A Tribute to Shirley Temple Black

Shirley Temple Black – the child star of the 1930s whose second act included politics and a term as a U.S. ambassador – died this week at age 85.

It’s a good time to look back over her life and career, a task made simpler by the materials available for checkout from the Kansas City Public Library.

Shirley Temple was only six years old when she starred in her first feature film in 1934.

Over the next six years she starred in two dozen movies, charming Depression-era audiences with her dimples and dancing and becoming America’s top box-office draw four years in a row (1935-1938). She also launched a merchandizing empire with dolls, dishes, and clothing issued with her likeness.

By the time she hit her teenage years she was yesterday’s news – though she continued to take the occasional acting job.

Here’s a rundown of Temple-related materials available on the Library’s shelves:


Stand Up and Cheer! (1934): Temple’s first feature. She was already a seasoned pro.

Dimples (1936): Shirley is an orphan (a recurring theme) being raised by her pickpocket grandpa (Frank Morgan, the future Wizard of Oz).

Wee Willie Winkie (1937): Directed by John Ford, this yarn set in colonial India is the least cloying of Temple’s classic pictures. Ideal for those who aren’t sure they like Shirley Temple.

Heidi (1937): In this version of Johanna Spyri kids’ classic, Temple starred opposite acclaimed actor Jean Hersholt – an indication of just how important a star she was. Once again, she’s an orphan living with her grandfather, this time in a shack in the Swiss Alps.

Little Miss Broadway (1938): Temple plays an orphan being raised by the eccentric inhabitants of a theatrical boarding house.

The Little Princess (1939): Temple’s first Technicolor film, based on the perennially popular children’s tale by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Also her last major success as a child star. Oh, yeah...she’s an orphan in this one, too.

Shirley Temple, the Early Years: A compilation of several titles.

Shirley Temple, Little Darling Pack: Another compilation.

Since You Went Away (1944): In this drama, Temple played a teen coping with romance while her father is off to war. The real star is Claudette Colbert; Temple played her daughter.

Fort Apache (1948): Reunited with director John Ford, Temple appeared opposite John Wayne and Henry Fonda as a young woman living on a cavalry outpost during the Indian wars.



Shirley Temple by Robert Windeler (1976)

Shirley Temple by Jeanine Basinger (1975): Basinger is an exhaustive researcher and a fine writer. Perhaps the best of the bunch.

Shirley Temple by John Bankston (1974)

The Shirley Temple Scrapbook by Loraine Burdick (1975)

The Shirley Temple Story by Lester David (1983)

Shirley Temple Black: a Bio-Bibliography by Patsy Guy Hammontree (1998)

Child Star: An Autobiography by Shirley Temple Black (1988): A chance to get the story from Temple herself...with tons of behind-the-scenes dirt (though it’s never bitter). For example, her father misunderstood the studio’s cleverly worded contracts, meaning that little Shirley became a virtual serf. Also, when she started to develop physically, the bosses demanded that her bust be bound flat, so as to squeeze a few more years out of a child star who was no longer a child. Crammed with anecdotes.

Film studies:

The Films of Shirley Temple by Robert Windeler (1978)


Shirley Temple Dolls and Collectibles by Patricia R. Smith (1977)

The Shirley Temple Song Album (1957): Music and vocal scores for songs made popular by the child star.


About the Author

Robert W. Butler is a lifelong Kansas City area resident, a graduate of Shawnee Mission East High School and the William Allen White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas. For several decades he was the movie editor of the Kansas City Star; he now writes a movie-themed blog at butlerscinemascene.com. He joined the Library's Public Affairs team in 2012.

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