Shirley Temple: Her Eyes Are Still Dancing

Revisit the charming history of one of Hollywood’s brightest stars and dearest sweethearts.

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Originally published June 5, 1965

A Fox scout spotted young Shirley Temple at the age of 4 in a short called The Frolics of Youth and invited her mother to bring her to the studio. There the co-producer of Stand Up and Cheer! scribbled the lyrics of “Baby, Take a Bow” on the back of an envelope, and Mrs. Temple read them to her daughter. Shirley was then taken into a rehearsal hall, plopped on top of a grand piano, and shortly thereafter, backed by a regiment of leggy chorines and a 10-piece orchestra, sang the song to actor Jimmy Dunn. “It was perfectly done,” the adult Mrs. Temple remembers today. “Even I was thrilled.” ä

And the rest, as the saying goes, is history. The studio lopped a year off Shirley’s age, just as if she were an adult actress, and signed her to a contract for $150 a week. Then executives began to watch in awe while, in picture after picture, Shirley Temple melted the hearts of audiences around the world. In short order she displaced Janet Gaynor and Greta Garbo at the summit of box-office polls and began to average 3,500 fan letters a week. And every single week she earned 10,000 Depression dollars. In Congress she was hailed as the most beloved individual in the world. “I class myself with Rin Tin Tin,” Shirley Temple said in 1965. “People in the Depression wanted something to cheer them up, and they fell in love with a dog and a little girl. I never had to work very hard. We all just seemed to play games.”

Shirley Temple Black and her husband Charles share a hammock.
Swing state: Shirley Temple Black with her husband, Charles, in 1965. “Before meeting Shirley,” he said, “I had never been to one of her movies.” (SEPS)

She has almost total recall of the old days: “When I was supposed to copy choreographer Bill Robinson’s tap steps, I’d deliberately do them a different way, and he’d laugh until the tears ran down his cheeks. … When I first heard them call for the dolly, I thought they were going to give me one. When I learned it was just something to roll the camera on, I was so disappointed that Jimmy Dunn gave me a real doll. Once I heard someone say, ‘Put the baby in the fireplace,’ and I was so scared I started to run until they explained it meant a little spotlight.”

Vanity Fair, a publication which shunned sentimentality, nominated her for its 1934 Hall of Fame, “because she sings in tune and dances tap and ballet without a tumble; because, in Little Miss Marker, she made a delightful entertainment out of a sorry picture; and because she has won the heart of America without losing her own head.” To top all this, her teeth grew on schedule, she never got sick, she liked spinach and castor oil, and she could cry on cue.

—This excerpt from “Shirley Temple: Her Eyes Are Still Dancing” by Robert C. Jennings, June 5, 1965, appears in the July/August issue of The Saturday Evening Post.

The first page of the article, "Shirley Temple: Her Eyes Are Still Dancing," by C. Robert Jennings. This links to the full article.
Read “Shirley Temple: Her Eyes Are Still Dancing” by Robert C. Jennings from the June 5, 1965, issue of the Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.

This article is featured in the July/August 2019 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.

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  1. Unfortunately my computer isn’t letting me access the full 1965 article at the bottom. Hopefully my computer guy can fix that for me soon because I really want to read it.

    Shirley Temple was as wonderful a person, businesswoman, humanitarian and so much more, as she was an astonishingly talented child star. She was born in April 1928, just 3 months after my mother, and passed away in February 2014 just 2 months after mom. Mom had a rough childhood in the ’30s I know all too well of myself.

    Instead of being jealous of Shirley, she became the ‘friend’ she’d get to see at the movies, and live through vicariously. Other ‘friends’ were the children of the ‘Our Gang’ series that also became my friends as a child too, because they were on TV frequently then, like Temple’s films. It was a happy bonding experience we shared so I’d know it wasn’t all bad and sad. I love seeing them to this day because they’re wonderful, and get to re-experience what made my mother happy as a child, getting as close to the 1930’s she lived through (in a good way) as I can.

    She was a role model for women of her generation, including my mom, that went into the 2000’s. Always a class act in how she looked, carried herself and spoke when being interviewed. One of my favorites was an episode of The Dick Cavett Show from 1972. Incredible. I saw it on YouTube a few years ago, but don’t see it presently.

    I personally loved her in all her life stages, extending far beyond childhood. When she was diagnosed with breast cancer, she was honest and open about it; and this was even before Betty Ford’s revelation about hers. Both were remarkable American women I admire greatly that truly represent ‘The Greatest Generation’ in the best possible ways we’ll never see again, unfortunately.

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