From the perspective of 2022 it seems pretty hard to believe that nearly a century ago there was a little girl who danced, sang and smiled her way into the heart of America, and played an important role in somehow making everyone believe that a better day was coming. That little girl was Shirley Temple and she became one of the biggest sensations in show business history.
John Kasson, author of the biography The Little Girl Who Fought the Great Depression: Shirley Temple and 1930s America, points out that the thirties were the beginning of public opinion polls, which would reveal exactly what people wanted to know about and, not surprisingly, how people responded to things commercially. While box office figures were available, the great revelation was the identity of the child they admired most in the world, who also happened to be a motion picture star.
“Shirley Temple was not only the top box office star in the world for four consecutive years, but she was also particularly popular not only with kids, not only with women, but with men over 40 and with people in regional areas outside of the cities,” Kasson points out. “So she had a phenomenal following, and in terms of name recognition, she was one of the most famous people in the world. She was also the most commodified child, who did more product endorsements than anyone next to Mickey Mouse, from kids fashions to automobiles and publicity campaigns for things like the March of Dimes. She was the child that other little girls imitated, formally in look-a-like contests and informally. People would say things like, ‘Every day I’d get up and think, ‘What would Shirley do?’ or ‘She was my best friend and I played with her doll.'”
Why is Shirley Temple famous?
Pop culture historian Geoffrey Mark, who is also the author of The Lucy Book and ELLA: A Biography of the Legendary Ella Fitzgerald, muses, “I don’t know if Shirley Temple could have become a star at any other point other than the Depression. Movies were ridiculously inexpensive to get into at that time. In some theaters, it was a nickel or a dime for two hours or two-and-half-hours, because in those days they had cartoons and short subjects and sometimes a double bill.
“It allowed you to get away from not being able to pay the rent or thinking about the question, ‘How am I going to buy shoes for my kids?’ or the fact there wasn’t enough to eat for dinner,” Mark adds. “Shirley’s films, which I believe were lovingly crafted by 20th Century Fox, gave people that respite from their troubles, and we were a very troubled society at that moment. And for a very small child that becomes the number one box office sensation — well, there have been children in films almost since films began. I won’t say that she was the best or the best known, but she was the best and the best known of her day. And her day was the moment when talking picture were really the thing. It’s what everyone talked about the next day. You know, ‘Oh, I saw Shirley Temple in …’ whatever it might be.”
Asks Kasson rhetorically, “How can we track her popularity? When she was born in 1928, the name Shirley was the 10th most popular name for girls. She started appearing in short films from the age of three. We might just say she was this cute little kid doing endorsements, until Bright Eyes in 1934. By 1935, Shirley was the second most popular name for girls in the country. Then it stays at the top for the rest of the ’30s. The correlation is extraordinary.”
The real question, though, is why this child achieved the level of success that she did. Kasson’s pursuit of the answer to that question began with the development of the approach he was taking with his book.
“I began by wondering how and why Americans became noted for smiling — something that people from other countries have long observed,” he notes. “I considered writing a history of the smile in America and its relation to the rise of modern consumer culture. But the subject seemed to float like bubbles in the air, so I decided to bring it down to Earth by studying Shirley Temple, FDR, Bill ‘Bojangles Robinson’ and the Great Depression. My daughter had watched a great many Shirley Temple movies as a child, but I hadn’t paid them much attention. Now I did.”
What was Shirley Temple’s childhood like?
Shirley Temple was born on April 23, 1928, in Santa Monica, California, and was the third child (two boys, John and George, Jr, preceded her) of housewife Gertrude Temple and banker George Temple. In some ways, you could say that Shirley was destined for stardom, with Kasson sharing, “Even when Shirley was in utero, Gertrude dreamed that this daughter would somehow be famous as a movie star or something. She entered her in Meglin’s Dance School located in Los Angeles, where Judy Garland and her sisters went. It was known as a place from which kids would get modeling jobs and stage and screen opportunities.”
Proclaims Mark, “Shirley Temple was a genius — there’s no other word to describe her. You cannot teach someone star quality. You cannot teach someone how to sell a song or how to truly act. You can teach craft, but you have to have that certain something. For her to be able to do that from being a toddler, in diapers … she’s a genius.”
“In her autobiography, Shirley said how from that time she worked every day of her childhood,” Kasson interjects. “Although her mother and Hollywood publicists stressed how movies were simply play acting for Shirley, she was a hard worker — in many respects a child laborer, and the highest paid one in the world. But no one really wished to acknowledge that fact, not her parents, not 20th Century Fox, not even Eleanor Roosevelt. All of them emphasized that she was simply doing what came naturally.”
Her Early Years
While Shirley was attending Meglin’s, a casting director for Educational Pictures named Charles Lamont stopped by and immediately saw her inherent talent and signed her to a contract when she was just 3-years-old in 1932. Her first appearance was with other kids in 10-minute shorts known as Baby Burlesks, which were designed to parody recent events in the news and of films. Right from the start, people recognized her potential.
“Of course she had tremendous dancing talent, but she had to take lessons to do that,” Mark says. “She had to take singing lessons. She had to learn how to lip sync — all of the technical parts of filmmaking. That she could learn that at that age is amazing. She was a sponge; she just learned everything around her. And you watch her going from short subjects, where she’s in diapers, to these major, major films where she is the star of the show, probably best remembered for the films she made with Bill Robinson, Bojangles. It was a very strong message that was being sent that this little white girl was joyfully tap dancing with this African American man on screen. That is enormous culturally back then. They both carried it off so well that you don’t think twice about it. In lesser hands, that would not have worked at all.”
Kasson points out, “Her breakthrough came in April 1934, the month that she turned six. The nation was then in the depths of the Great Depression. Although FDR had launched his New Deal a year earlier, jobs, wages, and spirits remained at a low ebb, and there was even talk of revolution. The Great Depression gripped the Hollywood film industry as well, and it was scrambling for moral cover against charges of indecency from numerous civic, religious, and legislative quarters. So, we might say that Hollywood and the nation needed Shirley as never before. She received only seventh billing in Stand Up and Cheer!, but it was the movie that first made her famous. For the first time, Shirley’s beaming smile and serene confidence captivated the public.”
It may sound like an exaggeration, but there was something about the smiles and performances of Shirley Temple that seemed to make a genuine connection with the approach of then-president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
“Roosevelt identified the double character of the Great Depression as both economic and emotional,” Kasson observes, “when he said in his first inaugural address, ‘The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.’ Before he could do anything substantive to revive the economy, he had to instill new confidence and cheer — something his predecessor, Herbert Hoover, was notoriously incapable of doing. FDR made the face of his administration a beaming smile and reassured people that positive change was coming. Shirley’s breakthrough movie, Stand Up and Cheer!, hitched its wagon to FDR’s star, showing how entertainment could help lift the national mood of fear and gloom and end the Great Depression. Virtually overnight, her smile became as famous as FDR’s. When they finally met at the White House in 1938, FDR asked her, ‘Why aren’t you smiling? I thought you were famous for your smile.’ She was keeping her lips in place, she explained, because she had just lost a tooth.”
He elaborates, “She made more than 20 feature films in the 1930s, and in each one her task was emotional healing. She especially softened the hearts of father and grandfather figures and restored them to their best selves. Amid gloom, she encouraged everyone to keep on the sunny side of life. Also, because Shirley usually lacked one or both parents in her films, a driving question was who will adopt her? Who will care for her? She invited moviegoers to take her to their hearts. She is seen, of course, as epitomizing a natural and people made the equation between the person they saw on screen and the person they imagined she was. Everyone is more complicated than their film roles.”
Why did Shirley Temple turn down ‘The Wizard of Oz’?
Shirley was the top box office star in the world for four consecutive years, from 1935 through 1938, and, as noted, was also the celebrity to endorse the most merchandise for children and adults. “She transformed children’s fashions,” states Kasson, “popularizing a toddler look, including Big Sister versions, for girls up to the age of twelve. Ideal Novelty and Toy Company began making Shirley Temple dolls in October 1934, and soon they accounted for almost a third of all dolls sold in the country. She plugged breakfast cereals, toy sets, dresses, shoes, puzzles, and games, large cabinet-sized radios, even expensive cars. She became the model child consumer that no parent could deny.”
All of that notwithstanding, Mark points out that Shirley’s biggest problem was the fact that she was aging and all the attempts to keep her in curls couldn’t change that fact. There had been talk of her starring as Dorothy Gale in 1939’s The Wizard of Oz, which would have, he notes, been the project to take her into puberty and allow her to grow up a little bit.
“It just never happened,” he says. “Fox and MGM couldn’t agree on terms. I believe 20th Century Fox had the first dibs on the book, let it lapse, MGM bought it, couldn’t get Shirley over to their studio and revolved the film around Judy Garland. And now Judy Garland became the number one child star in the country. Right when Wizard of Oz hit, Shirley’s career changed. As you saw more of Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland and Donald O’Connor, Jackie Cooper and other child stars, as we began to go into World War II and get out of the Depression, Shirley’s films had become old-fashioned. And as we found out, while Shirley absolutely could act, she was not the actor Judy Garland was or Mickey Rooney was.”
Details Kasson, “[Fox head] Daryl Zanuck knew that if they abandoned what we might call the Shirley Temple formula, and the films are quite formulaic, they would not do well. But if they played the formula straight, people would say, ‘Oh, it’s just the other same old, same old,’ which some people did. They tried to have less singing, say as in Wee Willie Winkie, and more acting, and it didn’t do as well. By the late 30s, Gertrude is essentially saying that Daryl Zanuck doesn’t know how to make pictures, but she does. He did know how to make pictures. He was very good at it, but I can see what her frustrations were.”
“As she aged,” admits Mark, “she wasn’t really star quality anymore. Luckily for her, she grew into a very pretty young woman as a teenager who could handle comedy well. Who could do a dramatic scene well, but she was no longer the star of the show. She was playing the star’s daughter or a younger sister. She did it well, but it wasn’t a Shirley Temple film. It was a film with Shirley Temple.”
And when it came to her films of the 1940s, while there are some people who truly enjoy them, Kasson finds them a little tiresome and that some are actually embarrassing: “In some of them, the theme of childhood flirtation with men, the way she’s emotionally healing men; grandfather figures and father figures and putting people together and playing Cupid for couples and healing broken hearts and even larger politics — in Wee Willie Winkie she essentially solves the border crisis in India and heals the Civil War. By the 1940s, the theme of inappropriate relationships with adult men becomes more avert. It all starts to make you a little uncomfortable.”
Success Can Be a Poison
And while her film career was slowing down, there were a number of issues brewing behind the scenes, much of it having to do with the psychology of the effect her success was having on the family dynamic. Says Kasson, “Shirley Temple really needs to be understood as part of a team, especially in the ‘30s. And the team is with her mother and her mother is her coach, her hairdresser, her agent, in some ways unofficially her manager and so on. They work together and the emotional bond between them is very strong. I don’t think you have to go too deep into your psychology to say there’s a kind of narcissistic bond. If your kid does something well, it’s hard to separate that from yourself doing well or allowing your own frustrations to play out in your child. Her mother certainly had that, with Shirley Temple saying that she was her mother’s pet project.
“But meanwhile,” he continues, “George, her father, was a banker who became a brand manager on the strength of especially his daughter, but he was a kind of front man who people opened an account with because he was Shirley Temple’s father. In fact, there was a sign in the bank that said, ‘Meet Shirley Temple’s Father.’ He eventually quit his job and essentially his career, because he was really in her shadow and emotionally that’s difficult.”
Child Star Syndrome
And with all of that, Shirley also had gotten married to film actor John Agar in 1945, with whom she had their daughter, Linda Susan. But it was not a happy union with the two of them getting divorced in 1949 and Shirley being awarded custody of Linda.
Observes Kasson, “Diana Serra Cary, who was known as Baby Peggy, was a major star of the silent era from 1921 to 1923. She died at age101. She, more than any other star of that era, wrote very sensitively about the dilemma of child stars and their families, including how emotionally damaging it could be, because the child star is also a child laborer. We might also say that she is fulfilling the emotional needs of her own family as well as their material needs. In the case of Shirley Temple, she’s doing that on multiple fronts. She’s supposed to cheer people up, but also really keep the family afloat. She’s the kid with the Midas touch and that’s a kind of power that’s very destabilizing in the family political and psychological economy.
“She was going down the career of the former child star: disastrous first marriage, a has-been in her films by the late 40s, her husband John Agar was abusive to her, because he resented her whole prominence and so on. He was drinking and womanizing and physically assaulting her. And then she met Charles Black, who said he’d never seen a Shirley Temple film. She liked that, as well as the fact he was tall, handsome a war hero.”
Shirley had met World War II Navy Intelligence officer and Silver Star recipient Charles Alden Black in January 1950, the two of them getting married in December of that year. In a way, Black helped her to get a little more control in her life, beginning by having her investigate how much she was worth from all of those hit films (for the record, he was rich, so it wasn’t like he was a gold digger).
‘Shirley Temple Storybook’
“After she got married,” Mark comments, “we have a very long period of time where Shirley’s not working in show business. But then she has sort of a revival of herself in television. NBC gave her what was basically a children’s show. Shirley Temple’s Storybook was shot on videotape in color, telling children’s stories basically, where Shirley was the host and narrator. And once in a while she played a part. They got wonderful people to work with. The shows were very well produced. But Shirley couldn’t … even her openings and closings of the show, here was this very pretty woman, but absolutely grown up, not a teenager, a grown woman, but she was looking into the camera with the wide eyes of a little girl still. She was still playing Shirley Temple. She didn’t mature on camera into a mature woman, like Judy Garland did. Judy Garland did not say her lines in her later films the way she did when she was a teenager at MGM. Shirley seemed to be a little stuck. Worked hard, professional, but what was genius for a six-year-old or seven-year old isn’t expected from a grown person.”
“As it turns out, her father, George, invested her money and the investments did not do well,” Kasson details. “Charles Black says, ‘She really needs to know how much money she has.’ She’s 22-years-old when she finds out that she essentially has about three cents on every dollar she’s earned. Which she only reveals in her autobiography after her father is dead. They made bad investments, and you might say that if you’re the parents of a child star, you had to dress the part and live the life and that was expensive. Even after the so-called Jackie Coogan Act was passed, they would supposedly put part of the child’s income in a trustee account, but George just stopped doing it. He didn’t have money and there was some confusion between what was her money and the family’s money.”
Shirley, points out Kasson, eventually moved beyond show business, involving herself more in the raising of her kids and various philanthropic activities. In the 1960s, she entered Republican circles and developed an interest in diplomacy.
“She had a mediocre education,” he says. “She went to the Westfield School for Girls and had a lot of gaps in her knowledge and she didn’t go to college. But everyone said that she informed herself, so people would characteristically underestimate how much she knew. She informed herself very diligently, she worked hard and she was smart. I think she took more pride in her later life that she was a diplomat than as a child star. She was proud of the work she did, but she didn’t bury herself in that in the same way that so many people did. She liked to say that she was in public affairs twice as long as she was an actress.
“You might ask, what was she schooled to do besides being an actress? And the answer is be a diplomat. She was a diplomat for 20th Century Fox. Just think about it. Eleanor Roosevelt come by, she wants to meet Shirley Temple. Dignitaries come and who do they want to see? Shirley Temple. It’s like Khrushchev wanting to go to Disneyland. People coming to the United States wanted to meet Shirley Temple.”
While Shirley had a failed run at Congress in 1967, her efforts caught the attention of Henry Kissinger, and in turn, President Richard M. Nixon appointed her a delegate of the 24th United Nations General Assembly from September to December 1969. Then, from 1974 to 1975, she was made United States Ambassador to Ghana by President Gerald R. Ford. Made the first female Chief of Protocol of the United States from 1976 to 1977, she was put in charge of arrangements for President Jimmy Carter’s inauguration and inaugural ball. Finally, from 1989 to 1992, President H.W. Bush made her United States Ambassador to Czechoslovakia.
“It is not a huge stretch, I don’t think, that she went into public service,” Mark says. “A whole generation of people had grown up with her, admired her films and trusted her. And while her charms may not have any longer really come across on camera, she learned how to be a very charming human being — which was great for government work. She was not the first woman ambassador, but I understand she was a good one. She did a whole lot of good. I think she did as much good with this as she did with all those movies.”
Between these assignments, in 1972, when she was 44, Shirley was diagnosed with breast cancer. The tumor was removed and she went through a mastectomy. Despite the fact that at the time cancer was the sort of thing that wasn’t openly discussed, she felt a need to raise public awareness about the disease. Praises Mark, “When she had cancer, she was very public about it. She wanted to say to other women, ‘Look, it can happen to anybody, it’s happening to me. Look, I can get through this, so can you. Look, I survived, so can you.’ I have great respect for that.”
What age did Shirley Temple die?
Shirley remained married to Charles Alden Black until his death in 2005 of complications from a bone marrow disease; they had been married for 54 years. She herself died on February 10, 2014, at the age of 85 from COPD — fans wouldn’t know it as she hid it from the cameras, but Shirley smoked throughout her life.
“After her death,” Kasson points out, “people were saying things like they’d lost their best friend. There was an identification from people watching her as a child and they still felt that connection. People who were born after her wanted to be like her. Oprah Winfrey, born after her, wanted to be like Shirley Temple, which also tells you about the racial politics of it. Shirley Temple crossed race and class. I did an interview for the BBC and the woman assisting me said that she grew up in Ireland and she used to look out the window and dream that somehow she could be a Shirley Temple-like star, and she was in her 30s, born in the 1980s. It’s amazing the way celebrity touches the lives of children and extends even to their adult lives.”
Could there be a Shirley Temple in this day and age? Kasson, for one, doesn’t think so. “Today we live in an age of celebrity saturation,” he closes. “But no celebrity can hope to claim the attention of so many people at the same time as did Shirley Temple eighty years ago. She burst into public attention during the golden age of the Hollywood studio system, long before multiplexes divided movie audiences into market niches, and she spoke to a large family audience in a way impossible to achieve today. At the same time, she helped prepare the way for the modern consumer society, in which celebrities play such an indispensable role. All the while, Shirley’s perceived unspoiled character reassured parents that indulgent spending was good for their own children. Shirley released the nation’s purse strings, even as she plucked their heartstrings, and she became an unforgettable part of history.”
Please scroll down for a look back at Shirley Temple’s wonderful film career.
1. ‘War Babies’ (1932 Baby Burlesks)
It’s kids acting like adults. So cute in the 1930s, awkward in the 2020s. The kids — including Shirley — are in a cafe. She dances and entertains two little boys, who compete against each other for her affection.
2. ‘The Red-Haired Alibi’ (1932)
Shirley is very much in supporting role mode here, as the focus is on a woman who leaves a mobster that pursues her, and she ends up shooting and killing him. Disney, it ain’t.
3. ‘Merrily Yours’ (1933 Short Film)
Sonny Rogers (Frank Coghlan, Jr.) wants to go on a date, but first, he has to get little sister Mary Lou (Shirley) to go to sleep. Fat chance!
4. ‘Out All Night’ (1933)
Check out this description from IMDb: “A ‘mama’s boy’ falls for a spinster who takes care of children at a department store nursery. Shirley is one of those kids.”
5. ‘To the Last Man’ (1933)
A Western, previously made as a silent film, starring Randolph Scott and Esther Ralston. They just kind of worked Shirley into it, knowing they had something special with her.
6. ‘Pardon My Pups’ (1934 Short Film)
Another short film focusing on Frank Coghlan Jr.’s Sonny Rogers and Shirley’s Mary Lou Rogers. This time the story is about Sonny wanting a motorcycle for his birthday, but, instead, getting a dog.
7. ‘Managed Money’ (1934 Short Film)
Mary Lou (Shirley) tries to help her brother Sonny (Frank Coghlan, Jr.) pull together enough money so that he will be able to go to the military academy.
8. ‘The Hollywood Gad-About’ (1934 Short Film)
A parade for the Screen Actor’s Guild featuring a number of stars, including Shirley. Gossip columnist Walter Winchell serves as Master of Ceremonies.
9. ‘Stand Up and Cheer!’ (1934)
The Secretary of Amusement goes up against political lobbyists trying to prevent him from carrying out the duties assigned to him by President Franklin Roosevelt to bring joy to the public during the Great Depression. Shirley plays a character named Shirley Dugan.
10. ‘Change of Heart’ (1934)
Another small part for Shirley in a film about four college graduates who fly to New York City in search of jobs.
11. ‘Little Miss Marker’ (1934)
A bookie by the name of Sorrowful Jones (Adolphe Menjou) gets an IOU paid to him in the form of a little girl named Marthy “Marky” Jane. From 2020, another one that sounds kind of creepy.
12. ‘Now I’ll Tell’ (1934)
Still way too dramatic with Shirley in a background role as Mary Doran. The main focus is on a gambler (Spencer Tracy) who’s out of control, and the wife (Helen Twelvetrees) threatening to leave him.
13. ‘Baby Take a Bow’ (1934)
Sigh. Another dramatic story about a couple of ex-cons trying to go straight, but not quite able to do so. Shirley plays yet another Shirley.
14. ‘Now and Forever’ (1934)
Things are looking up! Gary Cooper plays “swindler” Jerry Day with Carole Lombard as his girlfriend, Tony Carstairs Day, and Shirley as his daughter, Penelope “Penny” Day. Discovering she’s been living with his wife’s family since her death, he decides to take Penelope in.
15. ‘Bright Eyes’ (1934)
In her first starring role, Shirley plays Shirley Blake, an orphaned girl who finds herself living with a snobbish family, who you just know she’s going to change by the end. While all this is going on, her godfather fights to obtain custody of her.
16. ‘The Little Colonel’ (1935)
A daughter and her father have a falling out in the aftermath of the Civil War, and she leaves home. Returning several years later with her daughter (Shirley) in tow, it’s just a matter of time before the tyke is able to melt her grandfather’s heart.
17. ‘Our Little Girl’ (1935)
The breakup of her parents results in young Molly Middleton (Shirley) running away from home, which just might be the thing that brings them back together again.
18. ‘Curly Top’ (1935)
Edward Morgan (John Boles) looks to adopt young Elizabeth Blair (Shirley) and her older sister Mary (Rochelle Hudson) but finds himself developing feelings for Mary. Uh … okay.
19. ‘The Littlest Rebel’ (1935)
When her family is captured during the Civil War, little Virgie Cary (Shirley) and “Bojangles” Robinson (Bill Robinson) turn to President Abraham Lincoln (Frank McGlynn Sr.) for help.
20. ‘Captain January’ (1936)
Her parents having drowned, little Star (Shirley) was taken in by a lighthouse keeper, but now a truant officer is insisting that she be sent away to boarding school.
21. ‘Poor Little Rich Girl’ (1936)
While traveling to the big city, little Barbara Barry is separated from her parents and taken care of by a pair of poor performers who come to believe that Barbara could be the answer to their problems. Also starring Jack Haley, just a few years away from playing the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz.
22. ‘Dimples’ (1936)
Working hand-in-hand with her pick-pocket grandfather (Frank Morgan, who will be off to be the Wizard three years later in The Wizard of Oz), Dimples Appleby entertains people on the street while he does his thing. Discovering what’s going on, a wealthy woman may be able to help Dimples escape the life she’s living.
23. ‘Stowaway’ (1936)
There’s definitely a formula to these films: Barbara Stewart (eventually given the name “Ching-Ching”) gets lost in Shanghai and taken in by American playboy Tommy Randall (played by Robert Young, who would go off to star in Father Knows Best and Marcus Welby, M.D.) and girlfriend Susan Parker (Alice Faye).
24. ‘Wee Willie Winkle’ (1937)
Young Priscilla Williams (Shirley) finds herself in the midst of a rebellion against the Indian crown in the early 1900s.
25. ‘Heidi’ (1937)
It’s not an easy life for poor Heidi (Shirley), who first is sent to live with her cranky grandfather (Adolph Kramer) in the mountains and then is taken away again to serve as a “friend” to an injured girl given the name “Blind Anna” (Helen Westley).
26. ‘Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm’ (1938)
Rebecca Winstead (Shirley) is living with her strict aunt who is fervently against show business, but the woman’s neighbor, Anthony Kent (Randolph Scott), is a talent scout who tries to help the youngster anyway.
27. ‘Little Miss Broadway’ (1938)
An orphan (you guessed it, it’s Shirley) is provisionally adopted by the manager of a hotel populated by show business people. The problem is that the owner of the hotel has no use for entertainers and, even worse, wants the child, Betsy Brown, returned to the orphanage. Jimmy Durante co-stars.
28. ‘Just Around the Corner’ (1938)
Shirley appears alongside Bert Lahr (her third future Wizard of Oz star) in this film. She plays a daughter trying to help her father achieve his dream of a slum clearance project. Bill “Bojangles” Robinson returns.
29. ‘The Little Princess’ (1939)
When her father goes off to war, Sara Crewe (Shirley) ends up in a seminary for girls, and when word comes back that he has been killed, she’s turned into a servant.
30. ‘Susannah of the Mounties’ (1939)
This time the orphan’s name is Susannah Sheldon (Shirley), whose parents were murdered in an Indian attack staged in the Canadian West. A mountie and his wife takes her in (a lot of people are willing to take her in over the years) and later Susannah saves him from being burned at the stake.
31. ‘The Blue Bird’ (1940)
In this fantasy, Mytyl and Mummy Tyl seek out the Blue Bird of Happiness by traveling from the present to the past and the future.
32. ‘Young People’ (1940)
A showbiz family, including Shirley’s Wendy, tries to return to normal life, though they’re surprised to find that people aren’t happy to have them. A terrible storm comes to town, and what the family does in response, changes their minds. This was Shirley’s final film under her 20th Century Fox contract.
33. ‘Kathleen’ (1941)
An unhappy 12-year-old fantasizes about having a perfect family, even though things couldn’t be further from the truth.
34. ‘Miss Annie Rooney’ (1942)
When a wealthy boy invites her to his birthday party, a poor teenager (Shirley’s Annie Rooney) is terrified, until friends and family come together to get her a proper dress.
35. ‘Since You Went Away’ (1944)
With her husband away at war, a woman is forced into taking care of their daughters and a pair of lodgers who have recently become residents in their home. For this film, Shirley’s role is considerably less than it has been, a sign of the changing times.
36. ‘I’ll Be Seeing You’ (1944)
Joseph Cotten plays a soldier who has returned from war suffering from combat fatigue and meets a woman (Ginger Rogers) while she’s out on furlough from prison for Christmas with romance developing between them. Supporting role for Shirley.
37. ‘Kiss and Tell’ (1945)
Romance between two teenagers leads to major conflicts between their two families.
38. ‘Honeymoon’ (1947)
Traveling to Mexico City, the film looks at the misadventures of a bride and groom, Barbara Olmstead (Shirley) and David Flanner (Franchot Tone).
39. ‘The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer’ (1947)
High schooler Susan Turner (Shirley) develops romantic feelings for a playboy artist named Dick Nugent (Cary Grant). Sounds salacious, but it’s a comedy.
40. ‘That Hagen Girl’ (1947)
A drama about college student Mary Hagen (Shirley) discovering that her parents may not be who she thinks they are. Also starring future President of the United States Ronald Reagan.
41. ‘Fort Apache’ (1948)
In this Western, John Wayne stars as Captain Kirby York, with Henry Fonda as Lieutenant Colonel Owen Thursday and Shirley as Philadelphia Thursday. It’s all about the conflict between soldiers at Fort Apache.
42. ‘Mr. Belvedere Goes to College’ (1949)
Clifton Webb is Lynn Belvedere, who won’t receive an honorary award unless he graduates from college. He attends one where he meets the kind Ellen Baker Ashley (Shirley) and the cruel Avery Brubaker (Alan Young, who would go on to star in Mister Ed) who makes Lynn’s life on campus hell.
43. ‘Adventures in Baltimore’ (1949)
Dinah Sheldon (Shirley) is the daughter of minister Dr. Sheldon (Robert Young) and somehow finds herself inadvertently involved in a scandal.
44. ‘The Story of Seabiscuit’ (1949)
Following her brother’s death, an uncle and his niece (Shirley) travel to America to escape the pain. He ends up working with thoroughbreds in Kentucky, while she finds herself romantically drawn to jockey Ted Knowles (Lon McCallister).
45. ‘A Kiss for Corliss’ (1949)
Teenager Corliss Archer (Shirley) has a crush on the older Kenneth Marquis (David Niven) and when she describes him as her boyfriend, the word starts to get around. This would be Shirley’s final movie.
46. ‘Shirley Temple’s Storybook’ (1958 to 1961 TV Series)
This delightful children’s anthology series — beginning almost a decade after her final movie — is hosted and narrated by Shirley, and each episode brings a different fairy tale to life.
47. ‘The Red Skelton Show’ (1963 TV Show Guest)
Shirley appeared on this classic comedy variety show featuring comedian Red Skelton, which aired from 1951 to 2016.
48. ‘Sing Along with Mitch’ (1961 TV Series Guest)
Music series hosted by oboist, conductor, record producer, and record executive Mitch Miller that Shirley appeared on. The show aired from 1961 to 1964.
Check out our deep dive video about the lovely, Shirley Temple:
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