Shirley Temple Black (née Temple; April 23, 1928 – February 10, 2014) was an American film and television actress, singer, dancer, and public servant, most famous as Hollywood's number-one box-office star from 1935 through 1938. As an adult, she entered politics and became a diplomat, serving as United States Ambassador to Ghana and later to Czechoslovakia, and as Chief of Protocol of the United States.
Temple began her film career in 1932 at the age of three. In 1934, she found international fame in Bright Eyes, a feature film designed specifically for her talents. She received a special Juvenile Academy Award in February 1935 for her outstanding contribution as a juvenile performer to motion pictures during 1934, and film hits such as Curly Top and Heidi followed year after year during the mid-to-late 1930s. Licensed merchandise that capitalized on her wholesome image included dolls, dishes, and clothing. Her box-office popularity waned as she reached adolescence. She appeared in a few films of varying quality in her mid-to-late teens, and retired completely from films in 1950 at the age of 22. She was the top box-office draw in Hollywood for four years in a row (1935–38) in a Motion Picture Herald poll. Temple returned to show business in 1958 with a two-season television anthology series of fairy tale adaptations. She made guest appearances on television shows in the early 1960s and filmed a sitcom pilot that was never released. She sat on the boards of corporations and organizations including The Walt Disney Company, Del Monte Foods and the National Wildlife Federation. She began her diplomatic career in 1969, with an appointment to represent the United States at a session of the United Nations General Assembly. In 1988, she published her autobiography, Child Star. Temple was the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including the Kennedy Center Honors and a Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award. She ranks 18th on the American Film Institute's list of the greatest female American screen legends of Classic Hollywood cinema.
Shirley Temple was born on April 23, 1928, in Santa Monica, California. She was the daughter of Gertrude Amelia Temple (née Krieger), a homemaker, and George Francis Temple, a bank employee. The family was of English, German, and Dutch ancestry. She had two brothers, George Francis, Jr., and John Stanley. Temple's mother encouraged her infant daughter's singing, dancing, and acting talents, and in September 1931, enrolled her in Meglin's Dance School in Los Angeles. About this time, Temple's mother began styling her daughter's hair in ringlets similar to those of silent film star Mary Pickford. While at Meglin's, she was spotted by Charles Lamont, a casting director for Educational Pictures. Although Shirley hid behind the piano while in the studio, Lamont took a shine to her, inviting her to audition, and in 1932, signed her to a contract. Educational Pictures were about to launch their Baby Burlesks, a series of short films satirizing recent film and political events, using preschool children in every role. Because the children were dressed as adults and given mature dialogue, the series was eventually seen as dated and exploitive. Baby Burlesks was a series of one-reelers; another series of two-reelers called Frolics of Youth followed, with Temple playing Mary Lou Rogers, a youngster in a contemporary suburban family. To underwrite production costs at Educational, Temple and her child co-stars modeled for breakfast cereals and other products. She was lent to Tower Productions for a small role in her first feature film (The Red-Haired Alibi) in 1932 and, in 1933, to Universal, Paramount, and Warner Bros., for various bit parts. After Educational Pictures declared bankruptcy in 1933, her father purchased her contract for $25. At the height of her popularity, Temple was often the subject of a number of myths and rumors, some of which were propagated by 20th Century Fox/Fox Films. In addition to forging her birth certificate to make her a year younger, Fox also publicized her as a natural talent with no formal acting or dance training. As a way of explaining how she knew stylized buck and weave dancing, she was enrolled in the Elisa Ryan School of Dancing for two weeks. One persistent rumor that was especially prevalent in Europe was the idea that Temple was not a child at all but rather a 30-year-old dwarf due in part to her stockier body type. So prevalent were these rumors that the Vatican dispatched Father Silvio Massante in part to investigate whether or not she was indeed a child. The fact that she never seemed to miss any teeth led some people to conclude she had all her adult teeth. Temple was actually constantly losing teeth throughout her tenure with 20th Century Fox, most notably during the sidewalk ceremony in front of Grauman's Theatre, where she took off her shoes and placed her bare feet in the cement to take attention away from her face. To combat this, she wore dental plates and caps to hide the gaps in her teeth. Another rumor pertaining to her teeth was the idea that they were filed to make them appear like baby teeth, which was false. Her biggest trademark, her hair, also was the subject of rumors. One rumor that circulated was that she actually wore a wig. On more than one occasion, fans would yank at her hair to test this theory. As she would later state, she wished all she had to do was wear a wig. The actual nightly process she went through in the setting of her curls was actually tedious and often grueling, with once a week vinegar rinses burning her eyes. Rumors also spread about her hair color, namely that she was not a natural blonde, but this was untrue. During the making of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, news spread that she was going to do extended scenes without her trademark curls. During production, she also caught a cold which caused her to miss a couple days. As a result, a false report originated in Britain that all of her hair had been cut off.