Shirley Temple’s Career Proves You Can Survive Being An Exploited Child Star
Today it was announced that Shirley Temple Black, the very first child star of Hollywood has died surrounded by family in her home in Woodside, California. Black was 85 years old. She was born in 1928, and she got her started in Hollywood performing in short feature films called “Baby Burlesks” for about ten dollars a day.
She was just an amazingly adorable and extremely talented baby, and it’s so strange when you consider how little she was when she was the most famous. She started working at the age of three, and she would later say that many of the movies she starred in were a cynical exploitation of childhood innocence and often racist and sexist. For those of you who have seen the 1935 movie The Littlest Rebel, I’m sure you can understand why she made that statement.
According to an article in the Daily Mail, when Shirley first began her career her regime was infantile slave labor. For any child who misbehaved, there was the sinister black “punishment box,” containing only a large block of ice, in which the obstreperous infant would be forcibly confined to “cool off.” Shirley was put into this box several times, was once forced to work the day after undergoing an operation to pierce her ear-drum and on another occasion to dance on a badly injured foot.
When she starred in the 1934 movie Little Miss Marker, the director of the movie got her to cry on cute by telling her that her mother had been kidnapped by a man with a green face and demon red eyes. At one point, her father George Temple was offered a “stud fee” to birth another Shirley.
When the movie Bright Eyes was released that same year, Shirley was the number one box office star.
The novelist Graham Greene spoke of Temple in his review for her movie Wee Willie Winkie:
“Her admirers – middle-aged men and clergymen – respond to her dubious coquetry, to the sight of her well-shaped and desirable little body, packed with enormous vitality, only because the safety curtain of story and dialogue drops between their intelligence and their desire.”
Greene and his publisher, the magazine Night And Day, were subsequently obliged to pay £3,500 in damages to the studio and to Temple, referred to by Greene as “that little bitch.”
She lost the lead in The Wizard Of Oz to Judy Garland and her career shortly faltered. She had a short lived television series in the 1950s, and then another in the 1960s. In 1967 she unsuccessfully ran for congress.
Undergoing a mastectomy for breast cancer in 1972, she was one of the first female public figures to openly discuss breast cancer and her treatment. She later went on to become the United States Ambassador to Ghana and was America’s first female Chief of Protocol at the White House.
Growing up, I saw quite a few of Temple’s movies, and my older sister had one of her dolls and a china set with her image on it. Looking back on them now, it’s shocking that some of them were as popular as they were considering how sort of eerily exploitive they are. It’s pretty remarkable when you look back at her life and realize she was never involved in heavy drugs or some of the other things that befall the child stars of today.
Runt Page was her very first movie appearance.
In the 1932 short War Babies, she shared her first onscreen kiss.
According to CNN, Funeral arrangements are pending. A remembrance guest book will be set up online at shirleytemple.com.
(Image: getty images)