Shirley Jane Temple was an American child actress, singer, dancer, and diplomat who was the top box-office draw in Hollywood. She gained popularity as a child actress from 1934 to 1938. As an adult, she was appointed the United States ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia and the United States’ Chief of Protocol. But did you know how her mother tried to make her childhood normal?
Shirley Temple’s mother did everything she could to make her daughter’s childhood normal. She asked Shirley’s friends’ parents not to let their children see her films so they wouldn’t treat her differently, and she withheld all of Shirley’s fan mail until she was much older.
How Did Shirley Temple Become Famous?
Shirley began taking dance lessons when she was three years old. A Hollywood scout saw her at the dance studio and hired her and a few other kids to star in a series of one-reel films called Baby Burlesques.
Each film featured children aged three to five dressed in adult clothing from the waist up and oversized diapers below, acting like adults and reenacting scenes from films such as The Front Page and What Price Glory.
Shirley reported that she learned some vital show biz lessons: Pay attention. Time is a valuable commodity. Do exactly what you’re told. Make sure you get it right the first time. (Source: Mental Floss)
Shirley Temple and Her Photographic Memory
Shirley had a near-photographic memory, and after her mother read the script to her, she knew not only all of her lines but everyone else’s. Shirley’s mother also carefully explained that what she was doing on the movie set was just playing pretend and not real.
After a scene in Our Little Girl, Shirley heeded this advice and required her to snap at co-star Lyle Talbot. Afterward, she immediately told this to her co-actor :
I’m sorry, Mr. Talbot, but that line is in the script. I really do like you.Shirley Temple
The Gertrude Temple’s Role in the Life of the Child-Star
Shirley’s mother, Gertrude Temple, already had two sons when she became pregnant with Shirley. Gertrude herself was a dissatisfied dancer, having grown too tall as a teen to become the ballerina she desired to be.
Gertrude constantly played music on the phonograph and radio while pregnant with what she hoped would be a daughter in an attempt to endow her child with an artistic bent. Shirley was walking by 13 months, and by two, she was tapping her feet rhythmically to music, so dancing school was the next step for any Hollywood hopeful. (Source: Mental Floss)
Did Shirley Temple Have a Normal Childhood?
Shirley’s childhood was kept as normal as possible by the Temples. As ordinary as it can be when, at the age of six, she was out-earning her father, and famous people like Eleanor Roosevelt and Noel Coward traveled to the 20th Century Fox lot to meet her.
Mrs. Temple asked Shirley’s neighborhood friends’ parents not to let their children see any of Shirley’s films so they wouldn’t treat her as special or different. She didn’t let Shirley read her fan mail until she was much older. Shirley couldn’t help but pick up some adult phrases from her co-stars to her mother’s chagrin. (Source: Mental Floss)