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Shirley Temple

December 15, 2009

You know what has always fascinated us about Shirley Temple? Her career circa the 1940s. That was the decade she spent weathering adolescence and nearing adulthood. In 1940, she was 12. In 1949, when she made her last film, A Kiss for Corliss, she was 21. By the age of 12, she already had 41 films under her belt. She started at the age of three, after all.

At that time and since, she has been considered the most recognizably famous and popular child star of all time. We mean, your brain probably processed the title of this article and immediately connected you to images of corkscrew curls, dimples and a skirted cherub tap dancing alongside Bill "Bojangles" Robinson.

And yet, it's those lesser-known '40s films, where her "golly gee" rosy-cheeked childishness gave way to a graceful young woman who miraculously managed to sidestep the gawky loss of cuteness, the likes of Dakota Fanning and Frankie Muniz have already confronted and may never overcome.

Having never read her autobiography, we can't say for sure why she gave up acting in 1949. And, truth be told, it's much more interesting to use deductive reasoning:

A. She married a meat packer's son--John Agar--in 1945, thereby jump-starting a complete unknown's long and illustrious career in show business. (His first film and one of her last was Fort Apache. They starred opposite heavy-hitters John Wayne and Henry Fonda). By 1950, their marriage was over, after yielding the couple one child. Single parenting could've easily become a more pressing priority.

B. Sure, she missed out on the part of Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, because of her contractual obligations to 20th Century Fox, but by then, she'd already surpassed Clark Gable, Bing Crosby, Robert Taylor, Gary Cooper and Joan Crawford in fame polls conducted between 1936 and 1938, so we doubt she was too broken up about it. Perhaps, though, the success of the film and the subsequent meteoric rise of Judy Garland got Temple thinking about other career goals--like becoming a future ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia, for instance.

C. She married her second and current husband, Charles Black, in 1950. A non-showbiz type, he could've made a quiet adulthood out of the spotlight seem like a truly dreamy aspiration.

Anyway, she sure didn't quit the talkies because she wasn't pretty. And we're almost certain she could've gone on to great acclaim as a serious adult actress--based on her '40s work. For whatever reason, we suppose the world is a better place because she did exit Hollywood with grace and aplomb. Not only does her example provide hope the Dakota Fannings of the world, but without her efforts to raise breast cancer awareness stateside and poverty awareness overseas, who knows how long it would've taken for women--both famous and everyday--to get involved with these and causes like them?

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