Shirley Temple Black Has a Book: No Kisses, Lots of Tell

Times Staff Writer

She was the No. 1 box-office star in America for four straight years during the 1930s, the dimpled darling of the Depression.

But even the fabled childhood of Shirley Temple--Hollywood’s most famous child star--could not be protected from such real-life intrusions as kidnap and extortion attempts, death threats and an attempted seduction by a Hollywood producer when she was only 12 years old.

Those are just a few of the revelations in Shirley Temple Black’s autobiography, “Child Star,” which will be published by McGraw-Hill in October.


Black, in Anaheim on Sunday for the American Booksellers Assn. convention, spoke to reporters about her book during a brief press conference in which she was sandwiched between novelist Carolyn Chute and cookie king Wally (Famous) Amos.

McGraw-Hill, which paid Black a reported $300,000 advance, promises book buyers a “vivid memoir,” one that will provide insights into Black’s years in motion pictures.

But is it a kiss-and-tell book? one reporter wanted to know.

Black, dimples intact, laughed and said: “It’s a ‘tell’ book. It’s not a ‘kiss’ book.”

What it is, she said, is a “revealing” book that examines how she felt growing up as America’s favorite fantasy child--”about how I felt as a child about how things were said to me: Why do people say, ‘I love you’ in a crowd?

“I did a lot of research on Shirley,” she remarked.

Black, who is now 60 but looks years younger, acknowledged at the outset of the press conference: “This is pretty scary for me. I’ve never written a book before.”

Although there was one alleged Shirley Temple autobiography, “My Young Life,” written in 1945, Black said the book was actually written by a ghost writer.

In explaining why she chose to write her autobiography, Black said she is proud of her life--”It’s been fabulous”--and she wanted to write it for her family. “That’s an answer celebrities seem to give,” she said, “but it’s true.”


She said there have been a dozen books written about her and thousands of interviews over the years--”warmed-over third-party material”--and she is the only one who knows the real story.

If there is a thread running through the book, she said, it is her mother and how they shared everything. “She was not only my best friend, but we had a partnership,” Black said.

The book, which she has spent eight years writing, will chronicle her life up through her “happy marriage to Charles Black.”

Over a 19-year period beginning when she was 3, Shirley Temple starred in 35 motion pictures, the majority of which were made at 20th Century Fox where, Black said, she was “very protected.”

That apparently changed when she was 12 and moved to MGM.

On her first day on the MGM lot, her mother was summoned to the office of studio boss Louis B. Mayer while Shirley was summoned to what she described as an important producer’s office.

She recalled that as she sat looking at the producer, “he seemed to be rearranging his clothes with a certain amount of flourish. He said, ‘You’re going to be my next big star.’ ”


Although she thought he was a producer, she joked, he turned out instead to be “an exhibitor.”

“Being 12 years old, the only naked person I had ever seen was me,” she said, adding that she thought he looked so funny that she began to laugh. She continued laughing until she had tears in her eyes. The enraged producer ordered her out of his office.

When she ran into her mother at the bottom of the stairs, Black said, they were both unusually quiet. On the drive home, her mother listened to her daughter’s story and then said: “Wait until you hear what almost happened to me!” In her mother’s meeting with Mayer, Black said, Mayer made an advance toward her mother, saying: “You shouldn’t be Shirley Temple’s mother, you should be a big star.”

“So both of us,” Black said, “flunked our first day at MGM.”

Black said the “best friend” she had in the movie business was Bill (Bojangles) Robinson, her co-star in several films. “My role models were Amelia Earhart and Eleanor Roosevelt and my major crush was J. Edgar Hoover.”

It’s easy to see why the nation’s top G-man was a favorite.

The FBI was called in numerous times to investigate death and extortion threats against her. The threats weren’t reported at the time, she said, for fear that they would stimulate more threats.

The closest a death threat came to being carried out happened during a live radio broadcast with Nelson Eddy when she was 10 years old.


While her mother was fussing with her hair in a dressing room before the broadcast, Black noticed a woman “with a mean look on her face” peering through the windows. Spotting the child star, the woman began shaking her fist at her.

Black’s mother called the police who, in turn, called the FBI.

The broadcast went on and while Shirley was on stage singing “Some Day You’ll Find Your Blue Bird,” she noticed men in suits coming down the aisles. The woman who had been at the window was in the front row and the FBI agents got to her just as the woman pulled a gun out of her purse and pointed it at Shirley.

Black said the woman’s daughter had been stillborn and, in the woman’s mind, Shirley Temple had taken her dead daughter’s place in life.

Black said she gave up acting when she was 22 because “I had had enough pretend. I wanted to be in the real world.”

Are there any villains in the book?

“Yes,” said Black, explaining that’s why she waited so long to write her autobiography: Many of the people she writes about are now dead. “Doesn’t everyone’s life have villains?” she said.

When pressed to name them, Black smiled her Shirley Temple smile and said, “I want you to read the book.”


On the way out of the press conference room, Black was introduced to Amos, who was promoting his book, “The Power in You.” As they posed for pictures together, Amos suddenly pulled a kazoo out of his pocket and began serenading Black with a lively rendition of “The Good Ship Lollipop.”

Lest her publisher have any doubt about the drawing power of Shirley Temple Black 54 years after she first sang that song in the movie “Bright Eyes,” the line of people waiting for autographs at the McGraw-Hill exhibit booth resembled the line for the Matterhorn on a busy day at Disneyland.

Fittingly, the publisher’s representatives handed out lollipops to those waiting in line.