In the 1930s, Shirley Temple was the biggest star in Hollywood. She received more fan mail than Greta Garbo, and was photographed more often than the president. Temple’s song-and-dance routines and her portrayals of rebellious-but-loveable little ragamuffins won her the hearts of millions—and occasionally caused controversy. Here are 42 adorable facts about Shirley Temple.
1. Pre-stardom Pre-K
Shirley Temple was born in 1928, and from a young age was steered toward stardom. At two, Temple’s mother, Gertrude, enrolled her in Meglin’s Dance Academy, a children’s school for the performing arts. Future star Judy Garland was another “Meglin Kiddie.”
At three years old, Temple tried out for Our Gang, the children’s film troupe responsible for the “Little Rascals” shorts. She was rejected. When she was accepted on the second try, Temple’s mother turned down the offer because Our Gang refused to give Temple top billing.
3. How Did This Get Made?
Temple’s first film role came in 1932’s Baby Burlesk. A three-year-old Temple appeared as a lingerie-clad “burlesque dancer” who flirts with two toddler-aged boys dressed as soldiers. The movie was apparently meant as a parody of more adult fare, but that still sounds pretty messed up.
4. First Steps to Stardom
After a string of minor pictures, Temple caught a major break when she signed a contract with Fox Studios in 1934. The company paid the six-year-old $150 a week (nearly $3,000 today)—but she had to buy her own tap shoes. After the success of her first three pictures, her salary was raised to a whopping $1,000 a week.
5. Holy Ship
In 1935, Temple starred in Bright Eyes, the first film in which she was the headline star. This film featured Temple performing her signature song, “On the Good Ship Lollypop.” Contrary to common belief, the ship of the title is, in fact, an airplane.
6. Working From Home
Temple was given her own bungalow on the Fox Studios lot. The four-room house came complete with a picket fence and a garden, pens for Temple’s rabbits, and a wall-sized mural depicting Temple as a fairy princess.
7. The Godfather
Temple’s favorite film from this period was Wee Willie Winkie, directed by none other than John Ford. Though Temple and Ford had a somewhat frosty relationship, he would later work with Temple in Fort Apache, and was even named godfather of Temple’s first daughter, Susan.
By the end of 1935, Temple was earning more from endorsements than from movies. She appeared in advertisements for Quaker Oats, General Electric, and (oddly, for a six-year-old) Packard Motors, not to mention that she had her own line of talking dolls.
Temple was a great admirer of dancer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson and got to work with him on four pictures, beginning with The Little Colonel in 1935. She referred to Robinson as “Uncle Billy,” while Robinson called her “Darlin’.”
A scene of Temple dancing the hula was cut from 1936’s Captain January when test audiences deemed it “immoral.”
11. Cultural Differences
Curly Top was banned in several European countries, including Denmark and Italy, because Temple’s portrayal of the rambunctious Elizabeth set a bad example to children. It was a hit in China, however; the First Lady of China liked it so much she arranged for repeat private viewings.
12. Scout’s Honor
Despite her busy schedule, Temple still found time to climb the ranks of the Girl Scouts.
13. Late Recognition
In 1935, Temple was given an honorary Academy Award for her contributions to film. At six years old, she was the youngest ever recipient of an Oscar. Inexplicably, ceremony planners left her award to the very end of the evening; the young star ended her acceptance speech by asking her mother if they could go home because she was very tired.
14. How It Happened
Earlier in the evening, Temple also became the youngest person to ever present an Oscar, giving the Best Actress award to Claudette Colbert for It Happened One Night.
15. Turning in
Temple’s trademark curls were designed and styled by her mother, who personally pinned them every night before the starlet went to bed. Temple had exactly 56 curls.
16. Family Business
In addition to Temple’s massive salary (at the height of her fame, she made more than the president), Temple’s mother earned $250 a week as her official hairstylist.
17. Hair’s the Thing
Temple hated her hairstyle. She wanted a freer hairstyle like that of her idol, Amelia Earhart. Temple was once invited to go swimming by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt but had to decline because of her hair.
18. What Are You Insinuating?
In a review of Temple’s 1937 film Wee Willie Winkie, English novelist Graham Greene wrote, “[Temple’s] admirers, middle-aged men and clergymen, respond to her dubious coquetry, to the sight of her well-shaped and desirable little body, packed with enormous vitality, only because the safety curtain of story and dialogue drops between their intelligence and desire.”
Temple successfully sued for libel, and Greene fled to Mexico to avoid criminal libel charges.
19. Red Head
In 1938, Temple was accused to being an agent of the Communist Party by Martin Dries, a member of the congressional House Un-American Activities Committee. The outcry ended Dries’ political career, and forced President Franklin Roosevelt to personally order Dries to apologize. Dries’ accusations couldn’t be further from the truth.
Temple spent her adult life campaigning for right wing causes and accepting official roles in the Nixon Administration.
20. Friends in High Places
FDR was apparently a fan. He once said of the Great Depression, “So long as we have Shirley Temple, we’ll be alright.”
21. How Sweet It Is
Iconic Hollywood hangout the Brown Derby created a non-alcoholic drink to serve the child star. The Shirley Temple is made with grenadine, lemon-lime soda, and a maraschino cherry. Temple did not like it and thought it was too sweet.
22. Naming Right
While Temple was not a fan of a drink, she did fight to protect her association with the drink. When a company tried to market a product called “Shirley T. Sparkling Soda” in the 1980s, Temple sued.
23. Betting on the Wrong Horse
Temple herself turned down National Velvet, the 1941 film that made Elizabeth Taylor a star. Her mother felt the film was beneath Temple’s billing.
24. Love at First Sight
In 1950, a newly-divorced Temple married businessman Charles Black after just two weeks of dating. Amazingly, Black admitted to having never seen one of Temple’s movies.
25. Shirley Temple Black
Temple and Black would remain married until his death in 1955. From their marriage until Temple’s death in 2014, she was officially known as Shirley Temple Black.
26. Story Time
From 1958 to 1961, Temple starred as the host and narrator of Shirley Temple’s Storybook, a children’s anthology series in which actors would perform well-known children’s stories and fairy tales. Notable guest actors included Pernell Roberts, Agnes Morehead, and Temple’s own three children.
27. Watch Your Mouth
A stagehand once uttered a swear word on the set of Storybook. Though there were no children present at the time, Temple fired him on the spot.
28. Curtain Call
Temple retired from film acting in 1950 after a series of box office misses. Her final onscreen role came in 1963 when she made a brief appearance on the sketch comedy program The Red Skelton Hour.
29. On the Run
In 1967, Temple sought the Republican nomination for California’s 11th congressional district. At a time when many young people were protesting the war in Vietnam, Temple ran on the platform that, actually, the US should send more soldiers to Southeast Asia. She lost the election.
30. For the LOLs
Temple lost the Republican primary to Paul McCloskey. Headlines the following day read “McCloskey Torpedoes the Good Ship Lollypop.”
31. Patronage Positions
Temple’s failed congressional bid did not sink her political career, however. President Richard Nixon appointed Temple to a number of roles, including delegate to the UN, Chief of Protocol for the State Department, Special Assistant to the Chairman of the President’s Council on Environment, and Ambassador to both Ghana and Czechoslovakia.
32. All in the Family
Temple’s daughter Lori Black would become the bassist for the influential grunge band the Melvins. While playing with the band, Black became addicted to illegal substances; Temple not only got her daughter help to beat the addiction, but insisted the entire family attend group therapy to help support her.
33. Unpopular Opinion
Temple considers her best work to be her role in That Hagen Girl, opposite future president and fellow Republican Ronald Reagan. But That Hagen Girl was named one of the 50 worst films of all time by film historians Harry Medved and Randy Lowell. Temple admitted later that “no one remembers [That Hagen Girl], but it allowed me to act.”
34. The Black Box
The life of a child star was not all sunshine and lollipops. When she misbehaved, she was made to stand in a cold puddle. If that failed, she would be sent into a dark room to sit on a block of ice. She later said, “So far as I can tell, the black box did no lasting damage to my psyche.”
35. On-Screen Romance
In 1945, Temple married Air Corps sergeant and aspiring actor John Agar. She was just 17 years old. Temple and Agar made two films together, Fort Apache and Adventure in Baltimore, before divorcing in 1950.
36. Over the Rainbow
Temple was considered for the role of Dorothy in the classic 1939 production of Wizard of Oz. Producers felt, however, that her singing voice was not up to snuff, and she lost the part to her old classmate, Judy Garland.
37. Oz Exposed
Temple has another explanation for losing the part: the then-11-year-old girl raised objections when producer Arthur Freed exposed himself to her.
38. The Gospel Truth
In the 1930s, The Vatican started hearing “a persistent rumor” that the pint-sized actress was, in fact, a middle-aged little person. They were so disturbed, they even sent over Father Silvio Massante to investigate the rumor. He reported that Temple was, in fact, just an extremely talented little girl—but there was some very bizarre “evidence” against her.
39. Tooth Fairy
To the public, one of the first indicators that Temple was lying about her age was the fact that she apparently never lost any teeth. However, this was all movie magic: to prevent any gaps from her lost baby teeth, her teeth were capped and she was fitted with temporary bridges until all her adult teeth came in, creating the illusion of an adult smile. An even stranger, contradictory rumor claimed she filed her teeth down to make them look like baby teeth.
40. Wisdom Teeth
One of Temple’s baby teeth actually fell out when she was placing her hands in the cement outside Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. In a genius move, she took off her shoes and pressed her bare feet in the cement as well, drawing cameras away from her face.
Completing her “fake” image, many people thought the perfectly-coiffed girl wore a wig, and fans often tugged on her (very real) curls.
42. Smoke Screen
Shirley Temple passed away in 2014 at the age of 85 from obstructive pulmonary disease. It seemed like a natural death—but her demise actually revealed one of her darkest secrets. It was likely the result of her lifelong smoking habit. Though she smoked since childhood, she was careful not to do so in public, for fear of hurting her image.
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