It’s hard for us to imagine now what a huge star Shirley Temple was. We don’t have a parallel – in fact, we never have. No child actor has ever been a box office hit on the scale as this little charmer.
She appeared in her first comedy shorts (films, not clothes) at the age of three, and by the next year she had her first starring role in Stand Up and Cheer! and her first smash hit with a movie created for her talents, Bright Eyes (in which she sang her signature song, “On the Good Ship Lollipop”). She received a special Juvenile Academy Award the next year in recognition of her talent and appeal.
During her childhood she had a string of huge hits, including Little Miss Marker, Curly Top, The Little Colonel, Poor Little Rich Girl, Dimples, Wee Willie Winkie, Heidi, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, and The Little Princess. She has the amazing distinction of being the number one draw at the box office in four consecutive years – all before she reached the age of 10. Shirley Temple dolls, mugs, hats, dresses, and other products were hugely popular, and of course, she never received any of the royalties.
She was cute as could be, no question about that, but her success was based on much more than her smile or the ringlets in her hair. The girl had perfect pitch, could learn dance numbers almost instantly, and she was a fine actor. She had talent.
The story is that she was offered the role of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, but 20th Century Fox refused to lend her to MGM. You can’t help but wonder what would have happened if…