From 'Bright Eyes' to 'Fort Apache': Films that turned Shirley Temple into an icon

Jean Hersholt and Shirley Temple in 1937's "Heidi." 20th Century Fox Licensing/Merch
Jean Hersholt and Shirley Temple in 1937's "Heidi."

Shirley Temple was the very definition of a child star. The legendary actress, who died Monday at 85, was dimpled, curly-headed, precocious, talented and just plain adorable. She started in movies while still a toddler, and ruled the box office for years in the 1930s.

Here are just a few of the roles that made her an icon:

'Bright Eyes' (1934)
By the time Temple made "Bright Eyes," she was already a veteran of more than two dozen shorts and feature-length films ... and she was barely 6-years-old. The story set up a familiar theme for Temple's character: orphan taken in by grown-ups who could use a little good cheer. The film was tailored for her particular talents, and featured the memorable tune "On the Good Ship Lollipop." Temple won a special Juvenile Academy Award in 1935 for her contributions to film. (She appeared in no fewer than 10 features and shorts in 1934 alone.)

'Curly Top' (1935)
Temple plays a young girl living in — of course — an orphanage, and is eventually taken under a trustee's wing in "Curly Top." It was one of four movies originally made by early film star Mary Pickford that Temple remade. The film included two songs that became big hits: "When I Grow Up" and "Animal Crackers in My Soup." The New York Times noted in its review that Temple showed an "increased maturity of technique" and had a "remarkable sense of timing."

'The Littlest Rebel' (1935)
"The Littlest Rebel," one of multiple films in which Temple was referred to as "Little" or "Littlest," is a product of its times. Temple plays an enthusiastic young Southern girl whose sixth birthday party is interrupted by the opening salvos of the Civil War. Legendary dancer Bill "Bojangles" Robinson paired up with Temple on this and several other films, with the two often dancing delightfully side-by-side. Robinson's "happy slave" character is a movie trope that is rarely seen on screen these days.

'Heidi' (1937)
While at the peak of her popularity, Temple played another orphan, this time being raised happily by her grandfather in the Swiss Alps before she is whisked away to be a companion for a disabled girl. The movie was based on the classic children's book "Heidi," an 1880 novel by Swiss author Johanna Spyri. Temple noted in her autobiography that she had a few difficulties with some of her co-stars — goats. Milking one proved to be a major undertaking, and she had to be specially padded to avoid injury when one had to butt her. After repeated buttings, her mother stepped in and a boy was substituted to take over as a stunt double.

'The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer' (1947)
Temple's Hollywood career flagged as she matured, though she was cast as the titular "Bobby-Soxer," a teen who has a crush on an older single man played by Cary Grant. The film did well, and The New York Times said Temple had "a full chance to show her natural charm as a clear-eyed, imaginative, persistent and overpowering 17-year-old."

'Fort Apache' (1948)
One of Temple's final films was also her most grown-up, and she starred in the post-Civil War drama "Fort Apache" alongside John Wayne and Henry Fonda in the John Ford-directed Western. But Temple was becoming more of a side note in other people's films, and audiences were not necessarily seeing her charms as a grown-up in the way they did when she was a dimple-faced youngster.

In her heyday, Temple entertained millions, and in the process became a legend. That her career went elsewhere in her adult years never seemed to bother her. When accepting the Screen Actors Guild life achievement award in 2006, she noted that in her life she'd had "three wonderful careers": motion pictures and TV, a nearly 30-year honorary job with the foreign service, and as "wife, mother and grandmother."

Shirley Temple Black: 1928 – 2014


A look at the life and work of the iconic child star.


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