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Shirley Temple Black from Child Star Celebrity to Ambassador

Updated on August 4, 2017

Shirley Temple

With all the publicity of child stars such as Britney Spears and Lindsey Lohan along with the recent death of Gary Coleman I’m reminded of discussions my wife and I had about what gives with child stars and child “Beauty Queens.”

Shirley Temple who was born in 1928 was probably the leading child star when I was young, became a millionaire and was smart enough or lucky enough to get away from the limelight before it was allowed to ruin her.

I’ve never seen many of her movies but when I was a junior in high school I saw some films on television that she had made in her teen years and I found her attractive like a younger group was taken with Annette Funecello. I later saw her as host on her TV series and thought she was still attractive even though a few years older than me.

Shirley Temple

public domain
public domain
young Shirley Temple public domain
young Shirley Temple public domain
Handprint public domain
Handprint public domain
public domain
public domain
Shirley Temple with McKenzie King the prime minister of Canada
Shirley Temple with McKenzie King the prime minister of Canada
Shirley Temople with Eleanor Roosevelt
Shirley Temople with Eleanor Roosevelt
young Shirley Temple public domain
young Shirley Temple public domain
Canadian style Shirley Temple drink a non alcoholic drink. creative commons share alike license authro Ryan Forsyth
Canadian style Shirley Temple drink a non alcoholic drink. creative commons share alike license authro Ryan Forsyth

Her Early Years

Shirley Temple was born on Monday April 23, 1928 to George Francis Temple and Gertrude Amelia Krieger Temple.

Mrs. Temple believed that a child could be influenced in the womb. She tried to influence Shirley with prenatal beauty. During pregnancy she listened to phonograph records, read books aloud and went to dance recitals and concerts. In Shirley’s first years her mother read storybooks to her with some enacting of the books characters. The daughter responded by mimicking her.

She taught Shirley the words to popular songs and Shirley the child was able to bring expression to the words. Shirley also had perfect pitch and could easily do simple dance steps. In 1931 she was enrolled in dance classes.

The mother styled the girls hair to reflect that of Mary Pickford.

Beginning in film


Educational Pictures planned a series of one-reelers called Baby Burlesks to compete with the popular Our Gang comedies. When they were auditioning they found young Shirley hiding behind a piano and encouraged her to audition. She did and was signed to a two-year contract. She was paid $10 a day, which was good in its day.

The films were satires of the pictures of the day as well as celebrities and politics. The cast was made up of preschoolers dressed like adults on top but in diapers with exaggerated safety pins.

Although hey got paid well, I don’t know it the films of those days would pass muster with today’s child labor laws. For example, Shirley was sometimes disciplined at the studio by confinement to a small “black box” isolation chamber with only a block of ice to sit on. Her first day was almost twelve hours of work with two naps.

Shirley’s first on-screen tap dance was to the song “She’s Only a Bird In A Gilded Cage,” in Glad Rags to Riches .

In April 1934 she had a breakthrough film, Stand Up and Cheer! She received widespread acclaim and fan mail came by the truckload.  She got critical acclaim for performance in the film Little Miss Marker .

In 1935 her foot and handprints were added to the forecourt at Grumman’s Chinese Theater.

In 1934 She was Fox studio’s greatest asset. She was a great for a Great Depression audience. The films were cheaply made comedy dramas with songs and dance Her parts were those of the fixer upper, precocious cupid or the good fairy, She was often motherless or fatherless or an orphan. Traditional fairy tales were woven into the plots.

The film Wee Willie Winkie was a critical and commercial hit. But British film critic Graham Green wrote that she was a complete “totsy “ and too nubile for a nine-year old.


Temple and the studio sued for libel and won.

MGM wanted her to play Dorothy in the Wizard of OZ but was turned down. Plans were made to star her with Andy Rooney for the Andy Hardy series but he comeback film was Kathleen (1941)

Shirley was probably the first of the real child stars that were big time as children but lost some of her appeal, as she got older. At the age of three in 1932 she started her career in film. In 1934 she became a superstar in Bright Eyes , which was a feature film specifically, meant to fit her talents. She got a special Academy Award in February 1935 and had blockbuster hits like Curly Top and Heidi going for years until the middle of the 1930’s. People bought spin-off merchandise like dolls, dishes, and clothes.

She started to lose box office popularity when she got to her adolescent years. She left the industry and at twelve years old she went to high school. That was followed by a few films in her mid to late teens and then left the screen in 1950s at the age of twenty-one.

In 1958 she had a two-season anthology on TV of fairy tale adaptations. She also was a guest on various shows in the 1960’s. She filmed a pilot for a sitcom but it was never produced.

She was on the board of corporations such at Del Monte Foods, National Wildlife Federation and the Walt Di8sney Company. She ran but lost a bid for United States Congress but in 1974 she was appointed to be United States Ambassador to Ghana and in 1989 to Czechoslovakia. She published her autobiography in 1988 titled Child Star.

She was married at seventeen to John Agar in 1945. He was just out of the Air Force and turned to acting. They made two films together but she divorced him in 1949. They had one daughter Linda Susan. She got custody of the daughter. She married Charles Alden Black in December 1950. She left films the same day to be a homemaker. Her son Charles Alden Black, Jr. was born in 1952 and a daughter Lori Alden Black was born in 1954.

In 1972 she had breast cancer. The malignant tumor was removed and a modified radical mastectomy was performed. She announced it to the world through radio and television. In February 1973 she wrote an article for McCall’s about it. She was one of the first prominent women to speak openly of breast cancer.

Like Ronald Reagan later Shirley Temple left films for politics

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shirley Temple and Bojangeles


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    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      She has always impressed me when she left show business.An exceptional person.Thanks for commenting.

    • catsong54 profile image


      7 years ago from Pocono Mountains, PA

      I have always loved Shirley Temple, admired her spunk and the fact that she didn't just settle for her early stardom but wanted to do more. True child stars had it tough. Love Shirley's story about riding in the cart pulled by the ostrich. She was lucky to have good parents.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I heard about some director like that. I agree with what you say. Thanks for commenting.

    • profile image


      8 years ago from Dayton, ohio

      Jackie Cooper wrote about his life as a child star titled Please don't shoot my dog. Apparently to get the young boy to cry on camera the director threatened to shoot his dog. Child stars were so misstreated back then, later they were spoiled and became brats.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I watched some of the old films recently and they still hold up pretty well. Thanks for commenting.

    • lanealanea profile image


      8 years ago from Orange County, California

      Love Shirley Temple and still have her drink for fun sometimes, great that you wrote about her thanks for sharing!

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thanks for visiting. You comments are appreciated.Shirley Temple must still have a following because I saw a tv ad yesterday for a collection of her on DVD.

    • Deerwhisperer profile image

      Brenda K Krupnow 

      8 years ago from Ravenden, AR

      My dad often told us that he used to drive a cab for Shirley. Gee I wish he had taken pictures. I remember watching her re-runs over and over, and I even had a Shirley Temple hairdo when I was a kid.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thanks for your comments. I don't think all of the child stars of that day fared so well either.

    • elayne001 profile image


      8 years ago from Rocky Mountains

      I simply loved Shirley Temple as a child and could watch her over and over. Sad to watch today as many of the child stars are not able to grow old graciously like she did. Good hub.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids


      Although I had heard about her all my life my older siblings were more her contemporaries.It was when she went into being a diplomat that she caught my attention.Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Stacie L

      Thanks for commenting. I don't pay too much attention to child stars but something caught my attention with her.

    • Stacie L profile image

      Stacie L 

      8 years ago

      it was clear from an early age that Shirley would leave a mark on the American film industry.her likable personality and way with people made her a perfect candidate for Diplomacy in later life.She was one of the first to discuss cancer I remember.She is missed.good hub!

    • mquee profile image


      8 years ago from Columbia, SC

      Saw many hubs here that caught my interest and I will be back to read them as well. When I saw Shirley Temple, I had to read it. Growing up I watched and enjoyed many of her movies and I have quite a few of her movies in my collection. She stood out among child stars, in my opinion, not only because of her acting; she sang and danced as well. It was nice, that I don't recall her being associated with any scandals. Thanks for a very refreshing hub.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thank for commenting. After so many child stars have had so many problems the story of one who took a different path interested me.

    • Coolmon2009 profile image


      8 years ago from Texas, USA

      I learned a few things about Miss Temple I didn't know. It is nice to see there can be a life after the end of a Hollywood career. Good article

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thanks for the comment. What gave me the impulse to write this was someone else wrote about Lindsey Lohan and made me think about child stars. I think that it is tough for some to make the transition.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Shirley Temple will always remain in many people's memories as that darling curly headed little girl. Some things remain frozen in time. Nice to know that she escaped the down side of what happens to so many of the child stars.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I think you are right about the follow up film being redundant. Shirley Temple did seem to get associated with fairy tales and that may be why they thought the Wizard of Oz would be a good vehicle for her. I've been mostly interested in the fact that she left show business since it seems to be a disaster for so many child stars.

    • Rod Marsden profile image

      Rod Marsden 

      8 years ago from Wollongong, NSW, Australia

      I had no idea Shirley Temple had her own television show. It may not have come to Australia.

      In 1940 Shirley starred in The Blue Bird. It was a box office disaster. It was supposed to be 20th Century Fox's answer to The Wizard of Oz but Shirley was by then too old for such a lead and the audience simply didn't buy into her still being a child. It can be argued that Judy Garland was also too old for her role in The Wizard of Oz (1939) but she got away with it. I think it might have also been a case of first in best dressed. The two movies were so similar in many ways despite being based on different stories that the first one becomes a classic and the second becomes rather redundant.

      When it comes to breast cancer it sounds like she had courage. It wasn't something many women would have admitted to back then.

      Thanks for the shared memories.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids


      I wish I could take credit for that. The discipline along with other stories I've heard about movies and children in the early days seems outrageous.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids


      Yes, the little girl grew up. However, she did excape the fate of many child stars.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      It must not have been easy for her. Unless my memory fails me, she said, when annoyed by media people asking about her childhood, something like: Yes, Shirley Temple was a wonderful little girl, but she's dead now and nobody can bring her back.

    • Pete Sardino profile image

      Pete Sardino 

      8 years ago from Off Piste

      I really like the effect of She's Only a Bird in a Gilded Cage, coming right after the discipline and sitting on an ice-block, because the big people said that's where she had to sit.

    • billyaustindillon profile image


      8 years ago

      What a complete tribute to Shirley Temple - a long way from the goodship lollypop!

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids


      Thanks for your comments. My sister and brothers are close to her age. My sister in a group picture when they were young had curls and was dressed pretty much like Shirley Temple.

      I was a bit more familiar with her as the host on the TV series and heard she was an ambassador.

    • Tom Whitworth profile image

      Tom Whitworth 

      8 years ago from Moundsville, WV


      Great information on Shirley Temple. I had watched her films as a child on TV, but I never knew the facts of her early life and career you brought out.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thanks for being the first to comment on this hub.Glad you liked it.

    • suziecat7 profile image


      8 years ago from Asheville, NC

      She certainly is a woman to admire. I remember watching her movies as a child. Great Hub - enjoyed it.


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