Black, Shirley Temple (1928—)

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Black, Shirley Temple (1928—)

American child movie star whose famous dimples saved 20th Century-Fox from bankruptcy and who later went on to a diplomatic career. Born Shirley Temple on April 23, 1928, in Santa Monica, California; daughter of George Francis and Gertrude Amelia (Krieger) Temple; trained atEthel Meglin Studios and with private tutors; attended Westlake School for Girls; married John Agar (an actor), on September 19, 1945 (divorced 1950); married Charles Alden Black, on December 16, 1950; children: (first marriage) Linda Susan; (second marriage) Charles Alden, Jr., and Lori Alden.


Dame, Order of Knights of Malta; Life Achievement Award of the American Center of Films for Children; miniature "Oscar" and full-sized "Oscar," Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences; honorary degrees from Santa Clara University, Lehigh University, College of Notre Dame.

Began work for Educational Films Corp. (1932); appeared in short films; appeared in first full-length film Red-Haired Alibi for Tower Productions (1932); signed contract with Fox Films (1934); appeared and starred in over 30 feature films (1934–49); named number one box-office attraction in U.S. (1935–38); contracted with Selznick International (1943–50); narrated and appeared in television series "Shirley Temple's Storybook" (1958–61); entered Republican politics, campaigning for Richard Nixon (1960); ran for Congress (1967); appointed representative to 24th General Assembly of the United Nations (1969–70); served as ambassador to Ghana (1974–76); served as U.S. chief of protocol (1976–77); was officer and founding member of American Academy of Diplomacy (1981); appointed first Honorary Foreign Service Officer of the U.S. (1981); served as ambassador to Czechoslovakia (1989). Publications: Child Star: An Autobiography (NY: McGraw-Hill, 1988), and a variety of magazine articles.


The Red-Haired Alibi (1932); To the Last Man (1933); Out All Night (1933); Carolina (1934); Mandalay (1934); Stand Up and Cheer (1934); Now I'll Tell (1934); Change of Heart (1934); Little Miss Marker (1934); Baby Take a Bow (1934); Now and Forever (1934); Bright Eyes (1934); The Little Colonel (1935); Our Little Girl (1935); Curly Top (1935); The Littlest Rebel (1935); Captain January (1936); Poor Little Rich Girl (1936); Dimples (1936); Stowaway (1936); Wee Willie Winkie (1937); Heidi (1937); Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1938); Little Miss Broadway (1938); Just Around the Corner (1938); The Little Princess (1939); Susannah of the Mounties (1939); The Blue Bird (1940); Young People (1940); Kathleen (1941); Miss Annie Rooney (1942); Since You Went Away (1944); I'll Be Seeing You (1945); Kiss and Tell (1945); Honeymoon (1947); The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer (1947); That Hagen Girl (1947); Fort Apache (1948); Mr. Belvedere Goes to College (1949); Adventure in Baltimore (1949); The Story of Seabiscuit (1949); A Kiss for Corliss (1949).

In the midst of the Great Depression, Shirley Temple was credited with bringing escape and cheer to audiences across America. "It is a splendid thing," declared President Franklin D. Roosevelt, "that for just fifteen cents an American can go to a movie and look at the smiling face of a baby and forget his troubles." Fifty years later, in 1987, Secretary of State George P. Shultz appointed

the first Honorary Foreign Service Officer of the United States. The honoree was a poised, 59-year-old woman, a longtime public figure, with the name of Shirley Temple Black.

Shirley Temple was born on April 23, 1928, in Santa Monica, California, a picturesque seaside town and site of several fledgling motion-picture studios. Shirley's parents were George Francis Temple, a cheerful, extroverted bank manager, and Gertrude Krieger Temple , a romantic but determined woman. The Temples, people of modest means, already had two sons—George, Jr. and Jack—when, at age 34, Gertrude resolved to produce a daughter and a talented one. Believing strongly in prenatal influences, she listened to classical music on the radio during her pregnancy, read good books aloud, attended romantic films, and took walks to enjoy natural beauty. She also practiced self-discipline so that her child might have the same trait.

When Shirley was three years old, Gertrude enrolled her in Mrs. Meglin's Dance Studio where Shirley and other toddlers were taught to balance books on their heads, fall gracefully, and perform a wide variety of dance steps, from simple tap and soft-shoe fundamentals to the Charleston, rhumba, and tango, even a bit of ballet. The Meglin method involved unending repetition, but Shirley, with her excellent coordination and sense of rhythm, accepted and enjoyed the routine.

Directors from Educational Films Corporation spotted the little girl among the Famous Meglin Kiddies and offered her a screen test. In January 1932, three-year-old Shirley appeared in the first of a series of Baby Burlesks, one- and two-reel spoofs of major productions. The films have been called "exploitative," "sexy," even at times physically dangerous to the child actors involved.

Gertrude Temple was by now bent upon a major career in motion pictures for her charismatic daughter. She herself designed and made Shirley's costumes, arranged her curls, drilled her nightly on her lines, spent long hours daily at the studio watching over her and admonishing "Sparkle, Shirley, sparkle," whenever the little girl was before the cameras.

It was the era of child stars. The juvenile galaxy included Jackie Cooper, Jackie Coogan, whose bitter legal battle with his parents inspired better protection for the young actors who came after him, Deanna Durbin , the treasure of Universal Pictures, Jane Withers, Judy Garland , Mickey Rooney, Bobby Breen, Bonita Granville , Freddie Bartholomew and, in the '40s, Elizabeth Taylor, Margaret O'Brien, Peggy Ann Garner and Natalie Wood . In box-office appeal, Shirley Temple would top them all.

Biographer Anne Edwards lists 57 films in which, between 1932 and 1949, Shirley appeared. The earliest of these were the shorts which continued to be produced by Educational Films. In 1934, Fox Films, near bankruptcy, offered her a contract. A studio official was later to declare that without Shirley Temple there would have been no 20th Century-Fox.

Black's first big hit was Stand Up and Cheer with James Dunn. Having memorized the script, she innocently corrected the routine of her dancing partner. Dunn was amused, and the unexpected take was left in the final film.

Like everyone else in America I loved Shirley Temple in those days when a depression-haunted world forgot the drab dreariness for a few hours in a neighborhood movie house, especially when a tiny, golden-haired girl named Shirley Temple was on the screen.

—Ronald Reagan

Shirley appeared for Fox and later for Selznick International, who loaned her to other studios, with a host of major adult stars, including the great black dancer Bill "Bojangles" Robinson who was to become a lifelong friend. Her starring films included Bright Eyes, Little Miss Marker, The Little Colonel, Curly Top, The Littlest Rebel, Captain January, Poor Little Rich Girl, Wee Willie Winkie, Heidi, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, Little Miss Broadway, The Little Princess, Susannah of the Mounties, and others. For four years, from 1934 to 1938, Shirley Temple was the greatest box-office attraction in the industry, surpassed only by Bing Crosby, who was the top attraction for five years during the 1940s. At the height of her career, her films annually brought into her studios more than six million dollars.

The life of "America's Princess" was rich with privileges and adulation. Her parents purchased a handsome home in Brentwood Heights with an adjacent badminton court, swimming pool, stable, and a playhouse sizable enough to become a honeymoon cottage. Her doll collection was one of the largest in the world.

Fox constructed a luxurious studio playhouse. By now there were said to be four million members of Shirley Temple Clubs. Little girls all over America adopted Shirley Temple curls, Shirley Temple clothes, Shirley Temple items of all kinds. She was inundated with gifts, 135,000 for her eighth birthday alone. Heads of state received and visited her. The president of Chile, a loyal fan, sent her the specially tailored uniform of an admiral of the Chilean navy.

This fairy tale success came at a price. Child actors were not well protected legally. Working hours could be long, sometimes six days a week, with no pay for rehearsals. Black's contacts with other children were strictly limited by her mother, partially to protect her from germs. She was not allowed to make friends with the children who acted with her. One studio observer at Shirley's eighth birthday party saw her as a lonely child, resembling the role she played in Poor Little Rich Girl. When she left the security of home or studio for travel or public appearances, thousands of demanding fans crowded round her, some attempting to tear off parts of her clothing for souvenirs. Her parents feared kidnapping.

Graham Greene, the English novelist and critic, wrote a scathing review in which he claimed that "infancy with Shirley is a disguise," that she had in fact become "a fancy little piece" with "a well developed rump" and "dimpled depravity." There were even rumors that she was an adult midget with a child of her own. In her teens, she was not spared the proverbial Hollywood sexual propositions. Always, there were the internecine rivalries and scandals of studio life.

As much as possible, the Temples shielded their daughter. Despite moments of mischief, Shirley seems not to have rebelled either against her directors or her loving but unendingly demanding mother. Many years later, when in 1985 the American Academy of Arts and Sciences awarded her an Oscar, she said, "This is really for my mother, Gertrude Temple, and this evening a tribute for her."

Even Gertrude could not avoid one inexorable problem. Increasingly, as her daughter matured, there were serious casting difficulties. Shirley could no longer play the part of a dimpled innocent. Just Around the Corner, 1938, did not prosper at the box office. Though The Little Princess, based on the children's classic written by Frances Hodgson Burnett and released in 1939, was successful, Susannah of the Mounties, also released in 1939, was unwisely chosen by Darryl Zanuck, Black's longtime producer. The Blue Bird, 1940, was a box-office failure, and Shirley's career at 20th Century-Fox was ended. Signed by Selznick International who loaned her to a number of other studios, she made 11 more films, returning to Fox for Mr. Belvedere Goes to College with Clifton Webb. Her last films, A Kiss for Corliss and The Story of Seabiscuit, were panned by reviewers. The glowing child star had not made the transition to successful adult actress.

Well before her final pictures, Black's life had taken a fresh turn. Perhaps a nascent wish to escape her mother's domination helped impel her to marriage on September 19, 1945, the first of her graduating class at Westlake School for Girls to wear a wedding ring. Her husband was John Agar, the handsome older brother of one of her Westlake classmates. A daughter Susan was born on January 30, 1948. Neither of the two young people was ready for marriage, especially one between a husband with a career still to make and a teenaged wife who was already world-renowned. After many difficulties, Shirley filed for divorce. Agar would go on to a minor career in film and chose never to criticize his wife publicly.

With the divorce pending, Shirley flew to Hawaii where she met and fell in love with Charles Alden Black, son of the wealthy and socially prominent president of the Pacific Gas and Electric Company. Educated at Stanford and Harvard, Charles had been a naval officer in World War II and had received the Silver Star and a presidential citation for bravery. Though he declared that he had never seen a Shirley Temple film, this did not prevent his following Shirley back to California. The two were quietly married at the Del Monte home of the elder Blacks 11 days after Shirley's divorce from Agar became final.

When Black's contract with Selznick International ended and an audition for the Broadway role of Tinker Bell in Peter Pan went badly, she announced that she would not act again. The Korean War was now underway. Lieutenant Commander Black, recalled to active duty, was stationed in Washington, D.C., and Charles Alden, Jr. was born on April 28, 1952, in Bethesda Naval Hospital. The Blacks were soon caught up in Washington social life and for the first time Shirley heard extended talk of politics and world affairs, topics which had long interested her husband. Charles was a Republican. The Temples, though not politically active, had also been Republican. Shirley emerged as a determined fiscal conservative but a moderate on social issues. (After Roe v. Wade, she would be pro-choice on abortion.) Her first public announcement on a political issue was a defense of General Douglas MacArthur whom President Harry Truman removed from his command in Korea.

She took another step into the public arena by joining John F. Kennedy, Frank Sinatra, and Grace Kelly in raising funds for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Good at fund-raising, Black was eager to help fight the disease which had recently stricken her brother George. In the election of 1952, she campaigned for Dwight D. Eisenhower.

With the end of the Korean War, the Blacks returned to California where daughter Lori Alden was born on April 9, 1954, at Santa Monica Hospital. The family soon moved to the San Francisco area when Charles became head of business administration for Stanford Research Institute in Menlo Park. As a suburban housewife, Shirley decorated their new redwood ranch house in Japanese modern, cared for her children, and continued charity work, for the Multiple Sclerosis Society and for the Sierra Club.

Biographer Edwards speculates that the woman who had worked since babyhood was bored, perhaps also haunted by guilt at having

disappointed her mother by leaving her career when it was at a low ebb. In 1958, responding to one of numerous television offers, she appeared as narrator and occasional actress in "Shirley Temple's Storybook" for NBC. The TV series was well received, and Shirley Temple's Storybook, Shirley Temple's Fairyland, and Shirley Temple's Stories That Never Grow Old, published by Random House, sold over 100,000 copies each. Shirley Temple dolls, dresses, coloring books and other items sold well, with Shirley controlling the licensing rights for all these products. A projected TV series about a crusading woman social worker did not fare so well, and the series was never completed.

The new Black home, a handsome English Tudor house in affluent Woodside, south of San Francisco, continued to shelter a disciplined and close-knit family, but Shirley's interests were still broadening. In 1963, she traveled with her husband to Russia on behalf of the International Federation of Multiple Sclerosis Societies. The quest to bring home help for MS patients, including her brother, was unsuccessful. Nikita Khrushchev, who had greeted Shirley when he visited San Francisco in 1969, was no longer premier and refused to see her. Russian treatment for MS, she learned from a noted neurologist, was of a type already practiced in the United States.

Black now turned directly to politics. Encouraged by the examples of Hollywood actors Ronald Reagan and George Murphy, she decided in 1967 to seek the Republican nomination for Congress from California's 11th District. Her husband was her manager, and her children also took part in the campaign. Black favored increasing tuition at state universities so that students might "value their education." She labeled President Lyndon Johnson's Great Society "a great flop" and blamed him for "a lack of leadership" in preventing the Watts riots. She upheld the war in Vietnam, believing that "the Communists of North Vietnam" must be defeated. Her lengthy speeches were written by her husband. Perhaps the Blacks underestimated the need for professional help in running a political campaign. The candidate's name recognition was great but may not have helped her win serious voter consideration. She was soundly defeated at the polls.

Undaunted, she threw herself into the campaign to nominate Richard Nixon for president. In the months before the Republican Convention of 1968, she raised over a million dollars, delivering more than 200 speeches in 22 states. After the Convention, she decided to go overseas to organize American voters living abroad, as well as to set up further branches of the Federation of Multiple Sclerosis Societies. Arriving in Czechoslovakia, she was caught in the Soviet invasion of that country but escaped unharmed. Within a few days, she returned to Europe on behalf of the Republican National Committee.

In August 1969, President Nixon named her a member of the U.S. delegation to the 24th Assembly of the United Nations. She was by now a director of a number of corporations, including the Bank of America, Fireman's Fund Insurance Company, BANCAL Tri-State Corporation, and the Delmonte Corporation. Pursuing a long time interest in medicine, she was also a member of the California Advisory Hospital Council.

In 1972, Black was appointed special assistant to the chair of the American Council on Environmental Control—another long-held interest. Later, she became a representative to the UN Conference on Human Environment in Stockholm and a delegate to the treaty on environment, USSR-USA Joint Committee. The next year, after recovery from breast cancer, she became a member of the U.S. Committee for UNESCO. Disney Productions elected her a director in 1974.

That same year, President Gerald R. Ford appointed her to what she later called "the best job" she had ever had, the ambassadorship to the African nation of Ghana. Despite threats from a local terrorist group, Ghana, with its strong matriarchal tradition, welcomed a woman ambassador, and Black became deeply interested in the problems of Africa. An unfortunate political embroglio in which she urged a visit to Ghana by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, a visit which would have seriously embarrassed the regime of General Ignatius Kutu Acheampong, may have led to her recall. President Ford offered her instead the position of U.S. chief of protocol.

The office was by no means an honorary one. Black, with her excellent memory, was immediately busied introducing and arranging the activities of foreign dignitaries. Her most challenging task was arranging details of the inauguration of President Jimmy Carter. A Democratic victory ended what were perhaps her hopes for a career in national politics, but she was not yet done with public life. In 1981, she became a member of the U.S. Delegation on African Refugees and member of the UN Association for the United States. She was appointed to the board of directors of the National Wildlife Federation, became a founding member of the American Academy of Diplomacy, and acted as co-chair of the Ambassadorial seminars.

It was in recognition of such work that Secretary Shultz, in 1987, designated her Honorary Foreign Service Officer, the first in the nation's history. The citation read: "In recognition of your distinguished contributions to the diplomacy of the country you have so ably represented at home and abroad, and with grateful appreciation for your willingness to share your experience, insights and wisdom in the training of virtually every first-time ambassador appointed since January 1981. Truly it can be said that you have had an excellent effect on your country's interests abroad."

In 1989, President George Bush appointed Black U.S. ambassador to Czechoslovakia. There, where she had once been in peril, she witnessed Czechoslovakia's "velvet revolution," its peaceful transition from Communism back to Western-style democracy. Charles Black has said of his wife, "I think she's one of the most unusual women who ever lived. Her whole life has been spent in various types of public service, either by entertaining people or by serving them."


Black, Shirley Temple. Child Star. NY: McGraw-Hill, 1988.

Cadden, Vivian. "Return to Prague," in McCall's. Vol. 117, April 1990, p. 60.

David, Lester and Irene. The Shirley Temple Story. NY: Putnam, 1983.

Edwards, Anne. Shirley Temple: American Princess. NY: William Morrow, 1988.

Yorkshire, Heidi. "Shirley Temple Black Sets the Record Straight," in McCall's. Vol. 116, March 1989, p. 88.

suggested reading:

Smith, Patrick R. Shirley Temple Dolls and Collectibles. Paducah, KY: Collector Books, 1977.

Windeler, Robert. The Films of Shirley Temple. Secaucus, NJ: Citadel Press, 1978.

Zierold, Norman J. The Child Stars. NY: Coward-McCann, 1965.


A variety of repositories including: Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Los Angeles, California; Government Documents Library, Seely G. Mudd Library, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut; 20th Century-Fox Archives, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin; United States Mission to the United Nations, New York; Warner Bros., Universal Studios and RKO Studios Film Archives, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California.

Margery Evernden , Professor Emerita, English Department, University of Pittsburgh, and freelance writer