Born in Santa Monica, California, she starred in over
40 films during the 1930s.Shirley had two older
brothers. Even at the age of five, the hallmark of her
acting work was her professionalism: lines memorized and
dance steps prepared. Her films continue to enjoy
popularity today, particularly among young girls.
Shirley Temple began her career at the age of three, after being chosen from her dance class by a visiting director. Between the end of 1931 and 1933 she appeared in two series of short subjects for Educational Pictures. Her first series, Baby Burlesks, satirized recent motion pictures and politics. Many of these films are dated and would be considered offensive now. Shirley's second series at Educational, Frolics of Youth, was a bit more acceptable, and cast her as a bratty younger sister in a contemporary suburban family.
While working for Educational Pictures, Shirley Temple also performed many walk-on and bit player roles in various other movies. She was finally signed to Fox Film Corporation (which later merged with 20th Century Pictures to become 20th Century Fox) in late 1933 after appearing in Stand Up and Cheer with James Dunn. She would stay with Fox until 1940, becoming the studio's most lucrative player. Her contract was amended several times between 1933 and 1935, and she was loaned to Paramount for a pair of successful films in 1934. For four solid years, she ranked as the top-grossing box office star in America.
Shirley Temple's popularity earned her both public adulation and the approval of her peers. She was the first recipient of the special Juvenile Performer Academy Award in 1935. Seventy years later, Temple is still the youngest performer ever to receive this honor. She is also the youngest actor to add foot and hand prints to the forecourt at Grauman's Chinese Theater.
A list of Temple's costars reads like a Who's Who of Hollywood. She was paired with James Dunn in several films; she also made pictures with Carole Lombard, Gary Cooper, and many others. Arthur Treacher appeared as a kindly butler in several of Temple's films.
Temple's ability as a dancer was well known and celebrated. Even in her earliest Baby Burlesk films she danced, and she was able to handle complex tap choreography by the age of five. She was teamed with famed dancer Bill Robinson A.K.A Bojangle in The Little Colonel, The Littlest Rebel, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm and Just Around the Corner. Robinson also coached and developed Shirley's choreography for many of her other films. Because Robinson was African-American, his scenes holding hands with Shirley had to be edited out in many cities in the South.
Aside from the films, there were many Shirley Temple product tie-ins during the 1930's. Ideal's numerous Temple dolls, dressed in costumes from the movies, were top sellers. Original Shirley Temple dolls bring in hundreds of dollars on the secondary market today. Other successful Temple items included a line of girls' dresses and hairbows. Several of Temple's film songs, including "On the Good Ship Lollipop" (from 1934's Bright Eyes), "Animal Crackers in my Soup" (from 1935's Curly Top) and "Goodnight my Love" (from 1936's Stowaway) were popular radio hits. Shirley frequently lent her likeness and talent to promoting various social causes, including the Red Cross.
The role of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, played by Judy Garland, was originally intended for her. She was unable to appear in the film when a trade between Fox and MGM fell through. She was also rumored to be the inspiration for Bonnie Blue Butler in Gone With the Wind and was one of the early contenders for the role in the motion picture, but was too old by the time the film went into production.
In 1940, Shirley Temple left Fox. She juggled classes at Westlake Academy with films for various other studios, including MGM and Paramount. Her most successful pictures of the time included Since You Went Away with Claudette Colbert, The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer and Fort Apache. She retired from motion pictures in 1949, around the same time that she divorced Agar. In the 1950's and 60's, she made a brief return to show business with two television series.
In 2001 she served as a consultant on the ABC Television Network production of Child Star: The Shirley Temple Story, based on part one of her autobiography.
Screen Actors Guild (SAG) announced on September 12, 2005 that Shirley Temple Black was to receive the Guild’s most prestigious honor—The Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award for career achievement and humanitarian accomplishment. Ambassador Black will be presented the Award, given annually to an actor who fosters the “finest ideals of the acting profession,” at the 12th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards. In making the announcement, Screen Actors Guild President Melissa Gilbert said:
"I can think of no one more deserving of this year’s SAG Life Achievement award than Shirley Temple Black. Her contributions to the entertainment industry are without precedent; her contributions to the world are nothing short of inspirational. She has lived the most remarkable life, as the brilliant performer the world came to know when she was just a child, to the dedicated public servant who has served her country both at home and abroad for 30 years. In everything she has done and accomplished, Shirley Temple Black has demonstrated uncommon grace, talent and determination, not to mention compassion and courage. As a child, I was thrilled to dance and sing to her films and more recently as Guild president I have been proud to work alongside her, as her friend and colleague, in service to our union. She has been an indelible influence on my life. She was my idol when I was a girl and remains my idol today."
Shirley Temple was married first to actor John Agar in 1945; she was then 17, and they had one daughter, Linda Agar, later known as Susan Black, in 1948. They divorced in 1950 and later that year she married the Californian businessman Charles Black (1919-2005) and took his name. She may have looked favorably on his admission during their courtship that he had never seen any of her films. Together, they had two children; Lori and Charlie Black. They remained married until his death from myelodysplastic syndrome on August 4, 2005, aged 86.
Black subsequently became involved in Republican Party politics, unsuccessfully entering a Congressional race in 1967 on a pro-war platform. She went on to hold several diplomatic posts, serving as America's delegate to many international conferences and summits. She was appointed American ambassador to Ghana (1974-76). In 1976, she became the first female Chief of Protocol of the United States which put in her charge of all State Department ceremonies, visits, gifts to foreign leaders and co-ordination of protocol issues with all US embassies and consulates. She was ambassador to Czechoslovakia (1989-92) and witnessed the Velvet Revolution, about which she comments: "That was the best job I ever had."
Black appeared on the cover of People magazine in 1999 with the title "Picture Perfect" and again later that year as part of their special report "Surviving Breast Cancer." She appeared at the 1998 Academy Awards and also in that same year received Kennedy Center Honors.
Black served on the board of directors of some large enterprises including The Walt Disney Company (1974–75), Del Monte, Bancal Tri-State and Fireman's Fund Insurance. Black's nonprofit board appointments included the Institute for International Studies at Stanford University, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Council of American Ambassadors, the World Affairs Council, the United States Commission for UNESCO, the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations, the United Nations Association and the U.S. Citizen's Space TaskForce.
Black received honorary doctorates from Santa Clara University and Lehigh University, a Fellowship from College of Notre Dame, and a Chubb Fellowship from Yale University.
Black now lives in Woodside, California.