Inner Michael » The Good Ship Lollipop has sailed: Remembering Shirley Temple

The Good Ship Lollipop has sailed: Remembering Shirley Temple

Shirley Temple Black was an icon. She was also the idol of another icon: Michael Jackson revered her. When Jackson traveled, he insisted that his staff place a portrait of Temple in his suite. He knew that behind the curly little head and adorable smile was a little girl whose childhood was slipping away as she became America’s sweetheart at age three.

Jackson met Shirley Temple through an arrangement with David Guest and went to meet her at her home in San Francisco. He came back, he said, feeling “baptized” because the two of them had cried together about what being a childhood star was like.

Jackson told her that he had her portrait in his home, his hotel rooms and on his mirror backstage because when things got really difficult and he thought he had reached the end of his rope, he would look at her picture and remind himself that if she could make it through the pressures and demands of childhood stardom, so could he. He saw in her a kindred spirit for they both sacrificed their childhoods when they began working as toddlers.

The media would make fun of Jackson’s fixation on other childhood stars, not understanding that it is a bond that cannot be understood by outsiders who didn’t experience the loss of their formative years, friends, schools and normalcy. The media would claim Michael had “a shrine to Elizabeth Taylor in his home and would mock him for his “strangeness.” The spiritually vacuous would never understand a home with vignettes and mini altars– memos of spiritual bonds and reminders to be grateful for the sacredness of  life with its beauty, richness and the sacred nature of treasured relationships. Jackson had a habit of surrounding himself with memos to self in the form of mementos representing those who inspired him.

Shirley Temple was his most revered memo. I like to imagine he and Liz meeting her at the gate as she arrived.


Obituary: Shirley Temple

Shirley Temple later rued aspects of her childhood

Shirley Temple, who has died aged 85, was that rare example of a Hollywood child star who, when the cameras stopped rolling, carved out a new career.

With her ringlets, dimples and precocious talent, America’s “Little Princess”, charmed audiences during the 1930s Depression.

 For four years, she was Hollywood’s biggest box-office star, representing the kind of sweet, innocent girl everyone wanted as their daughter.

And, after a period of domesticity, she re-emerged as a successful businesswoman and politician.


Shirley Temple was born in Santa Monica, California on 23 April 1928.

Encouraged by her mother Gertrude, she learned to dance while she was still a toddler and was enrolled in a Los Angeles dance school at the age of three.

This led to her being signed up by a talent spotter for Educational Pictures, which promptly featured her in a series of one-reelers entitled Baby Burlesques.

Temple later described them as “a cynical exploitation of our childish innocence that occasionally were racist or sexist”.

 When Educational went bust in 1933, she signed up with Fox Film Corporation, appearing in a number of bit parts.

Wee Willie Winkie was her favourite film

In 1934, Stand Up and Cheer became her first feature film and she stole the show with her rendition of Baby Take a Bow.

Her box-office potential was obvious and by the age of six she was earning $1,250 (£760) a week; more than $21,000 (£12,750) at today’s values.

The income from her films was doubled by sales of merchandise, including Shirley Temple dolls and a host of girls’ clothes and accessories.

I class myself with Rin Tin Tin”

Temple’s mother always accompanied her during filming. Years later, Temple recalled how her mother had been furious when a director sent her on an errand and then made Temple cry by frightening her.

“She never again left me alone on a set,” Temple said.

Her mother was also said to have done her hair for each movie, with every hairstyle having exactly 56 curls.

Across the world, audiences flocked to see her in films such as Little Miss Marker and The Little Colonel and The The Littlest Rebel.

The success of her films, such as Curly Top, was credited with helping save 20th Century Fox from bankruptcy.

 Career peak

Everyone sang along to her songs, especially On the Good Ship Lollipop, which appeared in the film Bright Eyes.

In 1935 she was awarded a special juvenile Oscar and her foot and handprints were added to those of stars such as Jean Harlow and Mary Pickford outside Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.

On her ninth birthday, Temple received more than 135,000 presents from around the world, according to The Films of Shirley Temple, a 1978 book by Robert Windeler.

The gifts included a baby kangaroo from Australia and a prize Jersey calf from schoolchildren in Oregon.

The late Roddy McDowall, a fellow child star and friend of Temple, once said: “She’s indelible in the history of America because she appeared at a time of great social need, and people took her to their hearts.”

By the age of 10, Temple was the country’s top box-office draw. President Roosevelt even credited her with helping to raise American morale during the trials of the Great Depression.

Her own assessment of this period is somewhat different. “I class myself with Rin Tin Tin,” she once said, referring to the canine star. “They fell in love with a dog and a little girl.”

Goodness always triumphed over evil in her plots, which were often based on traditional fairy stories.

As she got older her character was altered slightly as the fresh-faced little six-year-old turned into a pre-adolescent.

 The Little Princess marked the peak of her career

The studio, aware that time was not on their side, began to invest more money in her films which, certainly in the early days, had been made on a tight budget.

Directors of the stature of John Ford were hired and his collaboration with her, Wee Willie Winkie, remained Temple’s favourite.

The peak of her film career came in 1939 when The Little Princess, her first outing in Technicolor, became a critical and box-office success. It was loosely based on the novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett, about a girl who is left in a boarding school while her father goes off to fight in the Boer War.

” I stopped believing in Santa Claus at the age of six when my mother took me to see him in a store and he asked for my autograph.”

 Not everyone was enamoured. The author Graham Greene said she was just too nubile for a nine-year-old.

In a magazine article he accused “middle-aged men and clergymen” of finding it acceptable to respond to her “desirable little body” because “the safety curtain of story and dialogue drops between their intelligence and desire”.

The studio and Temple successfully sued for libel.

 By the 1950s she had retired to a domestic life

Fox turned down a huge offer from MGM for her to play Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, the role went to Judy Garland, and instead cast her in Susannah of the Mounties.

The film did not go down well with audiences and neither did her two follow-ups in 1940.

At the age of 12, Temple’s star had finally burnt out: Her parents bought out the remainder of her contract and sent her to an exclusive girls’ school.

An attempted comeback with MGM in 1941 came to nothing. She made two films for David O Selznick during World War Two but he was not interested in seeing her develop.

She had become typecast as the sweet six-year-old and Selznick suggested she move abroad, change her name and develop her acting skills.

In 1945 she married John Agar, an army physical training instructor, and had a daughter, but the union lasted only four years.

Although Temple appeared from time to time on television, she retired from films in 1950.

 Some people are stuck on this image of the little girl. She is not me”

 Charles Black, a wealthy San Francisco businessman, became her second husband, and she disappeared from the limelight for nearly 20 years.

When she returned to the public eye in 1967, it was as Shirley Temple Black, Republican candidate for Congress.


Following her defeat in this election, Temple Black continued to work for the party, even travelling to Europe the following year to rally support for Richard Nixon.

In 1972 she was diagnosed with breast cancer and became one of the first high profile women to talk openly about the disease.

She emerged on the political stage as a supporter of Richard Nixon

When he became president, Nixon rewarded her with an appointment to the American delegation to the United Nations. Then, in 1974, President Ford appointed her the United States ambassador to Ghana.

She fell out of favour with Ronald Reagan, with whom she had once appeared in a film called That Hagen Girl, but his successor, George HW Bush, appointed her ambassador to Czechoslovakia.

An outspoken opponent of racial discrimination, she quickly gained popularity and a reputation for hard work, charm and an unorthodox way of working.

In July 1976, she became the first woman Chief of Protocol at the White House with the rank of Ambassador, but left office six months later, when Jimmy Carter became president.

‘My life is now’

The veteran of some 43 films later rued some lost aspects of her childhood.

“I stopped believing in Santa Claus at the age of six when my mother took me to see him in a store and he asked for my autograph.”

And she drew a line between her childhood stardom and her later political career.

“Some people are stuck on this image of the little girl,” she once said. “She is not me. We shouldn’t live in the past; my life is now.”

Nevertheless, for many across the world, the name Shirley Temple always called to mind a superstar cherub, banging out a tune, bouncing her curls, toe-tapping her tiny feet and representing all that was happiest about childhood.

In 1999, the American Film Institute included Temple in its list of top 50 screen legends.

“I have one piece of advice for those of you who want to receive the lifetime achievement award,” she said in 2006 as she was honoured by the Screen Actors Guild. “Start early.”

She is survived by her children Susan, Charlie Jr and Lori, granddaughter Teresa and great-granddaughters Lily and Emma.



  1. Poca said . . .

    Thank you Rev. Barbara for a great tribute to Shirley Temple Black. Liz Taylor once said that Michael was one of the most honest persons that she had ever met. This is true, Michael was an honest person. He expressed why he admired and had pictures of Shirley, but the media portrayed this picture admiration as “odd” or they came up with their own conclusions. It is only now that the world is coming to the truth of why Michael admired her so much. It is true what they say, all things will be revealed when someone passes.

    Posted February 15, 2014 at 11:54 pm | Permalink
  2. B. Kaufmann said . . .

    What a shame that one has to pass before being recognized. Most creative geniuses were not recognized in their own time. Many were considered controversial and were rejected by their own culture. It’s our collective immaturity at work. That’s the thing about being sorry– it always comes after the reason for it.

    Posted February 16, 2014 at 5:11 am | Permalink

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