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Small wonder!

a natural performer Shirley Temple

a natural performer Shirley Temple  

Shirley Temple, who turned 80 recently, 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 age 7, 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. Though her co-stars were giants like Gary Cooper, Clark Gable, Carole Lombard and Adolphe Manjou, Shirley was the consistent scene stealer. Dozens of films were made where the little star was the main focus.

For four years running, she was the top earner for 20th Century Fox and the studio made more money by loaning her to MGM and Paramount studios. The child star’s professionalism was remarkable, she was always first to arrive on the sets, ready with her dialogue and dancing steps! Her impact on the nation and influence was such that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt once declared during the harsh Depression years, “As long as we have Shirley Temple, we’ll be all right.”

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 MacLaine 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. Shirley Temple was still not finished. Always keen on public affairs and politics which she entered in the 1970s, she was the U.S. envoy to Ghana and Czechoslovakia and was named the U.S. Chief of Protocol in 1976. Public honours, including the one offered by the Kennedy Centre, kept coming. All Shirley Temple movies are now available on DVD and can be enjoyed by the young and the old.

Temple tidbits

Shirley Temple is the youngest ever to win the Special Juvenile Performer Award at age 7

None of her grown-up movies made much of an impact

Her second marriage to Charles Black lasted over five decades

She entered politics in the 1970s and was the U.S. envoy to Ghana and Czechoslovakia

A cocktail has been named after her

All her movies are now available on DVD

V. GANGADHAR

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