Shirley Temple Black

Monday, 17 February 2014

On Monday the 10th of February 2014, the world said goodbye to 85-year-old Shirley Temple Black – a name synonymous with the term ‘Child Star’. These days we tend to throw the term ‘Child Star’ around to almost every kid that appears before us on a screen. It’s part of Hollywood’s desperate attempt to ‘discover’ a new ‘star’ whose young life can then become the new ongoing serial that we follow and dissect to the point of insanity. Despite all the searching, no one has even come close to matching the adoration the world had for Shirley Temple.
Reason behind Shirley’s status as a Hollywood legend and icon is the combination of many things. “She had some kind of magic something that other children simply didn’t have,” her stand-in Marilyn Granas observed.
Shirley Temple (right) with her stand-in Marilyn Granas on the set of Now & Forever (1934). 
Film history has proven that primarily - with all the Macaulay Culkins, Drew Barrymores and Dakota Fannings - we are suckers for a cute kid, and Shirley Temple was just about as cute as they come. However, Temple came before the era when a child could merely get by on their cuteness alone, you had to have talent, personality and something to offer. Shirley was the full package and she arrived at a time when people were at their very lowest – The Great Depression.
“We were searching for a sense of love and caring and child-like belief,” former child actor Darryl Hickman recalled, “and the fact that she could have fun and sing and dance, and give love and affection to whoever was something that reminded us that we had that in us too.” Shirley Temple’s positive attitude and charm gave people the ultimate means of escape from the devastation that plagued the streets outside the cinema doors. “You forgot that there were men selling apples on the street,” actress Gloria Stuart remembered, “coming to the back door and asking for food and work… or anything. Being at a Shirley Temple film was a complete getaway.”
Dickie Moore, who famously gave Temple her first onscreen kiss, agreed that her films “could make people believe – if only for 90 minutes – that there were no problems in the world.”


"It was a traumatic experience for me. My suit was soaked in perspiration and there was a wall of news photographers lining the set... Those photos appeared on the front page of virtually every newspaper in the country." Dickie Moore said of giving Temple her first onscreen kiss in Miss Annie Rooney (1942). 
“She was so different to other child actors,” Granas pointed out, “They all had a sort of professional ‘air’ about them… Shirley never had that ‘air’...” Part of her appeal among a wide audience was her naturalism and believability simply as a child on film.
Poor Little Rich Girl co-star Alice Faye remembers her as “just a normal normal little girl… and that interested me – I wanted to see the mother. And when I met her mother, I realised, I knew why, because she was a great lady.”
Mrs. Gertrude Temple was the powerhouse behind her daughter’s success, ensuring she was at all times poised, professional and modest. Shirley interpreted her characters by portraying them the way she herself would act if she were in that situation, rather than mimicking adult melodrama. If there was ever an odd occasion where she did try to “superimpose an unwarranted maturity of inflection or expression”, as she described it, Gertrude “was sure to raise a sceptical eyebrow.”
Gertrude Temple reads with daughter Shirley. "She really created Shirley Temple 'The Star'." Granas declared. 
Shirley was one of the rare exceptions of a child actor who was able to maintain complete focus on her work for lengthy periods. “Part of my incentive for concentrating was to assure myself that I wouldn’t blow my lines,” she revealed, “… it was the best protection for my professional pride.”

Many children go to sleep with a bedtime story, but Shirley’s nighttime routine was a little different, as she described:
“Mother had gradually evolved an effective system to teach me not only my lines but my role. At bedtime I lay with eyes closed while she read the entire story aloud, her voice acting out the parts. Then she retraced and read all my individual cue lines, and I would respond. When she came to the scenes scheduled for shooting the next day, I would recite my own lines, and she played all the other parts. By this time my rapport with the whole story was so intense that I had learnt not only my lines but most of everyone else’s too.”
The Temples had heard through the grapevine that child actor Jackie Coogan’s father, Jack Coogan Snr got him to cry on camera by telling him that his dog had been killed. Much to Gertrude’s horror, this method was attempted in an early film with Shirley. While Gertrude was briefly elsewhere on the set, the crew told a very young Shirley that they’d just witnessed her mother get eaten by a giant ugly green monster with red eyes, and then rolled camera to film Shirley’s distraught reaction. When Mrs. Temple returned, she was furious.
“A lot of people thought Gertrude Temple was tough. Gertrude Temple was tough,” Dickie Moore revealed, “And also I sensed in her somebody that wasn’t gonna be pushed around. And I envied that. I wished that my parents had been more that way.”
“She was the ultimate stage mother,” Marilyn Granas declared, “She was there for Shirley at every turn.”

Shirley with her parents Gertrude and George Temple. 
When a scene required Shirley to cry, Gertrude Temple worked through trial and error to devise a careful routine so her performance would be realistic:
“The night before a crying scene we did the usual reading, but without the real cry. While still fresh in the image of my role, I clicked off the lights for our good night. That bedtime script imprint remained unaltered as I slept. At morning I rose and dressed quietly. There was no frivolity at breakfast, and minimum talk in the car. Every effort was made to avoid diluting my subdued mood. On mornings like that the stage crew soon learnt to accommodate my problem, ignoring me or speaking in modulated tones and reducing stage clatter to a minimum until the crying scene had passed.”
An emotional scene with James Dunn in Bright Eyes (1934).
As her popularity grew, other adult actors were wary about working with her, given the reputation children in the business have about being difficult to work with. “All actors dislike working with children. My worst fears were justified the minute I set foot in front of the camera with her,” Shirley’s Bright Eyes co-star James Dunn was initially intimidated by her and complained, “It’s ridiculous. A child can’t understand the dramatic import in film lines and grasp what the business of the studio is about. Yet, she behaves exactly as though she did.”
“This child frightens me,” her Little Miss Marker co-star Adolphe Menjou openly confessed one day, “She knows all the tricks. She backs me out of the camera, blankets me, grabs my laughs. She’s making a stooge out of me. She’s an Ethel Barrymore at six! If she were forty years old, she wouldn’t have had time to learn all she knows about acting.”

"Off-camera he treated me with the reticence adults commonly reserve for children, sometimes staring at me fixedly without comment... He spent little time directly with me, always preferring to watch me from a distance." Shirley said of Little Miss Marker (1934) co-star Adolphe Menjou. 
Temple reminisced, “I wouldn’t have recognised all those tricks by his definition. Perhaps he underestimated the capability of a child to learn the trade. By six years of age, she had been in the business half her life. Before she had learnt to read Shirley had appeared in thirty different films.

Her remarkable talent for dancing often hurt the pride of even the most seasoned professionals. During the audio recording session of the tap dancing sequence ‘Military Man’ in Poor Little Rich Girl, Jack Haley became increasingly frustrated at the fact that he could not synchronise his tapping rhythm to the vision that had been previously filmed. Disgruntled by Shirley’s ability to flawlessly master this, he snapped at Gertrude Temple, barking that her 8-year-old daughter was the “problem” behind his poor performance. 

Alice Faye and Jack Haley with Temple on the set of Poor Little Rich Girl (1936). 
Through her work with some of the most respected actors of the time, Shirley quickly learnt that film experience does not necessarily equate to professionalism. To her surprise, legendary theatre and film star Lionel Barrymore was no exception. She asked her mother about the huge chalkboard on the set of The Little Colonel with all of Barrymore’s cues and lines all written up for him to read off. “Why can’t he learn his lines at home like everyone else?” the naturally curious six-year-old Shirley asked her mother. Her mother’s response was to hush her and explain, “He is a famous stage actor and would be hurt if he heard such comments.” Barrymore also didn’t take too kindly to when Shirley, who could sense that her fellow thespian prompted him his lines when he was clearly struggling. “Dammit! I’m thirty years in this business!” Barrymore exploded as he stormed off.
"It wasn't really a meeting. Barrymore didn't take my extended hand, and with one brief downward glance, he turned to speak to someone else. There is a big difference between being seen and being acknowledged." Temple recalled of her meeting co-star Lionel Barrymore for The Little Colonel (1935). 
In Shirley’s innocence she was honest to question why we see actors as more superior than other people. She always treated every person she met, famous or otherwise, with the same amount of warmth and respect.
“Think about how difficult it would be to be a child and sensitive to other people when you’re being put on a throne all the time,” Darryl Hickman questioned, “I mean, people tend to be that way with celebrities anyway, but with Shirley Temple it was almost nauseating!” For someone who had never known a life outside the entertainment industry, she never viewed her lifestyle as anything spectacular. “She didn’t really think that her life was unique in any respect,” Dickie Moore recalled, “She thought that all children worked… that they all went to the studio.”
At the height of her popularity, the Temple’s car was frequently mobbed by fans while driving to the studio each day, so Mrs. Temple always kept a blanket in the car for Shirley to hide under.
“She would do anything she was told.” Cesar Romero remembered, “In Wee Willy Winkie, they were having sort of, a stampede of horses… and she ran right through there - didn’t hesitate at all. She had a lot of guts that little girl.”

Cesar Romero (pictured here in 1937 with Temple in Wee Willy Winkie) recalled, "Everybody that came to California came to Hollywood and visited the studios. No matter who they were, they all wanted to meet Shirley Temple." 
While performing in a Christmas Eve benefit radio broadcast at the Screen Guild Theatre, an assassination attempt was made on her when a crazed woman in the audience reached into her handbag and pulled a loaded gun on 11-year-old Shirley. The woman’s infant daughter had died only a few hours after childbirth. The baby’s time of death coincided with the exact hour of Temple’s ‘birth’, (which unbeknownst to the general public at the time and Shirley Temple herself, had been altered years earlier by the studio in an attempt to make her appear younger). According to the FBI, the woman believed that Shirley stole her baby’s soul. “My soul was in fact her daughter’s,” Temple recalled, “To avenge the theft, she had set out to kill my body.”
Even being the victim of an assassination attempt, the show must go on - Shirley (pictured here during the very 1939 radio broadcast that almost claimed her life) kept on singing while the crazed woman was tackled and dragged away by security. 
Then at age 44 in 1972, she demonstrated her courage in a different way. Shirley became the first high-profile personality to publicly discuss her diagnosis with breast cancer and her decision to undergo a modified radical mastectomy, which removed her entire left breast. “It was an amputation, and I faced it,” she confessed. She wrote about her battle in the February 1973 issue of McCall’s magazine, urging “other women to watch for any lump or unusual symptom. There is an almost certain cure for this cancer if it is caught early enough.” Decades later, Angelina Jolie would follow this example, revealing her own decision to undergo a preventative double mastectomy in a New York Times article.
'Don't Sit At Home and Be Afraid' was Temple's February 1973 article in McCall's magazine about her cancer diagnosis. "The doctor can make the incision; I'll make the decision" was her empowering mantra to other women. 
Hollywood scandal and speculation did not spare Temple. During hearings conducted by the House Un-American Activities Committee, ten-year-old Shirley Temple was publicly accused by James B. Matthews (former national chairman of the American League for Peace and Democracy, turned government witness) of assisting the Communist Party as a decoy to spread Communist propaganda. Among the other Hollywood stars accused of taking part in the operation were Clark Gable, Bette Davis and James Cagney.
Like all high-profile personalities, Temple was subject to even the most absurd of rumours. 
Temple’s famous head of fifty-six golden pin curls that her mother maintained every day fascinated the world. Originally Gertrude Temple began creating pin curls ala’ Mary Pickford because the California humidity had a tendency to frizz Shirley’s naturally uncurly hair, which didn’t come out great on camera. Swimming was forbidden, and vinegar rinses were Sunday hair care routines. Throughout the pin curls era, Shirley often dealt with strangers pulling at her hair to see if they were real. Part of the curls’ own folklore was from the family of an unnamed famous hair and makeup artist, who claimed their father had attached ringlets of human hair to a bald Temple’s scalp. Temple later joked that he “would have had to rise from his grave for the job” having died in 1931 before Shirley had even began dancing classes.
Maintaining her famous ringlets was a constant task. Here Temple is seen riding her bike in Palm Springs during some down-time, albeit still sporting a head full of curlers. 
Like so many children you encounter in the school yard, Shirley was also bullied by her peers - but on a film set. Slightly older Bright Eyes co-star Jane Withers (who fittingly played the role of the 'brat'), would apparently mock and mimic her to whoever was within earshot, for no particular reason at all. Bullying was not even spared for the top box-office star in the world, and however trivial it may seem in hindsight, it's definitely a feeling we can all relate to in some degree.
Jane Withers reportedly took great pleasure in being able to shatter Temple's then-untainted belief in Santa Claus - Bright Eyes (1934). 
Ten years later it was Ginger Rogers, her co-star in I’ll Be Seeing You who was dishing out the insults. “She seemed to have disliked me from a distance,” Temple remembered. Occasionally Rogers would attempt to provoke Temple in front of others. Then age 16 and well into the onset of puberty, Rogers pointed to Temple’s breasts and loudly taunted, “Why, little Shirley, you’ve grown up.” Embarrassed, Temple promptly replied, “Yep, couldn’t stop myself.” Adolescence is always awkward, but even with the world watching, Shirley was always dignified and confident.
Ginger Rogers showed what Temple described as a "puzzling antipathy" towards her, initially demanding that executive producer David O. Selznick fire Temple from I'll Be Seeing You (1944). 
On the day of what she believed was her last birthday before reaching teenager hood, her mother delivered somewhat life changing information…
“You’re not really twelve,” Gertrude Temple revealed, “You’re thirteen.”
“But yesterday I was eleven,” Shirley reasoned, “What happened to twelve?” Her mother explained to her that in 1933 Fox Film Corporation production chief Winfield Sheehan’s age-reduction plot, where he forged Shirley’s birth certificate, changing her legal birth year to 1929, as opposed to the correct 1928.
“I don’t want you entering your teens without even knowing it.” Gertrude declared.
“Faking youth is practiced in more places than Hollywood,” Shirley later theorised, “But Sheehan had me on dangerous turf. At my age, I had no years to spare.”

She still went on to live a very normal life. Shortly before leaving Fox, living a life consisting of motion picture studios, movie stars and film sets, Shirley said goodbye to her long-time onset tutor Mrs. Frances Klapt (affectionately known to Shirley as ‘Klammy’) and started her secondary education at Westlake School for Girls in downtown Los Angeles (now the co-educational Harvard-Westlake School).

Temple with her beloved teacher Mrs. Frances 'Klammy' Klapt. 
After a disastrous teenage marriage that lasted three years, Temple announced her divorce from John Agar. At that time Shirley had been voted ‘Mother Of The Year’ and studio executives begged her not to file for divorce. Always charmingly facetious, Shirley responded that it was just as well she hadn’t been voted ‘Wife Of The Year’. As she sings atop the piano in Little Miss Marker - “Look at the funny side and have your fun...”
Singing 'Laugh, You Son of a Gun' in Little Miss Marker (1934). 
She didn’t find the need to ride on the coattails of her childhood success throughout her adult life, but rather found a new and more personally fulfilling career in politics, in particular with the Republican Party (that no doubt put a stop to the Communism claims that plagued her decades earlier). U.S. Chief of Protocol, Special Envoy to the United Nations, Ambassador to Ghana and Ambassador to Czechoslovakia are among the duties performed throughout her extensive political career.
Temple being sworn in as a member of the United Nations delegation to the 24th session of the United Nations General Assembly, New York. 16th September 1969. 
Perhaps the real reason behind the world’s adoration for Shirley Temple was how relatable she was. She went through all the ups and downs many of us encounter in life - through childhood, scandal, fame, rejection, adolescence, marriage, divorce, parenthood, career-change, loss or illness - and she did so with honesty, bravery and an unforgettable smile.
With son Charlie Jr, husband Charles Black, and daughters Lori and Linda Susan. 
“What she had was a pure heart,” Darryl Hickman stated, “and people responded.”
Delmar Watson agreed, "This little kid put more heart back into people, and got people thinking in a positive way, and gave this country a lift when we needed it."
Child actors will come and go, but there will never be another human being that captured our hearts like Shirley Temple Black.

SHIRLEY TEMPLE BLACK
23 April, 1928 - 10 February, 2014




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