Shirley Temple

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America's Sweetheart.
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I stopped believing in Santa Claus when I was six. Mother took me to see him in a department store and he asked for my autograph.
—Shirley Temple, as quoted in The New Penguin Dictionary of Modern Quotations by Robert Andrews.

Shirley Temple Black, born Shirley Jane Temple[note 1] (April 23, 1928–February 10, 2014) was an American former child actress, businesswoman and diplomat who was perhaps one of the most popular if not the most popular child performer of all time, earning the distinction as a consistent box-office draw for four straight years (1935–38). She retired from show business at the young age of 22, though she made sporadic film and television appearances later in her life. Temple also took on a political career in her adulthood, having mounted an unsuccessful bid for Congress as a conservative under the Republican Party ticket; she was later appointed as chief of protocol and the U.S. Ambassador to both Ghana and Czechoslovakia.

Besides earning praise for entertaining people of all ages during the Great Depression, her life and career have been subject to scrutiny, particularly with the abuses she experienced during her career as a child actress, as well as her conservative political views.

America's sweetheart[edit]

James Dunn and Shirley Temple in a publicity photo for Bright Eyes (1934).

Perhaps the best-known aspect about Temple is her career as a child actress during the golden age of Hollywood, having been on-screen since the age of three in Baby Burlesks,Wikipedia a series of short satirical films featuring toddlers in decidedly adult situations. Temple herself later remarked that the films were "a cynical exploitation of our childish innocence,"[1] also revealing the horrors that she and her child co-stars faced on set at the time, like trapping the poor children in an ice box should they misbehave or slip up on-set, all on top of the arguably inappropriate situations the child performers were subjected to.[2][3] Burlesks was made prior to the introduction of the Hays Code,Wikipedia leading to a more or less anarchic film industry devoid of regulation and protection for their performers.[2]

Even more disturbing were Temple's allegations against MGM producer Arthur FreedWikipedia[note 2] whom she accused of having sexually abused her at the age of twelve in what amounts to a proto-#MeToo revelation. Freed set her up in an interview during Temple's move to MGM, where the producer allegedly unzipped his trousers and exposed himself in front of her. Temple, being an innocent child at that point, responded with a nervous giggle, and was thrown out of the room. She cited this as the reason why she did not stay long with the MGM studios and went back to Fox.[4] The "Good Ship Lollipop" sequence in the 1934 vehicle Bright EyesWikipedia has not aged well with modern audiences either. Comments left on one YouTube upload question the appropriateness of Temple's character serenading a band of grown men on board an airplane.[5] At least some of her other feature films were also put into question as well, like how she was fondled by a band of grown men in Poor Little Rich Girl for example. One blogger expressed concern about the release of Temple's films on home media, perhaps tacitly labelling them as effectively borderline child pornography.[6]

On the bright side however, Temple somehow did not wind up in the pantheon of errant former child performers whose lives were all but ruined due to the stresses and abuses they faced,[7] such as Lindsay LohanWikipedia and Peter Pan actor Bobby Driscoll,Wikipedia whose tragic life was later callously satirised by Disney in Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers.Wikipedia[8] She also was good friends with African-American vaudeville actor and tap dancer Bill "Bojangles" Robinson,Wikipedia with whom she collaborated in a number of productions, though the scenes featuring Robinson were unsurprisingly excised from screenings in the South due to the Jim Crow laws. Temple recalled, "Bill Robinson treated me as an equal, which was very important to me. He didn't talk down to me, like to a little girl. And I liked people like that. And Bill Robinson was the best of all."[9]

While the rigors of her childhood life and career are well-known and documented, cranks have unfortunately taken the story way out of context and shoehorned conspiracist screeds on top of what is factual, such as allegations of satanic ritual abuse[10] and even MKULTRA of all things.[11] Even during her heyday, such spurious rumours and urban legends were prevalent, such as when persistent rumours in Italy speculated that the young Temple was not a child but a dwarf actress in her thirties due to her stockier body type. Such was the gossip that, according to Temple herself in her memoirs, even the Vatican themselves got involved when they summoned a certain Silvio Massante to investigate on whether she was indeed a child and not a real-life version of the Batman villain Baby Doll.[12] Other rumours concerned the condition of her teeth[note 3] or that she wore a wig; Temple's mother actually gave her a routine regimen for setting her trademark curls involving vinegar rinse.

On the GOP ship Lollipop[edit]

Temple in 1990.

Temple made no secret about her conservative inclinations,[note 4] although she rubbed elbows with Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1934. Roosevelt remarked positively about the actress, saying "As long as our country has Shirley Temple, we will be all right."[14] In her adulthood, Temple sided with the likes of fellow-Hollywood veteran Ronald Reagan (whose political views were clearly no different than Temple's) and Richard Nixon. In 1967, she ran unsuccessfully in a special election in California's 11th Congressional District to fill the seat left vacant by the death from leukemia of eight-term Republican J. Arthur Younger, caucusing under the GOP as an independent candidate. Comedian Johnny CarsonWikipedia ridiculed this and performed a sketch where he dressed as Temple and sang a parody song called "On the Good Ship U.S.A."[15] Carol BurnettWikipedia (of Annie fame as Miss Hannigan no less) also joined in on the fun with her own sketch on her eponymous comedy show where she assumed the role of a namby-pamby adult babyWikipedia-esque Temple send-up named "Shirley Dimple", later re-christened as "Rhonda Dimple" likely due to legal issues.[16]

She also publicly expressed her stance as a staunch anti-communist, having claimed to have witnessed a poor unarmed woman being gunned down in Czechoslovakia[note 5] and harbored a strong pro-Vietnam War position.[18] Ironically enough, she herself became the subject of McCarthyist witch hunting when the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) suspected Temple of leftist sympathies.[19] Earlier still was when elements within Congress debated whether Temple – during her child star days – was unwittingly supporting the communist cause, something that was dismissed more as a bizarre joke than a credible threat considering that Temple was then only 10.[20]


  1. While Temple occasionally used "Jane" as a middle name, her birth certificate reads "Shirley Temple". Her birth certificate was altered to prolong her babyhood shortly after she signed with Fox in 1934; her birth year was advanced from 1928 to 1929. Even her baby book was revised to support the 1929 date. She confirmed her true age when she was 21 (Burdick 5; Edwards 23n, 43n).
  2. Yes, that very same bastard behind Singin' in the Rain.
  3. When acting, she wore dental plates and caps to hide the gaps in her teeth
  4. Such was her conservatism that during a rehearsal for the children's anthology series Shirley Temple's Storybook, she fired a stage hand for uttering the expletive "shit".[13]
  5. Shirley actually had a fan following in the former Czechoslovakia, where people there fondly remember "Širlejka" (translit. "Shirleyka"; English: "Little Shirley") and a fan club was established in the country during her career as an actress.[17]


  1. Black, Shirley Temple (1988), Child Star: an Autobiography, New York: Warner Books, Inc., ISBN 0-446-35792-8
  2. 2.0 2.1 The dark truth of classic Hollywood: Shirley Temple and ‘The Black Box’
  3. Shirley Temple's 'Baby Burlesks' Were Kind of Racy - TIME
  4. Handy, Bruce (February 14, 2014). "The Art Of The Creep: When Good Movies Happen To Bad People". Vanity Fair. Retrieved June 11, 2016.
  5. Shirley Temple - On The Good Ship Lollipop
  6. The Sinister, Untold History of Shirley Temple
  7. Shirley Temple, the Child Star Who Wasn't a Cautionary Tale
  8. Tragic Child Star Gets a Surprise Spotlight in Chip 'n Dale Movie
  9. Elizabeth Blair (February 14, 2014). "Shirley Temple And Bojangles: Two Stars, One Lifelong Friendship". National Public Radio.
  10. Shirley Temple movies- the epitome of satanism : r/ParlerWatch (Archive)
  11. Shirley Temple Was MK-Ultra and Abused As a Child by Jairo Parra (Archive)
  12. The Wild Rumor That Led the Vatican to Investigate Shirley Temple
  13. Shirley Temple's Storybook (1958)
  14. Temple was so popular in the USA that Roosevelt once proclaimed: "As long as our country has Shirley Temple, we will be all right"
  16. Carol Burnett - Shirley Dimple
  17. Věstník (Temple, Tex.), Vol. 81, No. 11, Ed. 1 Wednesday, March 17, 1993 Page: 10 of 16
  18. When Shirley Temple Black was a Vietnam War hawk on the campaign trail
  19. 'THE RED SCARE' 1947-54 ⋆ Historian Alan Royle
  20. Congress once debated whether Shirley Temple was a communist. She was 10. - The Washington Post