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Shirley Temple Launched Career in Odd & Embarrassing ‘Baby Burlesks’ Before Iconic ‘Bright Eyes’

Esther NJeri
Sep 09, 2021
06:30 P.M.
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While the movies that boost actors to stardom are well-orchestrated works of art, Shirley Temple's path to fame began with odd and embarrassing films when she was only a toddler.

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Temple began her big acting debut with a speaking role in the 1932 "War Babies." She was only three. Her role was an exotic dancer, entertaining "army men" who were just shirtless toddlers in diapers.

At 5, she starred in "Baby Burlesks," a series of short films that portrayed a group of toddlers satirizing grown-up roles.

Shirley Temple as a child star Inset: During her adult years | Source: GettyImages

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AN EMBARRASSING BEGINNING FOR TEMPLE

But despite the clips' odd plots, her role saw her become the youngest actress in history to receive an award. Temple was only 6 years old when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences graced her with a Juvenile Academy Award.

To top it all off, the American Film Institute listed her as the 18th of 25 female Greatest Screen Legends. And that was just the beginning of Temple's enviable career in film.

Shirley Temple (1928 ) the American child star started performing in films at three years. | Source: Getty Images

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In her autobiography "Child Star," Temple would later come to criticize the roles she played as a child in the series, which, according to The List, she referred to as:

"A cynical exploitation of our childish innocence that occasionally were racist or sexist."

BECOMING ONE OF THE MOST POPULAR STARS OF HER TIME

And yet, despite the cringe-worthy nature of the films, they boosted Temple to a world of fame and popularity she would never have dreamed of. She was named one of the most popular stars between 1935 and 1939.

15th March 1965: Film star Shirley Temple Black on a visit to London. | Source: Getty Images

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Following her embarrassing entry into the industry, Temple landed her first major role in the 1934 feature film, the musical "Stand Up and Cheer!" which would place her on the map.

That same year, she took roles in "Little Miss Marker" and "Now and Forever," But despite the success of the movies, none quite shot her to stardom like the musical "Bright Eyes."

Temple may have started out awkward from her roles, but she went on to live a long, busy, diverse, and full life.

Smiling studio portrait of American actor Shirley Temple, sitting in front of a red backdrop, wearing a straw hat and black top with white collar. circa 1945 |Source: Getty Images

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HER FIRST AND SECOND MARRIAGE

Temple would continue to star in several '40s films, and when her teenage years came around, she started focusing on something entirely different. At only 17, she got engaged to 24-year-old John Agar Jr, an Army Air Corps Seargent.

The marriage, however, took a fast nose dive, and with Agar being unable to keep up with Temple's notoriety, he turned to alcohol to help him cope. And it only went downhill from there.

Four years into their marriage, and only a year after they welcomed home their daughter Linda Susan, the young couple ended their things.

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Headshot studio portrait of American actor Shirley Temple, in front of a green backdrop, wearing a short sleeve white blouse with a colored bows pattern and a pearl necklace. circa 1955 | Source: Getty Images

But three months after her divorce, love was knocking on her door once more, and she got engaged to 30-year-old Charles Alden Black, with who she was with until her passing.

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RETIRING FROM ACTING AND JOINING POLITICS

In 1950, Temple hung up her acting coat, saying she was tired of always being chosen to play the same roles time and time again. She was also not satisfied with the quality of movies she was making.

Her heart was in politics, and by the time 1967 was coming around, she was convinced she wanted to try her hand at the congress. Given the country's state at the time, it was not going to be easy, but she was determined.

Actress Shirley Temple Black attends the 12th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at the Los Angeles Shrine Exposition Center January 29, 2006 in Los Angeles, California. | Source: Getty Images

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According to USA Today, the List reports her to have expressed her desire to make a difference in Congress as the only woman, She said:

"I think men are fine and here to stay but I have a hunch that it wouldn't hurt to have a woman's viewpoint expressed in that delegation of 38 men."

She considered herself "Republican-Independent," but she, unfortunately, lost the battle to Republican Pete McCloskey. However, her political career was not over, and in 1969, she was appointed the United Nations General Assembly delegate by president Richard M. Nixon.

Shirley Temple Black during 12th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards - Rehearsal at Shrine Expo Hall in Los Angeles, California, United States. | Source: Getty Images

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Seven years after that, she beat the odds to become the first female Chief of Protocol. And in '89, she rose the ranks to become President George Bush Senior's ambassador to Czechoslovakia, today's Czech and the Slovakia Republic.

BEATING CANCER

In 1972, Temple was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a mastectomy. And during a time when women received their diagnosis in great secrecy, she became the women's voice, writing and educating women on the illness.

Temple may have started awkward from her roles, but she went on to live a long, busy, diverse, and full life, and in 2014, while still working on the second volume of her autobiography, she breathed her last. She was 85.

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