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—a dozen in 1934 alone—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. 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.
2. Her celebrated curls took lots of work—at least for her mom.
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, 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. Temple remains the youngest recipient of an Oscar.
When she was only 6 years old, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presented Temple 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 received a Kennedy Center Honor in 1998 and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Screen Actors Guild in 2005. In addition, the American Film Institute ranked her as 18th among the top 25 females among their Greatest Screen Legends.
5. In 1972, 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.
6. In her 40s, Temple embarked on a second career in public service.
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.
7. Before she became Shirley Temple 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 Charles Black, a businessman and former naval-affairs consultant, 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.