As a kid, I watched all of the Shirley Temple movies countless times and to this day, I haven’t tired of them. I knew every line in every film as well as each song. I guess I identified with her. She often played that motherless child who had an eternal optimism about her. No matter what dire circumstances she found herself in, there was always a song or a dance that put a positive spin on the situation—not to mention that required happy ending. As a motherless child myself, I knew exactly how Shirley felt. Despite a good home life, there was still a sense of insecurity along with the gut feeling that something was missing.Thankfully, the real-life Shirley Temple had none of these issues. Gertrude Temple desperately wanted a girl. She and her husband, George, who worked for the Southern California Electrical Company, already had two fine sons—John and George, Jr. Gertrude’s wish finally came true on April 23, 1928 when six pound, eight ounce Shirley was born. At the time, her big brothers were 13 and eight, respectively. Mrs. Temple immediately introduced Shirley to music and when the child took her first steps, Gertrude was delighted to see her daughter walking on her toes. As a toddler, Shirley’s singing and dancing talent emerged and she was soon enrolled in classes to enhance her natural gifts. Mother, it seems, had big plans for her little girl.
Gertrude’s ambition paid off when Shirley made her film debut in 1932 at the age of five. Of course, her mother swore she was only four, which made her talent seem even more amazing. As she began to star in her own vehicles for Twentieth Century Fox, it was Gertrude who carefully curled each ringlet and taught the next day’s lines to her daughter who was still unable to read. It was also Gertrude who sheltered the child. After each take, she rushed Shirley back to her dressing room. No hobnobbing with the other players was allowed. Shirley Temple never realized how big a star she really was. Her mother wouldn’t have it.As a result, this curly-haired girl sang and danced her way into the hearts of movie-goers. With the Great Depression still wracking the country, her timing couldn’t have been better. She brought laughter and joy where little existed and her positive outlook was contagious. People took to her as if she was their own child. Mrs. Temple always knew that Shirley was special. She regularly gave her daughter only one command just before the cameras rolled: “Sparkle, Shirley, sparkle!” And sparkle she did!