popular and adored child star of all time, Shirley Temple, celebrated her 84th birthday on April 23. Those of us who are in our 70s and 80s grew up watching her delightful movies during a trying time in our country - The Great Depression. For 15 cents, however, one could be transported into a carefree hour and a half watching this mite of a girl sing and dance into our hearts. Who could forget Shirley singing, "On the Good Ship Lollipop," and "Animal Crackers in my Soup?"
Personal memories flood back when you mention the name, Shirley Temple. I (Rosamond) remember my mother and I walking 2 miles to the movie theater in our small town. Certainly there are many of us with a favorite or two of the following movies and recognize the supporting actors: "Curly Top" (John Boles and Arthur Treacher), "Baby Take a Bow" (James Dunn), "Heidi" (Jean Hersholt), "Bright Eyes" (James Dunn), "Little Miss Broadway" (Jimmy Durante and George Murphy), "The Little Colonel" (Lionel Barrymore), "The Littlest Rebel" (John Boles), "Captain January" (Buddy Ebsen), "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm" (Randolf Scott and Gloria Stuart - who played the aged Rose in "Titanic"), "Poor Little Rich Girl" (Alice Faye and Gloria Stewart), "Stowaway" (Alice Faye and Robert Young), "Wee Willie Winkle" (Victor McLaglen), "Dimples" (Frank Morgan and Buddy Ebsen), and "Little Princess" (Richard Green and Ceasar Romaro).
As a child, Shirley became so popular that all kinds of merchandise was created. There were the famous Shirley Temple dolls, clothing, dishes and many other items that her fans were anxious to purchase. Growing up in Long Island, we lived close enough to drive in our old jalopy car a few miles to the World's Fair in Flushing in 1939. One building was a replica of Shirley's life-sized playhouse. What a thrill that was to imagine such a thing could exist. Even today there is the popular non-alcoholic beverage named after her that is still served in restaurants, clubs and bars. The Shirley Temple consists of one oz. sweet grenadine, 4 oz. ginger ale, 2 oz. orange juice, 3 maraschino cherries, an orange slice and a sprig of mint.
In her autobiography, "Child Star," Shirley tells a compelling story of her life from the age of 3. It is not the kind of life her fans imagined, and it is disturbing to find that she did not have the life of a little princess like we all imagined. The book tells of kidnap and murder attempts. She tells of her relationship with her parents and the beginning of her career in the movies as a 3-year-old in a series of shorts entitled "Baby Burlesks," which were take-offs of some current adult movies. For $10 a day she and her little actors were filmed wearing bulky diapers held on with a huge oversized pin. They were not well treated.
Nevertheless, with her mother's assertiveness, Shirley soon became the darling of the movies and was top box office draw four years in a row from 1935-1938 for 20th Century Fox and later with MGM. She is credited for saving these studios financially during the Depression.
As a teenager, Shirley did a few films such as "I'll Be Seeing You," starring Ginger Rogers and Joseph Cotton, "Since You Went Away" with Jennifer Jones and Joseph Cotton and "The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer," with Cary Grant and Myrna Loy. Her popularity had waned, however, as she was more famous for her endearing early childhood films. She did some radio and early television work for a period of time. She remained a darling to everyone she met including President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor.
Later, Shirley married John Agar, a handsome and upcoming actor in 1945 which lasted only five years. They had one daughter, Linda Susan. In 1950 she married her heart's desire, Charles Alden Black. They have a son, Charles, and a daughter, Lori. Mr. Black passed away in 2005.
Other achievements of Shirley include an Ambassador to Ghana in 1974 and to Czechoslovakia in 1989. She has been on many boards such as the Disney Company, Del Monte Food and the National Wildlife Foundation. Her awards include The Kennedy Center Honors, Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award and Juvenile Academy Award for her outstanding work in 1934. She was the first prominent woman to speak out to the world in an article in McCall's Magazine in 1973 and has been a breast cancer survivor since 1972.
Currently residing in Woodside, Calif., Shirley has given many of us from that era both joy and hope which we still carry in our hearts, her everlasting fans. With an ever-remaining large fan base, an answer received from her website said that Shirley has so many requests for replies and appearances that she has made it a policy to decline them all.
Make it a good week and feel free to contact us with your memories that could make interesting reading for future columns to Rosamond at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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