Shirley Temple died

It’s hard to believe that someone who was famous at age 6, and was never so renowned as when she was a child, could actually die.

Various news organizations report that Shirley Temple Black died yesterday from natural causes. Truly, I didn’t know she was still alive, but the fact that she was a child star makes her longevity seems exaggerated. (Her career began at age 3!). And I doubt, for instance, that if I asked many of my undergrads about her, few would know who she was.

I watched many of her films when I was young: they were often cloying, but there was no denying that the kid was immensely talented.  As Wikipedia notes:

Most films Temple starred in were cheaply made at $200,000 or $300,000 per picture and were comedy-dramas with songs and dances added, sentimental and melodramatic situations aplenty, and little in the way of production values. Her film titles are a clue to the way she was marketed—Curly Top and Dimples, and her “little” pictures such as The Little Colonel and The Littlest Rebel. Temple often played a fixer-upper, a precocious Cupid, or the good fairy in these films, reuniting her estranged parents or smoothing out the wrinkles in the romances of young couples. She was very often motherless, sometimes fatherless, and sometimes an orphan confined to a dreary asylum. Elements of the traditional fairy tale were woven into her films: wholesome goodness triumphing over meanness and evil, for example, or wealth over poverty, marriage over divorce, or a booming economy over a depressed one. As Temple matured into a pre-adolescent, the formula was altered slightly to encourage her naturalness, naïveté, and tomboyishness to come forth and shine while her infant innocence, which had served her well at six but was inappropriate for her tweens (or later childhood years), was toned down.

She had a life after child stardom, but few of us knew about it, except that she was somehow involved in politics and diplomacy, and had a highly publicized bout of breast cancer in 1972: she was one of the first afflicted with this disease to speak about it openly.

And here’s how most of us will remember her. The first clip is from “Curly Top” (1935), and includes one of her most famous songs:

And her duet with Bill “Bojangles” Robinson from “The Little Colonel”, also from 1935:


  1. Filippo
    Posted February 11, 2014 at 4:31 am | Permalink

    “And I doubt, for instance, that if I asked many of my undergrads about her, few would know who she was.”

    That seems a reasonable conjecture.

    I wonder how many of them would recognize the significance of the date December 7, 1941, or recognize the names and significance of Watson and Crick. I trust most would, having been accepted into the U of C. Can’t quote any stats off the top of my head, but too many Americans can’t approximate the dates of WW II or the U.S. civil war.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted February 11, 2014 at 6:11 am | Permalink

      I made a Highlander joke among people in their early 30s & they didn’t get it. 😦

    • Posted February 11, 2014 at 8:39 am | Permalink

      Not to belittle the events of Dec 7th, but WWII was in full swing long before then.

      • Filippo
        Posted February 11, 2014 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

        I agree.

  2. AKS
    Posted February 11, 2014 at 4:36 am | Permalink

    I came along after Shirley Temple, but just in time for Toni Morrison’s novel _The Bluest Eye_, whose narrator, Claudia, hates Shirley Temple because Shirley, a little white girl, gets to dance with Bill Bojangles Robinson, while she, Claudia, is supposed to admire Shirley.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted February 11, 2014 at 6:12 am | Permalink

      That reminds me of a bit Whoopi Goldberg used to do in her stand up when she used to put a red blanket over her head & tell her mom that she had pretty red hair and her mother would laugh at her and remind her she was a black girl.

  3. Posted February 11, 2014 at 4:40 am | Permalink

    It is great that she survived what was really child exploitation to carve out a career in diplomacy. Sadly many children come out of childhood stardom damaged. Nonethless, it is still delightful.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted February 11, 2014 at 6:13 am | Permalink

      Yes, I always saw her as a child that was exploited. Encouraged to be precocious then when she grew up, discarded. She’s lucky she didn’t go off the deep end.

  4. estraven
    Posted February 11, 2014 at 5:14 am | Permalink

    Come on, what about “On the Good Ship Lollipop”? Or “The Codfish Ball” (the Chenille Sisters have a great cover of this)?

  5. Occam
    Posted February 11, 2014 at 5:22 am | Permalink

    If I had to write her obituary, a fitting epitaph for her adult curriculum would be From Agar to Del Monte.

    As a Fordian aficionado, I must applaud her Wee Willie Winkie. More kudos for her quitting the silver screen shortly after Fort Apache — a wise career move at the ripe age of 21.
    Her Philadelphia Thursday character nowadays tends to evoke quotations from Arthur Dent and W.C. Fields, telescoping them in a slightly infelicitous manner.

  6. gbjames
    Posted February 11, 2014 at 5:29 am | Permalink

    Do they still serve non-alcohol drinks called “Shirley Temples”?

    • estraven
      Posted February 11, 2014 at 5:42 am | Permalink

      Yep. My grandkids order them when we go to restaurants. They feel very grown up, drinking them.

    • Hempenstein
      Posted February 11, 2014 at 5:42 am | Permalink

      Yes. I expect that if our host asks his undergrads, there’ll be name recognition on that basis, anyway.

  7. Linda Grilli Calhoun
    Posted February 11, 2014 at 5:55 am | Permalink

    I share a first and middle name, and a birthday, with her daughter.

    When I was a kid, I was often asked if I had been “named after” her daughter, even though her daughter was several years younger than I am.

    Yeesh. L

  8. Diana MacPherson
    Posted February 11, 2014 at 6:18 am | Permalink

    There is something sad about Wikipedia’s treatment of her death, “surrounded by family and care givers”. Not friends. It’s what happens when you outlive everyone, I suppose.

    • Occam
      Posted February 11, 2014 at 6:46 am | Permalink

      Having spent much of my life as a care giver, and recently as a care receiver, I can assure you that competent and reliable care givers tend to be more welcome than friends (or, let’s face it, most family members) when you’re terminally ill or dying. Friends and family get in the way. Cousin Emma, unless she’s a certified nurse, usually doesn’t know how to restart the morphine pump; cousin Ted is a klutz when it comes to changing the bladder catheter.

      • gbjames
        Posted February 11, 2014 at 7:17 am | Permalink

        Having been with both my parents as they died (separately) I can agree. Competent end-of-life caregivers are invaluable.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted February 11, 2014 at 8:39 am | Permalink

        I’m not dissing having care givers at end of life, what I find sad is she didn’t have friends with her as well as caregivers. It’s particularly poignant for me as I will die alone (I don’t have much family and all of them are older than me) if I outlive everyone and when you are surrounded by caregivers, that is good, but they don’t love you.

        • Filippo
          Posted February 11, 2014 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

          Caregivers may not “love” in the same sense as family or friends, but more than a few obits acknowledge “faithful” caregivers, on whom one could totally rely and whom one could trust to be there when it counted, especially in situations where a family member could not be counted on or who even was a stumbling block or a mine field to the caregiving situation.

      • Filippo
        Posted February 11, 2014 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

        I’ve worked as a caregiver myself; came in handy when my grandfather needed help.

        One irksome observation in my experience: listening to some situationally unaware, quasi-narcissistic soul complain of his own aches and pains and afflictions in the presence of another who is significantly worse off.

  9. Aaron Ferguson
    Posted February 11, 2014 at 6:30 am | Permalink

    “I stopped believing in Santa Claus at the age of six when my mother took me to see him in a store and he asked for my autograph.”

  10. Lianne Byram
    Posted February 11, 2014 at 6:30 am | Permalink

    I loved watching her movies really early on Sunday mornings when I was a kid. Sorry to hear she’s gone.

  11. Marlon
    Posted February 11, 2014 at 7:04 am | Permalink

    I’m going to have to find some animal crackers for my soup today.(They still make animal crackers, don’t they?)

  12. Merilee
    Posted February 11, 2014 at 8:08 am | Permalink

    What’s the humming sound when
    Bill Bojangles is dancing? Sounds like the old kleenex and comb routine.

    • Hempenstein
      Posted February 11, 2014 at 10:18 am | Permalink

      I wondered that too. Or else someone playing an alto(?) jug?

      And noted in passing, since we’ve been remined of late about how Ed Sullivan helped launch the Beatles, I just learned from Bogangles’ Wikipedia page that Ed organized B’s finale:

      Despite earning more than US$2 million during his lifetime, Robinson died penniless in 1949, at the age of 71 from heart failure. His funeral, which was arranged by longtime friend and television host Ed Sullivan, was held at the 369th Infantry Regiment Armory 369th Infantry Regiment (United States) near Harlem and attended by 32,000 people.

    • HaggisForBrains
      Posted February 12, 2014 at 5:20 am | Permalink


  13. NAY
    Posted February 11, 2014 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    I, too, was surprised she was still alive. My favorite of her movies has always been The Stowaway with Robert Young, Alice Faye and Arthur Treacher. (Orphan: check; Divorce: check; Rich adoptive parents: check; Great Songs: check, check; plus Shirley doing impressions at a “Chinese” talent show.)

  14. uglicoyote
    Posted February 11, 2014 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Road.

  15. barriejohn
    Posted February 11, 2014 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    We can all be grateful, though, that it was Judy Garland who landed the role of Dorothy!

  16. Posted February 11, 2014 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    I heard about this on the radio this morning. They said that “a famous child actor” had died, and I immediately thought of Shirley.

    I actually remember her from the movie, Heidi, although she figured prominently in the old MGM retrospective specials in the late 1970’s, eg. That’s Entertainment.

    However I always recall a joke from MAD or Cracked magazine, when they spoofed ‘All in the Family’:
    Archie: Why do you always wear your hair like that. Shirley Temple is dead!
    Gloria: No she isn’t, she works for the U.N.!
    Archie: Same thing.

  17. Sastra
    Posted February 11, 2014 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

    My mom is a huge Shirley Temple fan and collector of her memorabilia. She has something like a dozen dolls. I watched all her movies when I was very young, first on television then on videos.

    Iirc there was actually some controversy over the dance with Bill Bojangles Robinson. Though today it jars us a little in that it looks like a stereotypically happy tap-dancing darky servant, the bigots back then were furious that a black man was dancing with a white girl — never mind that she was only 6 years old and plenty of children were raised by black nannies. No, this was in public and on the screen and there were protests.

    Shirley Temple once wrote that Bojangles was her favorite dancing partner. She loved the dance and he joked around with her between takes. They later remained friends… or so she claimed. Probably, since she was generally said to have been very nice all her life.

  18. Posted February 11, 2014 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    She was indeed a very talented and charismatic child actress.

    Sine I practically grew up in the UN in Geneva (as my mother had a permanent translation job there and my older brother worked in the WHO and then in UNICEF) and among diplomats, intellectuals, scientists et al, I regularly heard about her career as an adult – she was very competent.

    Here is an excellent article about her and her life:

  19. Mike Leegaard
    Posted February 11, 2014 at 9:36 pm | Permalink

    When I would sit with my Grandmother at the nursing home she would always smile when the commercial for remastered Shirley Temple movies came on. It’s been several years but I still find myself singing Animal Crackers every once in a while.

  20. pooteresque
    Posted February 12, 2014 at 6:01 am | Permalink

    I don’t know if it is available in the US but this radio show: carries a fascinating interview with Diana Serra Cary, known as “Baby Peggy” who was actually a forerunner of Shirley Temple, in the silent era. She’s 95 now but doesn’t sound a day over 60. The interview is right at the end of the show.

  21. V.E.G.
    Posted February 19, 2014 at 1:51 pm | Permalink


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