Shirley Temple was, perhaps, the biggest star of the Silver Screen throughout the depression years, her death at 85 on February 10 means that the Good Ship Lollypop has taken its last voyage. The young American icon sang and danced her way into the hearts of a financially stricken U.S. and during a time when many were committing suicide because of lost fortunes and millions of American’s were on the bread lines and in soup kitchens Temple made America forget her financial woes for at least an hour and a half.
She was adored by all and was possibly the first star to have merchandise based on her likeness, Shirley Temple dolls, dresses, soap and even a “mocktail” was named after the tiny star. Temple won an Oscar in 1934 it was pint sized, like her, and an honorary one rather than a proper Academy Award. Such was Shirley’s popularity that she bailed 20th Century Fox out of their own financial depression almost by her efforts alone.
Temple started her career when she was 3 years-old and became the world’s biggest box office draw 4 years running – 1935 through 1938 – and by 1949 she stepped away from the world of acting and concentrated on living her life. As she got older her film roles changed and moved away from the cute kid with 53 curls on her head. Shirley worked with some of the biggest names in show business during her four years as the number one star in the world.
This adorable “moppet” with curls, who tap danced her way into the hearts of America, was such a big star herself that when Gary Cooper met Temple while the two worked together in That Hagen Girl, Cooper asked for her autograph. In Temple’s biography Child Star: An Autobiography by Shirley Temple Black she told of working with her hero; iconic song and dance man Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. The two would go on to work together a total of four times.
The news that Shirley Temple Black has died aged 85 on Monday brings this fascinating woman’s life to an end. For her, and those who remember her tap dancing/singing days, the Good Ship Lollypop has taken its final voyage. The song, On the Good Ship Lollypop became Temple’s signature tune after singing it on screen in the 1934 film Bright Eyes.
Temple worked with legendary film director John Ford twice. Once when she was still a child star in the 1937 film Wee Willie Winkie, where she worked along side Ford favorite Victor McLaglen and the second time in 1948 as the love interest in Fort Apache, again along side Mclaglen as well as with John Wayne, Henry Fonda and her new, first husband John Agar. The first time Temple worked with Ford, he was “wonderful” the second time, he was not. Ford was allegedly a misogynistic man who had real issues with the ladies in his life, with the exception of Maureen O’Hara.
It was said that all of Temples costars fell in love with the pint-size cheery performer, although not everyone was so enamored with Shirley. Author Graham Greene, said of Temple in 1934 that she was a 50 year-old dwarf. About the same time that the English author revealed his distaste for Temple, there was another American icon who was “obsessed” with little Shirley. According to Kenneth Anger – child star, filmmaker, and author – in his book Hollywood Babylon II, Rogers spent some time trying to figure out how to drill a hole between their dressing rooms.
While rope-twirling cowboy Rogers apparently never did drill that hole, Greene’s derogatory comments about Ms Temple caused 20th Century Fox to take legal action against the Our Man in Havana writer. Reading Temple’s autobiography, the child star and adult diplomat relates how Hollywood treated her differently when she “outgrew” her cute stage. Probably a pretty good “warning” to parents keen to make their children the new millennium’s Shirley Temple.
Temple’s popularity waned after she got older despite her appearances in a number of good films. Her last “starring” role was that of the lead in A Kiss for Corliss which could be seen as a sequel to Kiss and Tell as she played Corliss Archer in both. She worked with English actor David Niven in A Kiss for Corliss and at the time the film was not too well received by critics.
After putting away her tap shoes, Temple avoided show business except for a television series that ran from 1958 to 1961 and a guest spot on The Red Skelton Hour in 1963. She did film a television pilot; titled Go Fight City Hall in 1965 that was never picked up.
Shirley Temple’s short marriage to John Agar, the two entered matrimony in 1945 and divorced in 1950, ended in the same year, and same month, that the she married second husband Charles Black. Shirley and Charles remained married until his death in 2005. Temple had a total of three children.
The award winning actress followed her film career with another one as U.S Ambassador (twice) U.S. Chief of Protocol and she was a delegate to the U.N.; she also ran against Paul McCloskey in 1967 for California’s Congressional District in the Republican primary election. She lost and news headlines of the day stated that McCloskey had torpedoed “Good Ship Lollypop.” Temple was also a recipient Kennedy Center Honors and apart from her special Oscar, she won a further three awards related to her film career.
Shirley Temple Black, the child star who discovered that Santa Claus was not real after he asked the, then, 6 year-old for her autograph, died on Monday age 85. For Shirley and all those who remember her cute performances the Good Ship Lollypop has taken its last voyage. It is hard for newer generations to watch Temple’s films and not feel uneasy at the adult male’s adoration of the talented tyke, but, for a generation who did know where their next meal was coming from they were uplifted by this tap dancing, singing child star who helped them to forget their financial woes.
By Michael Smith