Well-remembered for her unruly mop of curls and cheeky innocence, Shirley Jane Temple enchanted audiences in the 1930s and was a shining beacon of joy and hope during the dark days of the Depression. Shirley Temple was born on April 23, 1928 in Santa Monica, California, to banker George Francis Temple and his wife Gertrude Amelia Krieger. Her mother Gertrude loved to play the phonograph and it is said that by the time Shirley was eight months old, she would sway with the music in her crib. By the tender age of three, she had already begun dance classes at Miss Meglin’s Dance School. There, she was discovered by a casting agent from Educational Pictures, for whom she worked from 1931 to 1933, starring in two short series films.
$0AWhile working for Educational Pictures, Temple was also engaged for many walk-in parts and small roles in films by other studios. She was finally signed to Fox Films Corporation (which merged with 20th Century Pictures to become 20th Century Fox) in 1933. She stayed with Fox Films until 1940, quickly becoming the studio’s most valued and lucrative asset. Her contract was amended in 1933 and 1935, and she was loaned out to Paramount Pictures for two successful films in 1934. For four years, Shirley Temple captivated America’s attention and support. She was ranked the top grossing box office star in America. To retain her child-like essence, Temple’s birth certificate was altered, changing her birth year from 1928 to 1929, a fact Shirley was unaware of until her twelfth birthday, which was in fact her thirteenth birthday. By the age of twelve, the darling Shirley Temple had starred in 35 movies. As a teenager, Temple was dropped by Fox and picked up by MGM Studios.
Shirley Temple’s hallmark, aside from her coveted precociousness, was her professionalism. Even at the age of five, she was always well-prepared, memorizing her lines and dutifully knowing the choreography for her dance routines. From 1936 to 1938, Temple was the highest paid actor in Hollywood.
To this day, she is the youngest person to ever receive an Academy Award.
At six years old, she won an Honorary Juvenile Acting Academy Award and the Academy named her “the most outstanding personality of 1934”.
Temple is also the youngest performer to have her hand and foot prints cemented at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.
As Temple’s womanly curves began to emerge, her film career started to slow down. When she was seventeen, she married John Agar, her schoolmate’s much older brother. Agar was unable to cope with Temple’s fame, and felt overshadowed by her glory. He took to drinking heavily and they divorced three years later. Temple fell in love with Charles Black shortly after her divorce, and after having her good friend J. Edgar Hoover complete a background check on Charles, she married him and became Shirley Temple Black. She closed the chapter on acting in 1949 and retired from Hollywood. However, Temple’s life in the public eye was nowhere near over. In 1958, she immersed herself in the fight against multiple sclerosis for her brother George Jr. She was the co-founder of the International Federation of Multiple Sclerosis Societies.
Shirley Temple’s list of accomplishments in film is extensive, but her résumé includes diplomatic pursuits that are very impressive.
She was the U.S. representative to the United Nations under Nixon, ambassador to the Republic of Ghana under Ford, Foreign Affairs officer for the State Department under Reagan, and appointed ambassador to Czechoslovakia by George H.W. Bush.
She was also the first female Chief of Protocol for the Whitehouse.
Shirley Temple is inarguably the most popular child star in history. More important is that she was the embodiment of optimism during a tumultuous time in American history. Her time on the silver screen may be over, but she continues to inspire the world with her diplomatic and charitable pursuits.