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Though She Suffered Abuse, Shirley Temple's Story Is A Model Of Child Star Resilience

Updated March 4, 2021 1.9m views12 items

In the 1935 film The Little Colonel, Shirley Temple tap-danced down a staircase with Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, and into the hearts of millions. The curly-haired, dimple-cheeked child sang sweetly of life on the good ship Lollipop, but Temple’s real life was anything but smooth sailing. From the first time she appeared on the screen in 1932, she was mistreated and abused both psychologically and sexually. Hollywood tried to hide the flagrant abuses, but many have been well-documented.

Before she retired at the age of 22 in 1950, Temple made dozens of Hollywood films. To accomplish this, she constantly had to fight off lecherous Hollywood moguls who forced themselves on her. On top of that, her first husband cheated on her repeatedly, and her father spent the fortune she had earned without her knowledge or consent. Despite living a life filled with turmoil, Temple wrote in her memoir, Child Star: An Autobiography, that she emerged from this series of traumatic events unscarred. Hollywood is full of tragic stories, but this one thankfully has a happy ending. 

  • Temple Forgave Her Father For Robbing Her Blind

    In the beginning of Temple’s career with 20th Century Fox, the studio was on the verge of bankruptcy. Thanks to the golden-haired child’s popularity with the American public, that all changed. After a lengthy legal dispute, Temple’s salary at Fox was increased more than six-fold, and her mother received an additional $250 a week. For each completed film, a $15,000 bonus was placed in a trust fund for her, and the amount was later raised to $35,000. However, the world’s highest earning child was only given access to about $13 a month in pocket money.

    At her peak, Temple commanded $10,000 a week. One can imagine her surprise when, as an adult, she discovered that despite having earned $3.2 million, she had only $44,000 in her bank accounts. Her father had allegedly failed to place her childhood earnings in the court-ordered trust fund. In her autobiography, the ever-forgiving Temple describes the spendthrift’s financial ineptitude with total dispassion. “For reasons some may find inexplicable, I felt neither disappointment nor anger.”

  • Temple Sued Graham Greene For Continually Writing Lascivious Things About Her

    Canonical British writer Graham Greene arguably penned some of the best novels of the 1900s, but his meditations on Temple's career were considerably less savory. Referring to Temple’s role in Captain January (1936), Greene wrote, "Her neat and well-developed rump twisted in the tap-dance." At the time of the film's release, Temple could not have been older than eight. 

    In his 1937 review of Wee Willie Winkie, he doubled down on his lecherous observations, saying, “Wearing short kilts, she is a complete totsy… watch the way she measures a man with agile studio eyes, with dimpled depravity. Adult emotions of love and grief glissade across the mask of childhood, a childhood skin-deep.”

    He continued, “Her admirers — middle-aged men and clergymen — respond to her dubious coquetry, to the sight of her well-shaped and desirable little body, packed with enormous vitality, only because the safety curtain of story and dialogue drops between their intelligence and their desire.” Thankfully, Temple was given the final word, as she and Twentieth Century-Fox promptly sued Greene and his publisher for libel, and won.

  • One Woman Claimed That Temple Stole Her Daughter's Soul

    One of the most bizarre accusations levied at Temple came in 1939. The accuser believed that Temple had stolen her daughter’s soul, and she went so far as to try to assassinate Temple during a live radio performance of “Silent Night.”

    The woman believed that shooting Temple would release her daughter’s soul from captivity, but thankfully, she was unsuccessful. 

  • Temple Was Plagued By Nasty, Untrue Rumors

    Whether it was jealousy, animosity, or plain stupidity, nasty rumors abounded around the young Temple. The little girl had a stocky build, and one rumor spread that she wasn’t a child at all, but actually an elderly dwarf. In her autobiography, she wrote that the rumor was so prevalent — especially in Europe — that the Vatican sent Father Silvio Massante to investigate her.

    To further perpetuate the myth, some people argued that she never seemed to lose any of her baby teeth, and surmised that this meant she actually had her adult teeth. Another rumor said her teeth had been filed to make them appear like baby teeth. Unsurprisingly, Temple regularly lost teeth, but — as she points out in Child Star — she wore dental plates and caps to hide the gaps in her teeth when she was on-camera. 

    Temple's curly blond hair was one of the young actress's trademarks, so of course some busybodies claimed that she wore a wig. Temple remembers that occasionally, fans would yank her hair to test the rumor. She writes that there were times when she wished that she actually could wear a wig, because of the grueling nightly process she had to endure to maintain her lovely locks, which also included a weekly vinegar rinse that burned her eyes.