Shirley Temple’s career – and what happened to her after being a child star

Shirley Temple

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What happened to Shirley Temple after being an incredibly famous child actor? (1946)

From 1934 to 1939, Shirley Temple was such a popular movie star, she even beat out the iconic Clark Gable for the top star spot. But, as is often the case for child actors, growing up meant the roles dried up… as did her movie studio contract.

Vintage Shirley Temple in 1934

Even back in 1946 — much as we may do even today — people wondered: What happened to Shirley Temple when her movie star career waned?

At that time, as young newlywed, Temple made an effort to relaunch her career, as a post-war world watched to see if she could recapture that Hollywood magic once again.

What they — and she — couldn’t have known at that time was that her next major triumphs were to come off the silver screen. In 1950, dissatisfied with being cast in work she considered low quality, she announced her retirement from acting, and started pursuing interests in the political arena.

Shirley Temple (1937)

In the following decades, she would host a TV program, fundraise for the Republican Party, and even run for Congress in California. While she didn’t win that race, she did go on to serve in the Nixon, Ford and George H. W. Bush administrations in a diplomatic capacity.

Married twice (her second marriage lasted 55 years, until she was widowed), Shirley Temple had three children.

While she did not capture movie star fame again later in life, she remained famous and appreciated for her diplomatic and civic efforts. Shirley Temple lived a rich and dynamic life right up until her death in 2014 at age 85.

Hollywood magazine cover with Shirley Temple (1937)

Ten years of Temple (1946)

Shirley has faced the problem of growing up

The little girl who led the movie-star popularity list during the first three of Life’s 10 years spent most of the decade worrying about growing up.

For Shirley Temple, maturity was a bugaboo — not the impatiently awaited time for long dresses and grown-up parties, but a time when her charm and ability would lose their greatest asset: precocity.

By 1940, Shirley had lost her position as 20th Century Fox’s greatest star and, with it, the $300,000 per annum she had earned while saving the company from bankruptcy.

With anxiety, her parents, producers and most of the nation watched Shirley mature. Each change was faithfully recorded by the camera. When, at 15, she began to look like a young lady, everyone was relieved to find her still pretty and charming, though a little plump. When she married last year, most Americans felt suddenly older.

Today, as she resumes her acting career, Shirley is back where she was 12 years ago — playing second leads. If she plays them as brilliantly as she did in the days of Stand Up and Cheer and Little Miss Marker, Miss Temple will be a star again.

Shirley Temple 1934

Shirley Temple short films from 1934

Shirley Temple on the cover of Photoplay magazine - 1935

Shirley Temple on the cover of Photoplay magazine - 1937

Shirley Temple on Screenland magazine cover – 1930s

Shirley Temple on Screenland magazine cover - 1930s

Hollywood magazine cover with Shirley Temple (1937)

Hollywood magazine cover with Shirley Temple (1937)

Shirley Temple in The Blue Bird (1940)

Shirley Temple in The Blue Bird (1940)

Movie and Radio Guide – Easter with Shirley Temple (1940)

Movie and Radio Guide - Easter with Shirley Temple (1940)

What happened to Shirley Temple? High school graduation (May 1945)

Shirley Temple High school graduation (May 1945)

Modern Screen magazine – Shirley Temple cover (1946)

Modern Screen magazine (Feb 1946)

Shirley Temple – Cover of Motion Picture magazine (1946)

Shirley Temple - Cover of Motion Picture magazine in 1946

Shirley Temple in Little Women (1946)

Shirley Temple in Little Women (1946)

Shirley Temple as a new mom (August 1948)

Shirley Temple as a new mom (August 1948)

Shirley Temple with first husband John Agar and their daughter (1949)

Shirley Temple with husband John Agar and daughter (1949)

Shirley Temple for Deltah Courtier Necklace (1950)

Shirley Temple for Deltah Courtier Necklace (1950)

The home of Shirley Temple

Vintage postcard - Home of Shirley Temple

Shirley Temple on Screenland magazine cover (1950)

Shirley Temple on Screenland magazine cover - 1950

What happened to Shirley Temple: Hollywood relaunch (1950)


Moppet of Yesterday: Shirley Temple’s about to be 35 (1963)

From The Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) April 22, 1963

Here’s a new item guaranteed to make you feel ancient — Shirley Temple will be 35 years old Tuesday.

If this news inspires a lament for the “good old days,” you won’t find support from Shirley Temple Black, mother of three. “I’m nowhere near as interested in my childhood as in that of my children,” she says.

Miss Temple explains her feelings about the curly-haired little moppet who delighted movie audiences during the Depression in these words: “That little girl on the screen is a little girl in her own right. She and I are related, that’s for sure. I recognize many of her little tricks, and with a little effort can vaguely recall some of the dance routines she does so easily.

“But the little girl is an independent person, doing a good job and well-loved. Her grown-up ‘descendant’ is another person, living in a different family, with different interests, and almost old enough to be the little girl’s grandmother.”

Miss Temple relates a question asked her by a seven-year-old: “How come every Sunday night on TV you’re a little girl, and every Monday you’ve grown up?” She says she told the youngster, “It’s because little Shirley is my daughter.”

“This,” she concedes, “was an oversimplified explanation, but I wish I could find one as meaningful to offer the grown-ups who refuse to recognize that the little girl they see on the old television films no longer exists, and that, apart from whatever talents she possessed, she was a product of a time, socially and economically, that is long gone.”

Miss Temple adds in a feature article in the current issue of McCall’s magazine that she enjoyed being reminded with “honest sentimentality” about the little girl of the past. “But,” she smiles, “the line is fine between this and plain old emotional mildew!”

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