Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Shirley Temple started performing in films when she was just 3 years old.
Shirley Temple started performing in films when she was just 3 years old. Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Shirley Temple really could be as effervescent as a jolt of ginger ale and as cheery as a maraschino cherry in the kid's cocktail that is still ordered by her name. When Shirley Temple Black, the name she used after her marriage to Charles Black, laughed — and she liked to laugh — tears came to her eyes.
She told us how once she'd been called to jury duty, and learned the case involved erotic bondage.
She said the judge read out some details — items like like feathers, blindfolds and velvet handcuffs — then stopped, looked at her, and told her that she would be excused from jury service because, she remembered his saying, he didn't want to be the judge who put Shirley Temple on a sexual bondage case.
Shirley Temple's eyes got dewy, just like in the movies, as she laughed to recall the scene and told us, "And I was just getting interested!"
Shirley Temple went to work before she turned 6 and made her family wealthy. But the real little girl grew up to be a funny, classy, lively woman who wanted us to know that she had fine, loving parents who stood up for her with studios; she didn't suffer the kind of emotional scars that sent so many other child stars spinning into depression, drink and drugs.
Still, the stardom she enjoyed in playing a child who shined joy onto a movie screen often made childhood joys impossible for her. When her mother took her to meet Santa Claus in a department store, she said, "He asked for my autograph."
Most of her films, including Bright Eyes, Curly Top and Wee Willie Winkie, followed a formula as durable as Coca-Cola: a little girl loses a parent — or both parents — but unlocks the iron hearts of curmudgeonly oldsters and officious bureaucrats with smiles, sweetness and song. She forms a new family with others who might have felt overlooked and unloved until a curly-haired little girl needed their kindness.
"I class myself with Rin Tin Tin," Shirley Temple Black wrote in her 1988 memoir, Child Star. "At the end of the Depression, people were perhaps looking for something to cheer themselves up. They fell in love with a dog and a little girl. It won't happen again."
But her movies are still watched today, almost eight decades after they were made, because they still have the power to charm and cheer us up: a small girl who's had tough times, singing about a place she's sure is just ahead, where bon-bons play.