Shirley Temple inspired generation

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 15, 2012

It was just a television commercial for some movies on DVD, but it grabbed my attention. There was my all-time favorite movie star, the dimpled Shirley Temple, laughing, singing, and dancing. It was as if I had stepped back in time.

Shirley was on the way to becoming the number one box office star in America when I was a little girl. The talented, beautiful little Shirley with the plump legs was the perfect diversion the American public needed during the hard times of the Great Depression. She made people laugh. She made them cry. And oh, how she could dance. Her movies always ended happily, too.

Shirley got an early start in the movies. A producer discovered her at 3 years old taking tap-dancing lessons. In 1931, he starred her in some “Baby Burlesk” films that spoofed hit movies. Wearing diapers, she portrayed such stars as Marlene Dietrich and Mae West. She moved on from those to bigger and better roles.

My mother took me to Shirley Temple movies. She either made or bought a Shirley Temple dress for me. Among her collection of family photos was a picture of me a bit smaller than billfold size. I wore my Shirley Temple dress in it. I also had Shirley Temple paper dolls and a Shirley Temple picture book. I was an only child with a vivid imagination. No telling how many hours I spent looking at that book, imagining myself in Shirley’s place. I came across it some time ago among other keepsakes. It is torn and tattered, but I still felt a bit of that magic as I leafed through it. Among its pages were eight striking pictures of the child star. In one, she has on rain gear and holds an umbrella. In another, she sits in front of an easel holding a brush and palette in her hand. My favorite is the tea party picture. She wears a pink dress and stands at a table pouring tea for her dolls from a pretty pitcher.

Shirley was captivating with her pretty dresses, curly hair, and dimpled smile. In some of her movies, her winning manner could turn grumpy, mean old bullies into softhearted Teddy bears. During the era of her popularity, the Shirley Temple doll hit the market. More than six million were sold. Collectors treasure Shirley Temple dolls today.

When Shirley’s acting days were over, she was active in service to our country. She was the first female U.S. Chief of Protocol. She served in ambassadorial positions in Ghana and Czechoslovakia. She is a breast cancer survivor. She published her autobiography, “Child Star,” in 1988. In April, Shirley Temple turned 84.

Today, through the wonders of the Internet, we can recapture some of her special magic by watching clips of little Shirley acting, singing and dancing. And then there are those DVDs if you would like a collection of her movies. Need I add that there is a collection on a shelf at my house?