In 1934 they knew they had the biggest and the tiniest star on their hands… At five years old she was making $1,250 a week.
At first glance, this is a photo of a beloved child star being presented with a “Resolution of Appreciation and Affection” by my great-grandmother Ida Mayer Cummings on behalf of the Junior Auxiliary for the Jewish Home of the Aged.
Shirley Temple was 22 in this photo and by this day, some time in 1950, she had lived through more than the most.
From her girlish hairstyle, apple cheeks and general sweet appeal, it’s hard to believe she was the divorced mother of a toddler, on the verge of her second marriage and ending her amazing film career.
Born in 1928, Shirley’s mother was entranced with her daughter’s love of dancing, singing and acting. By 3 1/2 Shirley was enrolled in Meglin’s Dance School in Los Angeles. Her mother began curling her hair like the silent actress Mary Pickford and I can just imagine what an adorable sight she would have been.
In 1932 Shirley was discovered by a talent scout and almost immediately began making films with Educational Pictures, but was also loaned out on several occasions to other studios. It wasn’t long before Educational Pictures went under and little Shirley was signed by Fox Films. In 1934 they knew they had the biggest and the tiniest star on their hands with Stand Up and Cheer! Fox began to promote the film heavily and within months Shirley was America’s symbol of wholesome family entertainment. At five years old she was making $1,250 a week.
In February 1935, after just a handful of films, Shirley was the first child star to be honored with a miniature Juvenile Oscar and just a month later she added her foot and hand prints to the forecourt at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. For many this would be the pinnacle of a career, but for Shirley Temple, this was just the beginning. She followed this milestone with a couple dozen films, including major hits like Heidi, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm and A Little Princess.
An entire industry of films, toys and merchandise centered around her, not to mention the thousands of little girls who wanted to look like her, if not be her. MGM apparently offered Shirley a huge sum to play Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. Instead 20th Century Fox cast her in Susannah of the Mounties. This was her last money-making film for the studio and flops followed in quick succession.
My uncle Louis B Mayer saw an opportunity for a comeback and Shirley signed with MGM – and ran straight into teenage super stars Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney – a double act juggernaut. Evidently three was company and after just one film she parted ways with MGM under mutual agreement. After two years she signed with David O Selznick in 1944 and had two wartime hits: Since You Went Away and I’ll Be Seeing You.
But Shirley Temple’s star was fading and in December, 1950, just days after marrying Charles Alden Black, a WWII United States Navy Silver Star hero on the 5th of December, she announced the end of her film career.
When I look at this photo knowing that Shirley went to MGM with such high hopes that came to nothing, and to see my great-grandmother – LB Mayer’s sister – acknowledging her with this “Resolution of Appreciation and Affection” it’s as if she is speaking for him and all of America.
Shirley Temple biographies:
Shirley Temple: A Pictorial History of the World’s Greatest Child Star
Being Shirley Temple
Copyright Alicia Mayer 2012.