The Shirley Temple Story for Kids

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a movie star?  Many people around the world dream of being famous and acting in blockbuster movies.  Lots of actors work hard to build their careers and spend years trying to get even small parts on movies. But imagine if you were just a young child and suddenly became a star before you even started kindergarten.

This is what happened to Shirley Temple.  Shirley Temple became the most famous child actress of her time during the Great Depression in America.  The Great Depression was a time when the country was very poor and most American families did not have enough money to live well.  Many people were sad about their money situation and they needed something to make them happy.  And Shirley Temple became just what they needed.

Shirley was born on April 23, 1928 in Santa Monica, California.  Her father was a banker and her mother was a housewife and she had two older brothers.  Although the country was quite poor at the time, Shirley’s family had enough money that they did not struggle.  

When she was young, Shirley’s family moved to Brentwood, Los Angeles and it was there that Shirley’s acting career started.  Her mother encouraged her to sing and and act and when she was three years old, she enrolled her in a dance school in Los Angeles.

Around this time, Shirley’s mother also began styling Shirley’s hair into corkscrew ringlets.  This cute hairstyle became her signature look and when she became famous, parents around the world started putting ringlets in their daughters’ hair so that they would look like Shirley Temple.

Getting her hair to look just right was not easy.  Every night before bed, Shirley’s mother had to roll her hair into 56 pin curls.  Shirley Temple did not like having her hair done, and she wished that she could just wear a short haircut like her hero, Amelia Earhart.

While Shirley was at the dance school, she was spotted by Charles Lamont, who was a casting director for Educational Pictures at the time. A casting director is someone who decides which actors and actresses will be put into movies.  When Mr. Lamont met Shirley, she was shy and hid behind a piano. But Mr. Lamont thought she was very cute and funny and he asked her parents if she could be in his movies.  She was just three years old.

Shirley Temple starred in many movies from the time she was three until she was six years old and became very famous.  She spent long days on set working very hard on the movies.  “Being on set” means spending time where the movie is being filmed and it usually involves spending long days filming and waiting for your turn to act.  When Shirley was not working on films, she attended the Westlake School for Girls.

Shirley starred in a number of feature films between 1932 and 1934, including Bright Eyes, Curly Top and Heidi and she became a worldwide star. In the movie Bright Eyes, Shirley sang a song called “On a Good Ship Lollipop”.  Everyone thought that she was so cute and so talented that she won a special Academy Award for the part.

Everyone around the world loved the curly haired girl.  Companies made dolls and dishes and clothing with her picture on them.  Everyone wanted to look like Shirley Temple and many girls dressed like her and curled their hair the same way. It became a very popular look.  

Someone even named a drink after her, called “The Shirley Temple”.  It was flavoured with cherry, lemon and lime and had a cherry in it.  It became a very popular drink and still is today.

Shirley became a sign of hope and optimism during the difficult years of the Great Depression.  Many people found Shirley’s attitude and energy in her movies made them very happy and optimistic. Optimistic means having a positive outlook on life and believing that the future will be positive and happy.

The President of the United States at the time was named Franklin D. Roosevelt. President Roosevelt called Shirley Temple “Little Miss Miracle” for making people happy during such a difficult time for the country.  He said in a speech to the country that, “As long as our country has Shirley Temple, we will be all right.” 

By the time Shirley was 12 years old, she had made 43 films. However, as Shirley Temple got older, her movies became less and less popular.  Everyone wanted Shirley to stay the cute child star she was at first, but she was growing up.  Shirley was sad about this, but instead of wallowing, she decided to shift her focus to other things in life.

In 1945, Shirley married an actor named John Agar Jr., when she was only 17 years old. They had a daughter together but they got divorced in 1949.  The next year, Shirley Temple got married again and this time her marriage lasted for the rest of their lives.  Her new husband was a businessman named Charles Alden Black and together they had two children: a son, Charles, and a daughter, Lori.

In 1948, Shirley appeared in her last big movie, a Western movie also starring with John Wayne. Her career as a popular film star had ended at an earlier age than most actors’ had begun and she retired from acting in films in 1950 at the age of 22.

While Shirley Temple may have been sad about her movie career ending, she decided to refocus her efforts on other activities, including activities that would help others.  She sat on the boards of companies and organizations including The Walt Disney Company, Del Monte Foods, and the National Wildlife Federation.

She also decided to get involved in politics and from 1969 to 1970. She was the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. She later became the U.S. ambassador to Ghana and the U.S. ambassador to Czechoslovakia.  She found a way to give back to the world again through her political work instead of her movies.

In 1988, Shirley Temple published her autobiography, Child Star.  An autobiography is a book that someone writes to tell the story of their life. 

She received many awards and honors throughout her life, including the Kennedy Center Honors and a Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award. In 2005, she received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Screen Actors Guild.

Shirley Temple died on February 10, 2014, at her home near San Francisco, California. She was 85 years old. Following her death, Shirley’s family said that: “We salute her for a life of remarkable achievements as an actor, as a diplomat, and most importantly as our beloved mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, and adored wife of 55 years.”

Shirley showed a great deal of charisma at a young age, which first got her noticed to be in the movies.  But it was ultimately her dedication to being a good actress and working hard that helped her build success.  Shirley also demonstrated resilience throughout her life.  Resilience means the ability to recover quickly from difficulties.  Shirley was able to shift her focus to new activities allowed her to continue to give back to the world in a positive way, even after her movie career ended. 

All of us can learn from Shirley about the power of being positive and spreading happiness and joy.  We can also learn about how to look forward to what we can do next in life when something stops working out for us.  By focusing on the positive things in life, we can continue to build happiness and meaning for ourselves and others.