Remembering Shirley Temple

shirley temple

Perhaps the most celebrated child star of all time, Shirley Temple, died on Monday, February 10th. Writing for Bust, Alanna Bennett notes that in her teenage years, Shirley looked a lot like the then-unknown Norma Jeane Baker.

“I mean, look at them. It could be chocked up to 1940s/1950s styles — the hair style is certainly that, and makeup trends also probably played a part — but there’s also a definite shared heart-shaped face, lip and eye shape, nose curvature, etc.

What’s interesting to me here is that these women did not spend the majority of their lifetimes resembling each other. It appears that they did, however, sort of meet in the middle: Temple spent her young childhood as one of the most famous people in the world, then went on to live a relatively ‘normal’ life thereafter; Monroe had that relatively ‘normal’ life roughly until her breakthrough in 1948, when she was twenty-two. Temple was also born only two years after Monroe, in 1928.

Both women made a big impact on the culture of their time — generations of women spent their childhoods wanting to be Shirley Temple, and their adolescence or adulthood yearning to be Marilyn Monroe. They obviously had very complicated lives in large part because of that, but there’s something calming in seeing their similarities.”

Temple delighted Depression era filmgoers, and some have said she helped to save Twentieth Century Fox from bankruptcy during the 1930s. Marilyn would later become the same studio’s most bankable star of the 50s.

Shirley Temple Black retired from acting in 1950, aged 22, and later became a US diplomat, travelling the globe under successive Republican administrations.

Marilyn’s biographer, Carl Rollyson, speculates that ‘it was the portrayal of Shirley as waif and orphan that appealed to Marilyn and formed the basis of some of Marilyn’s stories about her childhood.’

In later life, however, Marilyn did not always welcome the comparison, as this extract from journalist W.J. Weatherby’s Conversations With Marilyn reveals:

“‘I read your article about me,’ she said. ‘Who’s Mrs Patrick Campbell?’

I had described her in the article as a cross between a theatrical grand-dame like Mrs Campbell and a child star like Shirley Temple.

She beamed when I told her, but added that she took a dim view of being even remotely compared to ‘Lolita Temple.’

‘Sorry. Now that I know you better, I wouldn’t compare you to anyone.'”

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