Juvenile star began acting aged three and became the most famous child actor of all time
Shirley Temple, the former child star who gained unprecedented levels of fame during the Great Depression, has died at the age of 85.
Though she had not appeared in a feature film for over 60 years, she remained the most recognisable juvenile star in movie history.
A non-alcoholic cocktail bearing her name is still served in bars throughout the world.
In later years, as Shirley Temple Black, she became a distinguished diplomat.
Born in Santa Monica, the daughter of a bank worker, she was signed for a series of one-reel shorts when she was just three.
Within two years, she had made her first films for 20th Century Fox and was being paid as much as $1,250 a week.
Total domination came with the release of Bright Eyes in 1934. That film, a characteristic blend of sentiment and undemanding comedy, featured the moment for which Temple would best be remembered: her helium-squeaky rendition of On the Good Ship Lollipop. The sheet music of the hymn to confectionary sold 500,000 copies and her version currently registers over a million hits on YouTube.
It has become an insecure cliché that, during times of recession, audiences seek light, fluffy entertainment.
But Temple really did seem to profit from the desire for harmless distraction. Her films tended to have a formula: a cheery, mildly cheeky kid brings joy to slightly gruffer older people. If slighted, she might fold her arms and slip into a slope-mouthed sulk. But the good humour never stayed away for long.
Films such as The Little Colonel, Our Little Girl and Curly Top followed. By 1937, when she appeared in Wee Willie Winkie for the great director John Ford, she could claim to be the biggest star in Hollywood. But mistakes were made.
Daryl F Zanuck, head of Fox, declined to lend her to MGM for The Wizard of Oz. Her acting career did not survive adulthood and the public’s changing tastes.
Following indifferent performances opposite Ronald Reagan in That Hagen Girl and Cary Grant in The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer, she announced her retirement from movies at the grand old age of 22.
In truth, few of her films have stood the test of time. “I class myself with Rin Tin Tin,” she once said, referencing the era’s great canine star. “They fell in love with a dog and a little girl.” This may have been a little harsh. Temple had genuine verve and charm. But the pictures do, now, look dangerously creaky.
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