Shirley Temple Was More Than Just A “Child Star”

th-1As a child, I used to love watching Shirley Temple’s movies and I was drawn to reading her autobiography, Child Star.  This was one of the best Hollywood autobiographies I have ever read because of the way Shirley gave a complete overview of her life. For each movie she starred in, she explained the picture’s premise, set dynamics with directors, studio politics, her acting techniques, and approach to the role. By the end of this, I felt that I really got to know this fascinating Child Star. 

At barely three years old, Shirley’s dancing lessons lead her to being represented by a talent agent in California and she ended up with bit parts in movies. It was slightly humorous to read that she faced quite a bit of rejection early on, and that as a five-year-old she was unemployed with no prospects of work. When she finally obtained a contract, the studios made exponentially more money than she did even with a salary of $150 a week, which was still a huge amount in the early 1930s.

I loved that she detailed her experiences on the sets of her movies and her interactions with the stars she worked with. Shirley starred with just about every well-known star and met every famous person during her life during her years spent in movies. Her personal accounts of conversations with other stars gave this the personal touch I hoped for. Shirley was very astute for a child and instinctively aware of acting techniques at a very early age. Her commentary on her life was so complete, it almost seemed impossible that she could recall all the details included in this book without some diary to prompt her.

As a child, some of her comments were simply hilarious, like when she announced she would only be able to sign only two autographs a day because it took her so long to print her name. She was oddly mature for a child and didn’t like when Orson Wells let her win at croquet. She also relentlessly enforced the rules to her private FBI force, even to the first lady! It was discouraging to learn that, like so many other child actors, she ended up with hardly any of the money she worked so hard to earn. Her father chose not to put any of her earnings aside for her, and instead spent the money on himself. At the end, Shirley was left with about $40,000 from more than $3 million of earnings.

The content here was great, but the writing style made this very hard to read. Her ghost writer was so focused on creating intricate sentences that the commas and inclusion of uncommonly used words slowed the pace considerably. As a result, it too immense effort to read this even though it was a fascinating autobiography that I would happily recommend to anyone interested in little Shirley Temple.



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