Shirley Temple


Undoubtedly, Shirley Temple’s best remembered songs are “The Good Ship Lollypop” and “Animal Crackers in My Soup.” But the one that most affected my family was “Goodnight, My Love.”

Shirley Temple AlbumWritten by George Motola and John Marascalco, the song was featured in the 1936 film, “Stowaway.” My wife and I learned it from a soundtrack compilation LP titled “Little Miss Shirley Temple.” And singing it became a nightly ritual when our kids were small. Our daughter has taken up the practice with her children.

I don’t know if most kids today ever experience the films of Shirley Temple. They’re available in those DVD “special collections” advertised on TV, of course. But it’s hard to imagine youngsters raised on “Sponge Bob” or “Phineas and Ferb” giving themselves over to the cornball innocence and sweet improbability of a Shirley Temple flick.

Don’t get me wrong — I love “Phineas and Ferb.” I watch it whenever I’m with my grandkids, and I can attest to the show’s cleverness and wit. (“Sponge Bob” is another matter. I can’t explain why, exactly, but that show gives me the sort of icky feeling I used to get from Pee Wee Herman.)

Shirley Temple was a phenomenon — an extraordinarily gifted child with a powerful screen presence who was enormously popular. If you’re not old enough to remember her fame, consider this point made by the Associated Press

“A talented and ultra-adorable entertainer, Shirley Temple was America’s top box-office draw from 1935 to 1938, a record no other child star has come near. She beat out such grown-ups as Clark Gable, Bing Crosby, Robert Taylor, Gary Cooper and Joan Crawford.”

And her influence was durable. In the 1950s, I was a regular on a weekly kid’s television show, “The Children’s Hour,” produced by WCAU in Philadelphia. Much of our musical repertoire consisted of songs made famous by Shirley Temple. And a lot of the girls on the show were pretty much Shirley Temple knock-offs — frilly pinafores, bouncing ringlets, the whole bit — and this was two decades after her heyday.

The spirit of those Shirley Temple movies, too, persisted: darling children striving to overcome difficult circumstances for the sake of family love, and teaching the adults around them to be more loving in the process. You can see it in Disney films of the 1960s. Think “Pollyanna.” What was Haley Mills but a somewhat older Shirley with an English accent?

Could a precocious little kid make it on innocence and lovability today? There are plenty of talented juvenile performers around, but the modern version of precociousness seems to require a certain edge of worldly cynicism and premature sexual awareness. It’s not a particularly appealing representation of childhood, but it’s what we’re mostly given with today’s theatrical tykes.

No wonder child actors burn out on drugs. It’s tough to make it as an adult performer when the world thinks of you only as a foul-mouthed little rug rat.

Shirley Temple faced a different twist on that problem. She never successfully crossed over to grownup roles because her image as everybody’s dream child was etched too deeply into the public mind. Nobody would accept a teenage Shirley kissing boys.

She did enjoy a brief TV career in her thirties hosting “Shirley Temple’s Storybook,” an anthology of dramatized fairytales, as well as making guest appearances on such programs as “The Red Skelton Show” and Mitch Miller’s “Sing Along with Mitch.” But she wisely chose to withdraw from performing in favor of raising her family and pursuing charitable and public-service interests.

Though she was divorced once (from actor John Agar, whom she had married at only 17), her life remained blessedly free of scandal. Her second marriage, to Charles Black, a business executive and former Navy intelligence officer, lasted 55 years until his death in 2005.

Shirley Temple Black became active in the Republican Party, and had political ambitions. In 1967 she lost a special election to fill a vacant congressional seat from California. This was amid growing Vietnam War ferment, a time more congenial to the views of the anti-war Pete McCloskey than to a conservative former child star.

Richard Nixon appointed her U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations in 1969. And she later held other diplomatic posts, including ambassadorships to Ghana and Czechoslovakia.

Regardless of her accomplishments and exemplary life as a distinguished lady, it is of course the image of an endearing little girl dancing and singing with all her heart which the name Shirley Temple evokes. It’s an image of childhood purity innocent enough to lend its name to a non-alcoholic drink (generally a Coke with a cherry in it), and which today denotes the fading charms of a very different entertainment industry.

I don’t think a Shirley Temple is possible in today’s movies — not short of a moral revival of extreme proportions and a social restoration to match.

Good luck with that.

But hey! — at least we’ve got those old movies to watch.

May the Lord take Shirley Temple Black to His bosom — and give comfort (and fond memories) to the many many people whose lives were touched by that little curly top.

Goodnight, my love.



AP LogoHere’s a link to the Associated Press report on the death of Shirley Temple Black…


Wikipedia LogoYou can find additional details on her remarkable life at her Wiki page…



YouTube LogoTake a couple of minutes to re-experience an immensely talented and beguiling little girl singing the song that will always occupy a place of special significance in my family. Hard to believe this was 78 years ago…





  1. says

    If you think Spongebob is bad, try watching hours and hours of ‘Sam and Cat.’ That was a rhetorical suggestion by the way. I did the experiment and the results ain’t pretty…

    That being said, I think it would be possible to have a Shirley Temple-esque revival today. It would be rather refreshing — just look a the success of ‘Glee.’ Okay, okay, arguably not the best example for this particular forum, but the point is that song and dance numbers with cute kiddos (definitely NOT dressed up to be mini-adults) would be kinda nice. I’m going to grab one of Shirley Temple’s DVDs for my kids as a part of their pop culture education.

  2. John says

    For me it was the dance with Buddy Epsen “At the Codfish Ball.” I think the movie was “Captain January.” This was well before Epsen’s role as Jed Clampet, and he and Shirley did a great tap routine on the docks.

  3. Jared says

    Much of media in those days was aspirational, even escapist. Moral aspirations of yesteryear were, in my opinion, predominantly focused on promoting the family unit and belief in the Christian god as a tool for reenforcing American culture’s resistance against European state-centric tendencies.

    With external risks less visible, today’s media focus on reflecting mainstream reality. Television shows the subjects of middle class disdain (Honey Boo Boo as a representative of the poor) and their individualistic practical aspirations (“Biggest Loser,” HGTV, home makeover shows).

    The breakdown of the nuclear family, the single-breadwinner household, and more flexible work schedules have all led to different content being produced by American studios. Moral aspirations are mostly targeted for the youth now, and the focus is on social liberation via shows like “Daily Show” and “Glee.”

    I’m not insinuating that you want that content back as the only choice for American viewing audiences. But if you actually wanted it at all, American families would need to sit down in front of the TV together, and that probably isn’t going to happen when Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Netflix, YouTube, and Slashdot are brimming with content that more fully engages the youth market.

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