Shirley Temple: Lessons for child stars and the rest of us

Shirley Temple Black, better know publicly as Shirley Temple, pioneered such a clear and simple trail to child stardom that we wonder how many of today’s young stars might benefit from wisdom gained from America’s most famous child star.

Here are some examples of simple wisdom learned from her as a child and as an adult.

In this 1936 file photo, actress Shirley Temple is photographed as she appeared in Poor Little Rich Girl. Temple, who was born in 1928 and began acting at the age of three, received an honorary Academy Award in 1934 for her contributions as a child film star. Shirley Temple, the curly-haired child star who put smiles on the faces of Depression-era moviegoers, has died. She was 85. Publicist Cheryl Kagan says Temple, known in private life as Shirley Temple Black, died surrounded by family at her home near San Francisco.

1. Cute doesn't equal weak

Shirley Temple Black died on Monday night of natural causes at her home in Woodside, Calif., surrounded by family and friends, according to her publicist Cheryl Kagan.

Looking at headlines about today’s child stars gone to ruin, it makes you wonder if they broke the mold when they made Shirley Temple. 

So many young stars, churned out today by networks like Disney, rather than the Hollywood studios or yore, seem to have strayed away from her shining example. 

Over her career, Ms. Black starred in more than four dozen films, lent her voice to 36 movie soundtracks, and starred in her own television series from 1958 to 1961, according to

Her good character and charm helped put smiles on the faces of American moviegoers during the economic depression of the 1930s, helping to bolster moral for a struggling nation. 

After her movie career subsided, Black later went on to serve the US as a one-time ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia, and served as Chief of Protocol of the United States for 1976–1977, among other projects.

It seems that for today’s movie, TV, and music audiences, the role of the child star has transformed away from effervescent, intrepid, and innocent children toward more snarky, jaded, little adults – perhaps in the hopes of stretching the marketability of a child star well into young-adulthood.  

Black proved through her life on screen and off that simple, sturdy values of a happy childhood can last a lifetime. 

There’s a lot more to cute than meets the eye. In every film, Shirley Temple not only sang and danced at an adult pace and proficiency, but could take matters into her own little hands to solve problems. In "Early Bird," she gets herself up and ready for the day while singing and dancing through her morning routine.  

1 of 7
of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.