15 Shirley Temple facts you should know in honor of the late child star

Shirley Temple’s amazing life

Child stardom was just the tip of the iceberg

Hollywood became dimmer on Feb. 10, 2014 when Shirley Temple, the dimpled, curly-haired child star who brought joy to Americans during the Depression died at age 85.

As a tot, Temple was the country’s top box office draw from 1935 until 1938, and beat out Clark Gable, Bing Crosby and Joan Crawford — just to name a few. In 1999 the American Film Institute ranked Temple as No. 18 among their top 25 actresses and she is credited with helping save 20th Century Fox from bankruptcy with films such as 1935's “Curly Top” and “The Littlest Rebel.”

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And even though Temple retired from films at age 21, she later became active in politics and held several diplomatic posts in Republican administrations. In 1972, she raised awareness of breast cancer after having successful surgery to combat the disease. She wrote a best-selling memoir, raised a family of her own and continued to captivate audiences with a life made fit for the big screen.

Shirley Temple circa 1934.

Here are some facts about Temple you probably don’t know.

Her (racy) big break

According to The New York Times, Temple was spotted by an agent when she was 4-years-old in 1932 and was chosen to appear in “Baby Burlesks,” which the newspaper described as “a series of sexually suggestive one-reel shorts in which children played all the roles.” Temple, wearing skin-baring costumes, imitated adult screen sirens Marlene Dietrich, Mae West and Dolores Rio.

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The Times also shared that if any of the two dozen children misbehaved on set, they were locked in a windowless sound box with only a block of ice to sit on. “So far as I can tell, the black box did no lasting damage to my psyche,” claimed Temple in her memoir. “Its lesson of life, however, was profound and unforgettable. Time is money. Wasted time means wasted money means trouble.”

Getting ready for her close-up

Being Temple was no easy task, she once claimed. People magazine reported each night her mother would coil her hair into 56 perfect pin curls. And once Temple was tucked in, her bedtime story was actually the next day’s script. The magazine shared that her mother Gertrude would read the lines and Temple parroted them until she fell asleep. By the morning, Temple had memorized everyone’s lines, including her own.

What pushy stage mother?

Over the years, it’s been reported Temple’s rise to stardom was orchestrated by a ruthless momager who forced her toddler to bring home the paycheck. Temple herself insisted it was far from the truth. “She was quite shy, but she always believed that if a door opens for you, go through it,” she said about her mother, as reported by People magazine. “She did not push me into anything. I loved what I did. I remember cruel mothers who would pinch their children to make them cry in a scene, but my mother encircled me with affection.”

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She celebrated in a big way

On Temple’s eighth birthday — she was actually turning 9, but the studio wanted her to be younger — she received more than 135,000 presents from around the world. The gifts included a baby kangaroo from Australia and a prize Jersey calf from schoolchildren in Oregon.

Even Santa Claus was impressed

Temple stopped believing in Santa Claus at age 6 — and her fame had something to do with it. “Mother took me to see him in a department store and he asked for my autograph,” she once said.

She was nearly assassinated

In 1939, a woman tried to assassinate Temple while she was singing “Silent Night” on a live radio show under the logic that the 10-year-old had swiped her daughter’s soul and shooting her would unleash it. She recalled the event during a 1998 news conference at the American Booksellers Association in Anaheim, Calif., according to Deseret News. She said a woman “pulled out a rather big gun and started to point it” at her while she was singing during the radio appearance at CBS in Hollywood. Temple said at the time police grabbed the woman and removed her from the studio.

Putting a rumor to rest

The Hollywood Reporter shared that during Temple’s reign in Hollywood, there was a lingering rumor in Europe that she was not a child, but instead “an adult dwarf in disguise.” That rumor was put to rest after the Vatican dispatched Father Silvio Massante to verify that Temple was indeed a child who just happened to have loads of talent.

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Shirley Temple was the people’s choice

While Judy Garland was the ideal choice for the role of Dorothy Gale in 1939’s “The Wizard of Oz,” it was Temple who won the popular vote by fans of the original 1900 book. “Judy Garland was not the popular choice among book fans,” historian and collector Jay Scarfone, who co-authored “The Road to Oz,” told Fox News. “[Judy] was 15 years old, which was considered too old for the role. She was vivacious and over the top. The Dorothy in ‘The Wizard of Oz’ has a very different personality from what is seen in the film. But there was never a serious contender except for Judy Garland.”

Judy Garland in "The Wizard of Oz."
(Getty)

Enduring sexual harassment

In her memoir “Child Star,” Temple claimed that an MGM producer, who was known to have an “adventuresome casting couch," unzipped his trousers and exposed himself to her during their first meeting in 1940. She was 12. Being innocent of male anatomy, she responded with nervous laughter and he threw her out of his office. Fortunately, she had already signed her contract with MGM.

Kiss and tell

In 1988, Temple revealed in an interview televised on “Entertainment Tonight” that Ronald Reagan was really a good kisser. “He was one of the best kissers,” she declared. The two performed together in the 1947 film “That Hagen Girl” where her character feared that the teacher played by the future president was her illegitimate father. Despite the on-screen chemistry, the film was “probably one of the worst movies either one of us ever made,” said Temple.

Puberty came with a price

Like with many other child stars, as Temple grew older, the work in Hollywood diminished. The New York Times previously reported that her once-signature golden tresses had turned brown. Film historian David Thomson said she had become “an unremarkable teenager.” And after nearly four dozen films, the public lost interest. By then “she was a strong-willed, chain-smoking 17-year-old.” And determined to be the first in her class to become engaged, she accepted a ring from 24-year-old Army Air Corps sergeant John Agar a few days before her 17th birthday.

Getting unlucky (and then lucky) in love

In her lifetime, Temple enjoyed a loving relationship with California businessman Charles Alden Black, who claimed he never saw any of her films. The marriage lasted from 1950 until his death in 2005 at age 86. But her first marriage to Agar wasn’t as blissful. That union lasted from 1945 until 1950. “I was 17,” recalled Temple to Larry King. “I was way too young. He was 24. But they didn’t talk about alcohol then. It was something you hid… So we didn’t talk about it.”

Shirley Temple with John Agar on their wedding day.
(AP)

“He also liked to dance with other gals and kiss them on the dance floor and all that,” she continued “And I thought to myself, ‘I can make this marriage work. I love him. I’m gonna do it.’ And I tried for four years. And it didn’t work. It was partly my fault. And his fault. But I still wish him nothing but the best.”

Agar’s son, Martin Agar, told Fox News his father never discussed his marriage to Temple.

“… He never did despite encouragement from family,” he said. “He told me practically everything about his life that I wanted to know… but he would never say a word about her.”

American child star and actress Shirley Temple, circa 1948. — Getty

Nearly losing it all

Despite becoming a Hollywood icon before turning double digits, Temple later admitted she nearly lost it all after her father mismanaged her finances over the years. “It was fine until I was 22 and I asked my dad and his business partner,” Temple recalled to Larry King. “I said, ‘You know, I was 21 and I didn’t get the money. I’m 22, where’s the money?’… It was a two and a half hour meeting in our house and finally, I said, ‘Give me the bottom line. What do I have?’ Well, they said out of $3,400,000 or so that I earned, I had $44,000 in my trust fund. That was it. And that was a shock.”

When King asked Temple if she was still mad at her father, she surprisingly said no.

“I think I would have paid the studio for the privilege of working and I think I did,” she explained. “[And] I didn’t blame him. Dad left school when he was in seventh grade. He was a banker during the Depression. And when he managed my money, it was just overwhelming, I think. And he was like an innocent led to slaughter. I think the people who counseled him did the bad job. I don’t blame him a bit.”

Sitting with Rod Steiger and Shirley Temple Black during the 70th annual Academy Awards.
(Reuters)

No Shirley Temples for Shirley Temple

It turns out Temple was not a fan of the mocktail made of ginger ale, lemon-lime soda and grenadine topped with a maraschino cherry that was named in her honor. “One night we were waiting in line to get drinks and I said, ‘You’re obviously not drinking a Shirley Temple,’” her longtime friend Barry Barsamian, who met the star in 1996 when she was 68, recalled to Closer Weekly. “She looked up and said, ‘No! I’m having a Black Russian with vodka. I’ll call it a Shirley Temple Black!”

“She told me if you drink [Shirley Temples] then you’d get diabetes because of all the sugar,” added Barsamian.

(AP)

Her greatest role

One of Temple’s proudest roles was that of hands-on mom to three children, including Lori Black, who would later play bass for the Melvins. “Being a wife and mom is the greatest of her achievements,” daughter Susan Black told Closer Weekly in 2018. “We were shopping and travel buddings. We went to many places together. She was one of my very best friends.”

“The only time I noticed her star quality was when someone else would ask for her autograph,” added son Charles Black Jr. “She was wonderful — and normal. We had dinner at the table every night all together.”

“She was devoted and generous, and she could be a little stern if we didn’t behave,” said Susan. “But she was also a lot of fun. Very inventive and imaginative. She was all about her children and her husband.”

Shirley Temple with her daughter, Lori, in Atherton, California, in 1957.
(Getty)

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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