"As long as our country has Shirley Temple, we will be all right. When the spirit of the people is lower than at any other time during this Depression, it is a splendid thing that for just 15 cents, an American can go to a movie and look at the smiling face of a baby and forget his troubles."Shirley Temple was America's one ray of hope during the mid-1930s, the decade following the Great Depression. As President Roosevelt correctly stated, her movies provided a much-needed escape from the harsh realities that became a part of life following the economic collapse.
―Franklin D. Roosevelt
As an angelic-looking child star, Temple's primary audience comprised children and adults alike. Her career graph rose quite spectacularly between 1935 and 1937 following a string of hit movies, including Curly Top and The Little Colonel. At the height of fame, her popularity was known to have surpassed the likes of top stars like Clark Gable and Jean Harlow.
Her reign as a top-notch star didn't last long―Temple had more or less retired from acting post the age of 20. But what's remarkable is that unlike most child actors of today, her run at stardom was sans the usual drama involving substance abuse, tantrums, and being a hot mess in general.
In the section that follows, we take a closer look at ten of Shirley Temple's best performances. The movies have been listed in a chronological sequence, and do not allude to the quality of her performance in each of them.
|Producer:||Sol M. Wurtzel|
|Actors:||Shirley Temple, James Dunn|
Bright Eyes was the first film especially written keeping young Shirley's persona in mind. Her name even appeared above the film's title―another first. She portrayed the character of Shirley Blake, who lives with the obnoxious Smythe family. Shirley's mother is employed at the Smythes as a maid, but she dies in an accident on her daughter's birthday. With her father already dead, the issue of securing the recently-orphaned Shirley creates chaos in the Smythe household. The old patriarch of the family, Uncle Ned has a soft corner for Shirley, whom he calls "bright eyes". The rest of the Smythe family is least concerned with the girl's well-being, and are consistently mean to her. It all ends well in the end, with little Shirley living with her godfather, James, his fiancée Adele, and Uncle Ned. The film is also remembered for the musical number, On the Good Ship Lollipop sung by Shirley.
|Producer:||Winfield R. Sheehan|
|Actors:||Shirley Temple, John Boles, Rochelle Hudson|
In this film, Shirley plays the character of an orphan named Elizabeth Blair, who lives along with her sister, Mary at a shelter. Elizabeth is known for her sweet nature and playful antics―most of which often land her in trouble with the caretakers at the orphanage. One of her many talents include mimicry, and she is caught imitating the head trustee on one of their routine inspections. She is almost sent to a public institution until the rich and handsome trustee Edward Morgan intervenes. He offers to put up Elizabeth and Mary at his luxurious residence―particularly as he is besotted with the latter. The sisters take up residence with their benefactor, and the film closes with Morgan and Mary finally planning to marry. This film contained one of Temple's biggest musical hits, the peppy Animal Crackers in My Soup.
The Little Colonel
|Producer:||Buddy G. DeSylva|
|Actors:||Shirley Temple, Lionel Barrymore, Evelyn Venable|
The Little Colonel was based on the novel written by Annie Fellows Johnston, and is known for what is perhaps the most iconic scene of Shirley Temple's career. Legendary tap dancer, Bill Robinson, introduced his signature staircase dance routine and modified it to include both him and Shirley. The sequence was especially notable for being the first interracial dance sequence in film history. With a backdrop of the post-Civil War era, the film tells the story of Lloyd Sherman, played by Shirley, who is the young daughter of a Southern mother and a Yankee father. When Lloyd's father leaves for the west to seek his fortune, her mother, Elizabeth, returns to her Southern home with her daughter. But, they receive a frosty reception from Lloyd's grandfather, Colonel Lloyd, played brilliantly by veteran Lionel Barrymore. The Colonel has severed ties with his daughter following her marriage to a Yankee several years earlier. Ultimately, it is up to his little granddaughter, Lloyd, to reunite her broken family.
The Littlest Rebel
|Producer:||Darryl F. Zanuck, Buddy G. DeSylva|
|Actors:||Shirley Temple, John Boles, Jack Holt|
The Littlest Rebel followed in the success of The Little Colonel, and was produced with the intention of reuniting the popular pairing of Shirley Temple and Bill Robinson. This time around, Shirley broke away from the typical and took on the role of Virgie Cary, a young Southern girl whose life gets tumultuous following the declaration of the Civil War. Virgie's father enlists in the Confederate army and sneaks in regular visits to his family despite the fact that they are now living behind enemy lines. Things take a turn for the worse when the Cary family home and plantation is burned to the ground. Virgie's mother falls seriously ill, pushing her father to risk capture to be by his wife's bedside. Even once the family is reunited, the danger refuses to die down, with the advancing Union regiment nearby. The film is full of high drama, interspersed with lighter moments, along with some stellar dance sequences between Shirley and Robinson.
Poor Little Rich Girl
|Producer:||Darryl F. Zanuck|
|Actors:||Shirley Temple, Alice Faye, Gloria Stuart|
Poor Little Rich Girl was a musical, loosely based on the 1917 movie of the same name which starred Mary Pickford. Temple played the role of Barbara Barry, a young girl living a protected life. Her recently-widowed father becomes concerned that his daughter is becoming exceedingly isolated and packs her off to boarding school in order to help her interact with girls her own age. On the way to her new school, Barbara's nanny meets with an accident, and the young girl wanders off. She goes on to meet an Italian street performer, whose friendly family take her in immediately. Barbara soon graduates to putting up a few performances of her own, attracting the attention of Jimmy and his wife, Jerry, who include her in their radio act, posing as their daughter. Barbara's father hears his daughter on the radio and are blissfully reunited after a few hitches along the way.
|Producer:||Darryl F. Zanuck|
|Actors:||Shirley Temple, Guy Kibbee, Slim Summerville|
The movie is based on the 1891 children's book Captain January by Laura E. Richards. Temple played the role of Helen "Star" Mason, rescued from the sea as a baby by Captain January, who is a lighthouse keeper. The two continue to live a modest yet charmed existence in the lighthouse at Cape Tempest. Agatha Morgan, a truant officer in the area, throws up a demand that Star be removed from the care of Captain January, and be enrolled in a formal school instead. The prospect of being separated from each other is devastating for both January and Star. Nazro, January's friend, tries to help by locating Star's relatives in Boston. He contacts them and they arrive at Cape Tempest to formally adopt her. The film concludes on a happy note as her wealthy aunt and uncle buy her a yacht and hire January as helmsman.
|Producer:||Darryl F. Zanuck|
|Actors:||Shirley Temple, Jean Hersholt, Arthur Treacher|
Heidi sees Shirley playing the title role of the famed story aimed at young children. Heidi is a young orphan who is taken by her haughty Aunt Detie to be left in the care of her stern grandfather, Adolph Kramer. Over time, Adolph softens towards the sweet-natured Heidi, forging a loving bond with her. However, Aunt Detie returns to take Heidi away, leaving Adolph in a state of heartbreak. She brings Heidi to the Sesemann mansion, responding to an advertisement for a young girl to act as a companion to Sesemann's invalid daughter, Klara. Klara flowers in Heidi's company, but Heidi pines for her grandfather and their tiny home high up in the Swiss Alps. It takes a long series of adventures before Heidi finally reunites with her beloved grandfather.
Wee Willie Winkie
|Producer:||Darryl F. Zanuck, Gene Markey|
|Actors:||Shirley Temple, Victor McLaglen, C. Aubrey Smith|
Wee Willie Winkie was based on Rudyard Kipling's short story and directed by acclaimed director, John Ford. Set during the late nineteenth century, Shirley plays Priscilla Williams, a little girl traveling along with her mother to India to meet her grandfather―a British colonel. Wanting to win over her rather stern grandfather, Priscilla decides to become a soldier herself. She befriends Sergeant McDuff, to acquaint herself with the army life and mannerisms, taking on the name of "Wee Willie Winkie". She makes every effort to fathom the reason behind her grandfather's animosity towards the rebel chief, Khoda Khan. Finally, it is Winkie's innocence of character that brings the warring factions to see eye to eye.
The Little Princess
|Producer:||Darryl F. Zanuck, Gene Markey|
|Actors:||Shirley Temple, Richard Greene, Anita Louise|
Based on the classic Frances Hodgson Burnett novel, The Little Princess is remembered as Shirley's first technicolor film. It is set during the Second Boer War, featuring the story of Sara Crewe, played by Temple. Her father sends her to an all-girls boarding school in London right before he leaves for combat. Seeing as Sara comes from wealth, the school's headmistress, Miss Minchin goes out of the way to pamper the new girl, expecting a neat remuneration at the end of the term. But when she learns that Sara's father has been killed in battle, the bitter headmistress wastes no time in turning her favorite student into a house help. Sara's hardships begin as she tries to retain hope that her father is still alive, until she finally meets him in the hospital recovering from his injuries. This movie is remembered as Shirley's last major success as a child star.
The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer
|Actors:||Shirley Temple, Cary Grant, Myrna Loy|
The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer counts among Shirley Temple's final few cinematic successes after she withdrew from the limelight following her teen years. This film happens to be one of those starring a grown up Shirley Temple. She plays the role of Susan, a young girl crushing on a much older man, Richard Nugent, played by the suave Cary Grant. Her sister and guardian, Margaret (Myrna Loy) only has her best interests at heart, and tries her best to dissuade the young Susan from pursuing Richard, but to no avail. Margaret even hopes for the silly infatuation to fade away in due time, only to find Susan being far more stubborn in her pursuit of Richard.
Shirley Temple received a special Juvenile Academy Award in February 1935 for her outstanding contribution as a juvenile performer to motion pictures. She was also the recipient of numerous awards and honors including the Kennedy Center Honors and a Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award. She will always be remembered as the artist who brought a lot of happiness to cine goers during a rather difficult decade.