Shirley Temple Facts

In honor of what would have been Shirley Temple's 88th birthday, we look at seven interesting facts about her life and career.
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In honor of what would have been Shirley Temple's 88th birthday, we look at seven interesting facts about her life and career.

On April 23rd, what would have been her 88th birthday, we take a look at the life of Shirley Temple, who first became known as a pint-sized powerhouse performer in Hollywood and later was recognized as a prized public official for the U.S.A.

Shirley Temple Photo

Shirley Temple in a publicity still for 'Baby Take a Bow' (1934). (Photo: Photofest)

With her bright smile, mop of blond curls and unwavering exuberance, Shirley Jane Temple sang, danced and acted her way into the hearts of the movie-going public during the Great Depression and beyond. Temple appeared in more than 40 feature films, often besting at the box office such superstars of the era as Clark Gable, Bing Crosby and Joan Crawford. Her iconic turns in The Little Colonel, which paired her with Bill “Bojangles” Robinson for a delightfully entertaining tap-dance number, and Bright Eyes, in which she sang her signature song, “On the Good Ship Lollipop” —along with many other memorable roles — paved her way for a fulfilling and productive life. Here are seven interesting facts about Shirley Temple.

1. Shirley Temple made her acting debut in Baby Burlesks, short parodies of popular films. She was just three years old when she was discovered at her dance school by producers from Educational Films Corporation and contracted by them to appear in the low-budget movies that satirized adult roles and featured all-kid casts. Temple spoofed such stars as Mae West and Marlene Dietrich for the one-reelers.

Actors Turned Politicians: Born in 1928, Shirley Temple was the original child star. She won over Depression-era audiences with her doll-like looks and cute song-and-dance routines.

Born in 1928, Shirley Temple was the original child star. She won over Depression-era audiences with her doll-like looks and cute song-and-dance routines. (Photo: Getty Images)

2. Her celebrated curls were a lot of hard work, at least for her mother. Gertrude Temple served as her daughter’s hairdresser and styled Temple’s golden locks in exactly 56 pin curls for every one of her movies.

3. Before Judy Garland followed the Yellow Brick Road, Shirley Temple was considered to play Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. Temple was under contract at 20th Century Fox and the studio would not release her to work for MGM, which produced Oz. Fox had previously lent her to Paramount, where she appeared in such hits as Little Miss Marker and Now and Forever, and as a result was determined to keep their bankable star on a tight leash.

4. Shirley Temple remains the youngest recipient of an Oscar. At age six, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presented her with the first Juvenile Academy Award. The accolades and honors continued throughout her life. She received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960 (at 1500 Vine Street). She was also recognized for her accomplishments with a Kennedy Center Honor in 1998 and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Screen Actors Guild in 2006. In addition, Entertainment Weekly magazine voted her the 38th Greatest Movie Star of All Time, and The American Film Institute ranked her as 18th among the 50th Greatest Screen Legends.

Shirley Temple Photo

Shirley Temple in her first color film, 'The Little Princess,' (1939). (Photo: Walter Lang, director; 20th Century Fox film. Screenshot by 808Starfire. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

5. In 1972, Shirley Temple revealed that she had had a mastectomy. It was a time when disclosing such personal information was taboo, but Temple opted to go public and held a news conference from her hospital room. Her candor about her illness and surgery helped to eliminate the stigma of breast cancer and encourage women with symptoms to seek treatment.

Shirley Temple Photo

Shirley Temple in 1965. (Photo: Joost Evers / Anefo (Nationaal Archief) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons)

6. In her 40s, Shirley Temple embarked on a second career in public service that lasted through many administrations. In 1969, President Richard M. Nixon appointed her a U.S. delegate to the United Nations. Five years later, she served as U.S. Ambassador to Ghana, and from 1989 to 1992 as President George H.W. Bush’s U.S. Ambassador to Czechoslovakia. Under the leadership of President Gerald R. Ford, she became the first woman named U.S. Chief of Protocol. Another first was her appointment as Honorary U.S. Foreign Service Officer in 1988.

Shirley Temple Adult Photo

Shirley Temple in Prague, 1990. (Photo: David S. Nolan, U.S. Air Force [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

7. Before she became Shirley Temple Black, following her marriage to businessman and former naval-affairs consultant Charles Black, she was married to John Agar, a soldier and fellow actor. She was just 17 when she wedded Agar, and while the marriage lasted only four years, it produced a daughter named Linda. Temple met Black shortly after her divorce and the two became engaged after a whirlwind two-week courtship. They were married for nearly 55 years (until Black’s death from bone marrow disease in 2005) and had two children: Charlie, Jr., and Lori. When they were first introduced, Black told her he had never seen any of her movies.