Biography

Temple, Shirley (1928- ), American motion-picture actress, considered among the most successful child stars in the history of film. She was born Shirley Jane Temple  in Santa Monica, California. Propelled by an ambitious mother, Temple made her film debut at the age of three, and at age six she was featured in Stand Up and Cheer (1934). Known for her blond ringlets and her appealing lisp, and recognized for her ability to sing and tap-dance, Temple became a celebrity in 1934, when she starred in four films: Now and Forever, Little Miss Marker, Baby Take a Bow, and Bright Eyes. At the end of that year she was given a special Academy Award "in grateful recognition of her outstanding contribution." During the Great Depression of the 1930s, Temple was celebrated by an adoring public. A sophisticated performer who often seemed more mature than the adults around her, Temple had no difficulty upstaging her experienced costars, among them such veteran performers as Lionel Barrymore, Adolph Menjou, Sidney Blackmer, Alice Faye, Robert Young, Cesar Romero, Jimmy Durante, and C. Aubrey Smith. Among the films Temple made for Fox Film Corporation (her studio for all but her first two pictures) in the 1930s were The Little Colonel, Curly Top, and The Little Rebel, in 1935; Poor Little Rich Girl, Dimples, and Stowaway, in 1936; Wee Willie Winkie and Heidi, in 1937; Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm and Little Miss Broadway, in 1938; and The Little Princess and Susannah of the Mounties, in 1939. At the height of her popularity, from 1935 to 1938, Temple was the biggest box-office attraction in Hollywood, and the large gross revenues from her films helped to make Fox a major film studio. Temple made a number of films as a teenager-among them Miss Annie Rooney (1942), I'll Be Seeing You (1944), Since You Went Away (1944), The Bachelor and the Bobbysoxer (1947), and Fort Apache (1948)-but her appeal had faded, and the films were not successful. In 1949 she retired from acting. 

The name "Shirley Temple" conjures up the image of a golden-hairdo moppet tap- dancing her way through a sugar-coated career. This, despite the facts that Temple herself -- Shirley Temple Black since her 1950 marriage -- endured several professional setbacks, pursued an impressive second career in politics, and, as a child, was a driven actress who despite her age, conducted herself like a studio professional.

Unlike the eerily adult kids who populate today's films, Temple was unapologetic about being a child. Soon after came Margaret O'Brien and Natalie Wood, both knowing and prescient. The floodgates were open for brilliant but non-childlike performances by Tatum O'Neal, Jodie Foster and Home Alone's sensation Macaulay Culkin. Encouraged to be wise beyond their years, mouthing adult lines and thrust into grown-up situations, many of today's junior stars develop egos that are allowed to grow unchecked. However, during her
six years at Fox and 20th-Century-Fox, Temple was sheltered by both her studio and parents from the harsh realities of the Depression. Indeed, she seems to have been one of the last child actresses allowed to be a child. Ironically, Temple began her career playing adult roles in a series of 1932 "Baby Burlesks," short subjects that today would be considered highly inappropriate. She played characters named "Morelegs Sweet-trick" (a pun on Marlene Dietrich) and "Mme. Cradlebait." But when Fox signed her in 1934, the studio abandoned the infant sexpot image and let her be what she really was -- an energetic, resilient, good-natured little girl. Fox needed a star. In the first years of the Depression, the studio was in serious financial
trouble. With such lighthearted charmers as The Little Colonel (1935; April 23) and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1938; April 23), Temple became the No. 1 box-office attraction in Hollywood between 1934 and '38, single-handedly pulling her studio out of the red. A typical early hit was Bright Eyes (1934; April 23), costarring one of her favorite leading men, James Dunn, and introducing her signature hit, "On the Good Ship Lollipop" (an airplane -- not a boat, as is usually assumed).

Like many young stars, Temple learned early to rely on herself. In her first films, she was banished to a black box if she behaved -- at age 4! -- childishly. Rather than becoming petulant and rebellious, Temple later wrote that this "lesson of life was profound and unforgettable. Time is money. Wasted time means wasted money means trouble. Time spent working is more fun than standing in an icy black box and getting an earache." Time started to catch up to Temple, who began to age before the public's eyes. She was also maturing in her approach to her career. In her own favorite film, the Kipling adaptation of Wee Willie Winkie (1937), a 9-year-old Temple worked hard to impress director John Ford. The tough-minded. veteran filmmaker won her eternal love by treating her as a grownup, brooking no girlish nonsense and brushing off her attempts at charm. This was just the thing for the coddled child star; she delighted in doing her own stunts, drilling with the troops and working harder than everyone else. When Ford finally muttered, "Nice kid, that," his gruff comment made her day. Her hardworking professionalism extended to other shoots. When a little boy wearing her dress served as a body double for the goat-butting scene in Heidi (1937; April 23), the star protested. Temple preferred to do her own stunts, arguing that the hard work made her feel like "one of the gang."

By the end of the decade, Temple was no longer the baby of the lot. After her Fox contract ended in 1940, Temple went on to make a handful of modest films, including Since You Went Away in 1943 and The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer in 1947. However, her priority
was to act (at last!) her age. Her teen years were happy ones, she recalled. Brushing out her famous curls, Temple enrolled in Westlake School for Girls and delighted in the joys of sodas, sock hops and even schoolwork. "Westlake was my spring latch to another world,"
she said. "I could hardly wait, catch-up homework notwithstanding."
The prospect of becoming a has-been before puberty has driven many a child star to distraction and destruction. But thanks to Temple's strengths, one innate (self-discipline) and the other learned (studio-style professionalism), this star expected no less from herself on her way out than she did on her way up. In the late '40s, Temple departed gracefully from Hollywood.

Two decades later, she re-emerged into the spotlight by announcing her candidacy for Congress. She lost the election, but Temple displayed her trademark tenacity and went on to enjoy a long and successful career with the United Nations and the State Department. Currently retired, she reports that she is at peace with her life and proud of her accomplishments in two of the nation's most influential arenas.
"If I had to do it all over again," Shirley Temple Black recently declared, "I wouldn't change anything."

 

 

INTERVIEW
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 11, 1998

Mom said, 'Sparkle, Shirl.' She still does.

From child star to diplomat

Bonnie Churchill
Special to The Christian Science Monitor

SAN FRANCISCO

Shirley Temple Black was in the kitchen of her home, 40 minutes south of San Francisco. Mrs. Black, known to millions in the 1930s and '40s as the child star with the golden curls who sang and danced her way into the hearts of America, stopped baking to answer the doorbell.

She signed for a package. "I saw the name Kennedy Center, Washington, D.C., and wondered if they wanted me to introduce someone," she says.

Not exactly. It brought the news she was one of six people selected to receive a medal at the Kennedy Center Honors for a lifetime of achievement and service to the United States and the world. The other honorees are conductor-composer Andre Previn, comedian Bill Cosby, Broadway composer and lyricist team John Kander and Fred Ebb ("Chicago," "Cabaret"), and singer-songwriter Willie Nelson.

Two hours later when her husband, Charles Black, came home she was still smiling. "When he saw that grin," she says, "he knew something was up." The event, hosted by President and Mrs. Clinton, took place Dec. 6. "Kennedy Center Honors" will air Wed., Dec. 30, on CBS television from 9-11 p.m.

Sitting in her Spanish-style home, she is surrounded by mementos from her Hollywood and Washington, D.C., careers. Black spent 27 years working for the State Department in the US and overseas. But though she has been in the diplomatic corps longer than in films, it's those movies that people remember.

In 1968, President Nixon appointed her a US delegate to the United Nations. Later she became the first woman to be head of protocol in the White House under President Gerald Ford. More recently, she joined former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and Cyrus Vance on a trip to China aimed at improving relations. The first thing they saw on TV in Beijing was her 1947 movie, "The Bachelor and The Bobby-Soxer" with Cary Grant.

She realizes her popularity opens doors. People feel they already know her. "I look upon [my movie career] with great fondness and pride," she says. "It involved a lot of hard work, but I've never been afraid of that."

Less known to the public are the eight years Black spent at the State Department teaching first-time ambassadors and their spouses. "At first, they didn't seem to take [me] seriously," she recalls. But when she began advising them on what to do if they were taken hostage, or the embassy was bombed, or how to handle terrorist threats, they soon forgot about movies and got down to business.

On the piano in the Black's home stand the Oscar she received in 1934, an Emmy, and pictures of her three children, Susan, Charles Jr., and Lori. In one corner is a throne from her 1974 inauguration ceremony as ambassador to Ghana. On the large coffee table is a silver tray etched with the names of the embassy staff when she was ambassador to Czechoslovakia. "President Bush appointed me in 1989, and the next year the Velvet Revolution began. By the end of my term [1993], it was the Czech Republic."

Although Presidents Nixon, Ford, and Bush appointed her to duties, the one president she knew personally, Ronald Reagan, never did. "When I was 20, I was playing a teenager, and he a teacher in a Warner movie, 'That Hagen Girl.' "

My mother-in-law had an expression: 'The happiest moment is now.' I've learned to live by that.
- Shirley Temple Black

Another costar, dancing partner George Murphy, became a US senator. She tried her hand in politics too. "I ran for Congress, just once," she says. "It was to fill out an unexpired term in the House of Representatives. There were 14 candidates. I came in second. Not bad," she added with that trademark dimpled grin. "My late mother-in-law had a favorite expression: 'The happiest moment is now.' I've learned to live by that."

Currently, she is writing her second book. Her first, "Child Star," published in 1988, was well received.

Her husband, an oceanographer, has partnered with Robert Ballard, the discoverer of the Titanic, on expeditions. These trips have taken the Blacks around the world. "I should have known our lives would always be connected with the ocean," she says, smiling. "Charlie was a young Naval officer when we met in Hawaii. He proposed a few weeks later. It was love at first sight for me...."

Today, at least once a month, she drives 10 minutes to Stanford University, where she and former Secretary of State George Schultz are members of the Institute of International Studies. Foreign ministers from around the world meet with the organization to discuss global problems and solutions.

What was she thinking when sitting in the presidential box at the Kennedy Center? "I remember my mother. When I was a little girl, she'd say, 'Sparkle, Shirl.' "