Cropped version: Screenshot from a public doma...

Shirley Temple, in The Little Princess, 1939

Is Shirley Temple alive?

Yes. Shirley Temple Black is alive and living in Northern California and working on Volume 2 of her autobiography.

Volume 1, called Child Star: An Autobiography, is an autobiography by a breast cancer survivor that never once mentions breast cancer.

Though she was diagnosed, was treated and recovered from breast cancer in 1972 and wrote about it for a McCall’s article in 1973, perhaps the first prominent woman to write about her breast cancer, her autobiography, published in 1988, ends with the birth of her third child in 1954.

Shirley Temple Black, who hit the stage at 3 and retired at 22, just after her second marriage, in Child Star tells the inside story of a smart, accomplished professional who won America’s heart strings with her sunny smile, her disciplined attention to the details of tap dancing with Bo Jangles, among many co-stars, and hit after hit after hit.

  • The Little Colonel (1935, one of four films that year)
  • Poor Little Rich Girl (1936, one of four films that year)
  • Wee Willie Winkie (1937, her personal favorite)
  • Heidi (1937)
  • Rebecca of Sunny Brook Farm (1938, one of three that year)
  • The Little Princess (1939, one of two that year, when her producer declined an offer to feature her in The Wizard of Oz)

Shirley Temple Black, she of the dimples and 56 tight ringlets, made twice as much money from licensing dolls, clothes and child-size pottery as from her acting contracts.

But, that was because America was in love with her. Sure, America needed her sunny disposition during the Depression as her first films hit movie theaters in the 1930s. But, it was her unfailing sweet smile that captured hearts.

This book gives you a behind-the-scenes look at how a child bursts onto stage singing and dancing at the age of three. In contrast to our image that it takes an overbearing mother to produce such a child-prodigy, Shirley portrays her mother as a careful protector of her childhood and career.

While she admits that her banker father did not guard the money she earned sufficiently to leave Shirley with the trust that courts had guaranteed, she shows little remorse for this lapse, believing it to have been due to being overwhelmed at the quick rise of this meteoric star, rather than any ill intent or poor investing.

She gives us the inside story on why she did not get the part of Dorothy in Wizard of Oz. She shares her secrets of stagecraft when sharing the screen with experienced actors, like Ronald Reagan.

For her part, Shirley was energetic, loved to dance and sing, and professional enough at an early age to insist on being on time to rehearsals. Her bedtime stories were readings of the next day’s lines, with only short breaks between films.

Guarded closely, she generally enjoyed the attention her public appearances generated.

The single exception to this described in the book was a ride on a policeman’s shoulders across the street from a hotel where she had been recuperating from a bad cold, to Boston’s Public Garden for a ride in the famous Swan Boats with the mayor. Crowds that had waited outside her window for a glimpse nearly overcame the policeman carrying her until they were safely across the street and into the swan boats

Her mother described this attention simply, “You make them happy.”

At the age of 12, Shirley Temple largely stopped participating in movies and went to high school, to marry at 17, have her first child at 20 and divorce at 21, remarrying for life a year later, bearing two more children.

She retired from movies at the age of 22 to settle down as a homemaker. Eventually, an interest in politics would lead her to run, unsuccessfully, for Congress, after which she was appointed as a representative to the United Nations, then Ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia.

An Ambassador could do worse than survive cancer and have a sunny smile.

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Carol Covin, “Granny-Guru”

Author, “Who Gets to Name Grandma? The Wisdom of Mothers and Grandmothers

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P.S. If you want to go back in time and watch Poor Little Rich Girl, here are the videos for the movie from YouTube, each about 10 minutes:

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