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a natural performer: Shirley Temple
a natural performer: Shirley Temple

V. GANGADHAR

Shirley Temple is still regarded as the original little sweetheart

Violet-eyed Elizabeth Taylor, Hollywood’s little sweetheart after ‘Lassie’ and ‘National Velvet,’ grew up and went on to become one of the greatest ever movie stars, in the process marrying and discarding seven husbands. However, Shirley Jane Temple who turned 80 recently, is still regarded as the original little sweetheart, though her career tapered off as she grew up.

Hit after hit

Fifty-four films, 40 of them as a child star, the youngest ever to win the Special Juvenile Performer Award at seven, the youngest star to leave her foot prints at the Grauman’s Chinese theatre, Shirley Temple, the only daughter of a banker, when only three, was spotted by a movie industry talent spotter at her dancing classes. She was featured in two educational short films and played bit roles before 20th Century Fox offered her a contract in 1933 which they kept on extending till 1940. Curly hair, dimples, an enchanting smile and a natural before the camera, Shirley starred in hit after hit, ‘Poor, Little Rich Girl,’ ‘Curly Top,’ ‘Stowaway,’ ‘Young People,’ ‘Wee, Willie, Winkie’ and others. Although her co-stars were giants like Gary Cooper, Clark Gable, Carole Lombard and Adolphe Manjou, Shirley was the consistent scene stealer.

Dimpled cherub

She played variations of the same role, a bright-eyed, dimpled cherub, uniting quarrelling parents, melting stony hearts and bringing cheer all round. Playing Ching Ching, a Caucasian born in China and abandoned on the docks of Shanghai, Shirley manages to get on board an American bound liner as a stowaway, wins hearts and brings happiness to the glum hearts. Now available on DVD, the film, more than 60 years old, still pulls at one’s heart strings.

Knowing she could not be a child star for ever, Shirley left Fox to be on her own and made a number of movies for MGM and Paramount. But nothing could shake her position as the greatest ever child star.

Actors Shirley Jones and Shirley McLaine were named after her. So were a cocktail and a soft drink. The industry named her as the 33rd most successful star in movie history. None of the grown-up Shirley Temple movies made much of an impact. But Shirley made a successful TV debut and starred in popular sit coms and talk shows.

Life was tranquil. Her first marriage to John Agar (he admitted he had not watched any of her movies!) ended after four years, but the second marriage (1950-2005) to Charles Black was rock solid. The Blacks have three children. All Shirley Temple movies are now available on DVD.


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