Shirley Temple has been a part of my life ever since I discovered an old pair of children’s tap shoes in my grandmother Evelyn’s attic. I was informed they had belonged to my mother. My mother had taken tap lessons for years, in fact, every little girl in the neighborhood took tap lessons during the time my mother was a child.
I was too young to wonder how so many parents during the economic hard times of the Depression managed to pay for tap lessons, shoes and costumes. The answer though was Shirley Temple. Every little girl wanted to be Shirley, and every mother wanted their daughter to be Shirley. My own mother had to endure perms to get her hair in ringlet curls, because Shirley was famous for her curls. Parents were willing to sacrifice to ensure their daughters could dance, sing and look like Shirley.
Shirley Temple movies were a part of my life growing up. Every Sunday after church the family would stop and pick up freshly made donuts. Then my brothers and I would plop down on the couch in the den and watch the weekly Shirley Temple film. This was our routine for years, it didn’t matter that we had seen the film before. I knew every lyric to every song, and would happily sing them during the week. I never felt the need to learn to tap dance, but I would pick out songs from the films on the piano.
Shirley was probably one of the most famous people on the planet when she was a child actress. Anne Frank had a photograph of Shirley Temple up on the wall of her room in her secret hiding place in Amsterdam. The mystery of Shirley Temple is not that she was so famous, her acting and dancing made her a star, but how she managed to grow up and have a happy life.
I later read Shirley Temple’s autobiography and learned to admire her for so much more than her dancing, singing and acting. Her parents did not handle her finances well. Instead of ranting and becoming embittered, she forgave them and began a happy family life with her second husband. I have read many autobiographies of celebrities, and blaming the parents seems to be a consistent theme. Shirley simply realized that she had a choice, and her choice was to put the past behind her and forgive. She was from all accounts very happy with her second husband, though a form of early “google” came into play, as J. Edgar Hoover,who was a fan, did a background check on her husband to be.
Shirley also was very fond of her co star Bill Robinson. Their stair routine is a classic. Their friendship was real, though confusing to a young Shirley when she found she was not allowed to visit Robinson at his home. He lived in a black neighborhood so she was not allowed to visit. Her autobiography reflects her admiration and love for this man.
Other actors were far from welcoming or tolerant of a child actress, especially one that was going to steal any scene she was in. Shirley mentions their treatment, but never in a vindictive or mean way. It was more “I kept out of his way.” Her extreme intelligence saved her from becoming just another child actor that grew up to lead an unhappy life. Also her ability to focus on the future. It always seemed to be “What’s next?” in her life, never looking backward to what had been.
Shirley was not only a happy wife and mother, she also ran for government office and served the United States as an ambassador. The best part though is she never seemed embarrassed or anything less them proud of her film roles and being “Dimples” or “Curly Top”.
The best lesson from Shirley Temple is that of how she was able to accept the changes that came her way in life and always look forward to what was to come. She choose a life of happiness and serving her country and others. It’s a lesson we can all benefit from, and for that I thank you Shirley.
Here is a very early film with Shirley, she handles her small part, including lines, with a naturalness which is incredible for her age. She has to be adorable, it’s an important plot point, to tug at the hearts of movie goers that want this child to have a mother.