Remembering Shirley Temple

MG ShirleyTemple

By Dr. Tom Snyder, Editor

The tributes for Shirley Temple Black, the beloved Hollywood child-star icon from the 1930s and 40s, who died just recently, keep coming into our offices here at Movieguide®. We thought we would share some of them with you.

First, however, I’d like to note that watching Shirley Temple movies on my family’s old black and white television is one of the most potent memories I have as a child, along with watching other icons like Lucille Ball (first in movies, then in TV), Red Skelton movies, King Kong, John Wayne, and Judy Garland.

As a growing boy, however, I became a little Anti-Shirley, because her movies always made me cry, so I had to not watch them after a certain point.

That said, Shirley made many great movies, not only including her child movies like BRIGHT EYES, CURLY TOP, and WEE WILLIE WINKIE (directed by the great John Ford), but also more adult movies like THE BACHELOR AND THE BOBBY SOXER with Cary Grant and Myrna Loy in 1947 and FORT APACHE  in 1948 (also directed by John Ford and starring both John Wayne and Henry Fonda).

Her performances in all of these movies were very memorable.

Movieguide® Publisher Ted Baehr says Shirley was one of the smartest and most gracious people he ever met. Her IQ was off the charts, but she was a kind and thoughtful of faith and great values. She was also quite conservative.

Here’s what Arn Sturtevant wrote about Shirley:

“My parents promoted and enabled my first puppy-love romance with Shirley. Such infatuation with the industry and its screen star idols was generally considered a very healthy and entertaining new American experience. The result is, along with throngs of other males of my generation, I today can proudly claim Shirley as “my first girlfriend.”

“I couldn’t wait to attend Shirley’s newest flick in the appropriately named “Dreamland Theater.” Dreamland was a former livery stable, adapted to theater on demise of the horse-and-buggy and advent of the automobile. Its noisy wooden floors, splintery wooden seats, creaking, unstable ‘hay loft’ balcony, and musty barn-like odor didn’t deter throngs of faithful viewers who, even in the depths of the great depression, gladly paid a 10-cent admission fee to have their spirits lifted.

For years, no star approached Shirley’s astounding popularity. She was a cutie, with her tousled hair and dimples deep enough to hold marbles. . . and she could tap dance up a storm. Hollywood musicals like “Rose-Marie” were increasingly popular. But, I had no appetite for the likes of Nelson Eddy spitting his tonsils out at Jeannette MacDonald in nose-to-nose operatic shouting matches called music. In contrast, my insatiable taste for Shirley was renewed every morning, thanks to Gold Medal Foods and its premiums of “sapphire blue” Depression Glass mugs and pitchers, with their applied etched photos of my heartthrob. As I poured milk on my favorite Rice Krispies, the cereal would leap to life with a snappity-tap-snappity-snap-tap-tap that immediately conjured up visions of her sparkly smile and snappy tap dancing.

“My sister Joanne was born in 1934. . . followed a decade later by a second sister Pamela, born in 1944. With their cute cherub-like faces and dimply smiles, I fancied they bore a striking resemblance to my beloved Shirley. Good job, Mom and Dad! I expect it was repeated proximity to movie screen images that etched the desired impression on our genetic code! My sisters’ physical resemblance to the object of my romantic affection was probably alone sufficient to deter the kind of sibling rivalry that often disrupts peace in a family. [How could I ever be angry with one who looked like my Dreamland idol?]”

From our friend Bonnie Wilder comes this email:

“I also felt that a part of my childhood died with Shirley! Funny that we were almost different generations, (I was b. in 1947) but I still thought of her as “one of us” because she NEVER aged! I recall watching her movies on our small black and white television on Sunday afternoons. . . .

“Perhaps I got some of my love for singing from her, but I was awful at tap dancing! That only last for three years and my smart parents got me an accordion instead. You can’t dance with an accordion – not even Myron Floren could do that! BUT you could SING with it, which I preferred to do rather than practice my lessons.

“I wonder how many others were positively influenced by the song and dance little girl who was raised well, unspoiled, and said her greatest accomplishment was her 55 year marriage!”

Note:  Shirley was married to Charles Black for 55 years after being married for five years to actor John Agar, her co-star in FORT APACHE (Agar’s very first movie role in 1948).


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