Shirley Temple Black: The Greatest Child Star to Ever Live

The dimpled, precious, determined little darling of America, Shirley Temple Black, was the leading child film actress during the Great Depression. She starred in famous works like Bright Eyes and Captain January and sang a rendition of the song ‘On a Good Ship Lollipop’ in 1930, which became exceptionally renowned. She sang and tap-danced her way to a height of Hollywood stardom and worldwide fame that no other child reached. She always knew she was a rarity, a child megastar who later on lived a happy, fulfilled adult life.

Early Life and Career

Shirley Temple was born to a banker and a housewife, with two older siblings, on April 23rd, 1928, in Santa Monica, California. When she was two years old, Temple landed a contract with Educational Pictures, making her acting debut in a string of low-budget movies dubbed ‘Baby Burlesques.’ Temple had a natural flair for dancing which was eventually capitalized by her mother, who enrolled her in dance classes at just the age of 3 ½. Baby Burlesque gave Temple so much exposure that she finally landed a contract with Fox Film Corporation. Hence, when she was six years old, Temple was featured in her first Hollywood feature film, Carolina. Gradually, the young actress, with bouncing golden curls, a beautiful smile and infectious optimism, became an overnight sensation when Fox extended its contract and made another eight films, including Little Miss Marker.

Temple and the Great Depression

It was a tough time for Americans; the country was going through the worst recession when Temple captured the hearts of millions. Her films often centered on jovial themes, providing Americans with an escape during hardship. It was Franklin D. Roosevelt who called Temple ‘Little Miss Miracle,’ raising the public’s morale during the Great Depression. He even went ahead and said that as long as the country had Shirley Temple, the people would be alright.

Radiant, Ringletted and Adorable

On the one hand, where Temple was the grown-up’s ideal daughter, the roles often called for her to break few rules and speak innocent truth to stuffy snobs. At a time when women usually giggled, Temple laughed boisterously. People asked her parents for advice on raising a child prodigy, but Temple couldn’t be everyone’s daughter, and she could serve as an antidote to despair. In her famous movie Bright Eyes, The Little Princess and Curly Top, Temple played characters that were responsible for nudging estranged adults and cheering them on and on. She often played an orphan or half-orphan and when wealthy parents adopted her, the audience rejoiced. Even though Temple was one of the most popular actresses of her time, she remained underpaid. Since she was a child star, her parents managed her finances and fought tirelessly to receive just compensation for her hard work.

Shirley Temple and Bojangles

In 1935, Temple appeared in a movie, The Little Colonel, alongside Bill Bojangles Robinson and thus formed the first interracial couple to dance on screen. The two performed an iconic dance on the staircase that is still remembered to this date. He was in his 50s and she was just 6. He called her darli’n and she called him Uncle Billy. Their partnership proceeded to be more than just a movie milestone.

Temple thought Robinson was the perfect partner as he taught her his elegant yet joyful tap-dancing moves. She felt that Robinson taught her to feel the beat rather than count it out. The two were so incredible together that they went ahead and appeared in three more movies: The Little Rebel, Rebecca of Sunny Brook Farm and Just Around the Corner.

Late Career

As Temple began to age, her popularity faded and she found it incredibly hard to land major roles. The audience had difficulty accepting that their ‘Little Miss Miracle’ was growing up. Although she landed a few movies like The Bachelor, Bobby Soxer, and The Blue Bird, none did great at the box office. Thus, in the early 60s, at the young age of 22, when most people began their careers, hers as a popular film star ended.

On February 10th, 2014, Temple died due to pneumonia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease at her home near San Francisco. She was 85 at the time of death. To this day, Temple remains the greatest child star ever to live because, to her, work was play, and play was work.

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