5 Things You Didn't Know About Shirley Temple

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

For a four-year stretch in the mid-1930s, Shirley Temple—who was born on April 23, 1928—was Hollywood's biggest box-office draw every year. She pulled in a special Academy Award for "her outstanding contribution to screen entertainment during the year 1934" when she was just 6 years old, and her career really took off after that. Here are five things you might not know about the screen icon.

1. She was protective of her drink.

A Shirley Temple drink
iStock.com/LauriPatterson

There are few things tastier for a kid than a non-alcoholic cocktail like the Shirley Temple, a refreshing concoction of grenadine and lemon-lime soda garnished with a maraschino cherry.

What does the drink have to do with the child star, though? The Royal Hawaiian Resort in Waikiki, one of Temple's favorite haunts at the height of her fame, claimed to have invented the drink and named it in honor of the hotel's frequent customer during the 1930s. Like most any famous foodstuff, the Royal Hawaiian's claim of creating the drink is debated, though; Hollywood's legendary Brown Derby restaurant maintained that it invented the drink during the same time period.

While the drink's origins are murky, Temple was clearly protective of the drink that shared her name. In 1988 a California company tried to market Shirley T. Sparkling Soda; the former child star took umbrage at what she felt was the misappropriation of her name and told The New York Times, "I will fight it like a tigress. All a celebrity has is their name."

The soda maker argued that the name Shirley Temple had become a generic term for the drink, but Temple still took the company to court, the second time she'd had to go through the legal system to squash a soda company's attempts to use her name.

2. She was almost Dorothy Gale.


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The lead role in The Wizard of Oz propelled Judy Garland to stardom, but it could have gone to a more established star in Temple. Producer Arthur Freed met with Temple in 1938 to discuss the possibility of having her headline the picture, but since Temple was starting to lose her childish looks, he allegedly said, "First we lose the baby fat." (According to a later memoir by Temple, Freed then exposed himself to her; needless to say, she ended up not taking the part.)

3. She accidentally inspired a Graham Greene masterwork.


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When Graham Greene was a young writer, he earned a little money by writing film reviews for the British magazine Night and Day. In a 1937 review of Temple's film Wee Willie Winkie, Greene wrote, "Her admirers middle-aged men and clergymen respond to her dubious coquetry, to the sight of her well-shaped and desirable little body, packed with enormous vitality, only because the safety curtain of story and dialogue drops between their intelligence and their desire." Pretty biting hatchet piece on a 9-year-old.

Temple's representatives immediately went after Greene and the publishers of Night and Day. They sued the writer and publishers for libel; their claim was successful to the tune of $12,000 in damages.

The lawsuit might have had broader literary implications than anyone could have known at the time. Greene left the UK to travel in Mexico following the flap, which led some biographers to speculate that he got the heck out of Dodge to avoid being prosecuted and potentially imprisoned for criminal libel. If Greene was indeed fleeing from the law, he made the most of his journey. He turned his experiences in Mexico into the novel most readers consider his masterpiece, The Power and the Glory.

4. Hair like that didn't come easy.


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Temple was undoubtedly a great actor for such a young child, but it didn't hurt that she usually had a head full of perfect curls when she stepped in front of the camera. As you might expect, giving a pre-teen such a meticulous hairdo was no small task. Before she turned in for bed each night, her mother had to set her hair in 56 carefully planned curls.

Temple reportedly didn't love the hairstyle; she preferred the shorter, tousled locks that her hero Amelia Earhart sported. Temple did, however, understand the value of her trademark look. In 1938 she visited the Roosevelts at their Hyde Park estate; First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt asked the star to go swimming with her, but Temple declined "because of my hair."

5. She knew a thing or two about diplomacy.


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Temple hardly fit the stereotype of a one-time child star. Although she might not have been a box office draw as an adult, she had quite a bit of staying power as a political appointee. Richard Nixon made Temple the United States Representative to the United Nations, and she later served as U.S. Ambassador to Ghana under Gerald Ford. She served in the State Department under Ronald Reagan and also held the post of Ambassador to Czechoslovakia under George H.W. Bush.

Temple's foray into electoral politics didn't go quite so smoothly, though. In 1967 she ran for the House of Representatives as a Republican candidate in California but lost out to longtime Congressman Pete McCloskey by around 19,000 votes.

Updated for 2019.

When Mississippi Once Banned Sesame Street

Children's Television Workshop/Courtesy of Getty Images
Children's Television Workshop/Courtesy of Getty Images

Since it began airing in the fall of 1969, Sesame Street has become an indelible part of millions of children's formative years. Using a cast of colorful characters like Big Bird, Bert, Ernie, and Oscar the Grouch, along with a curriculum vetted by Sesame Workshop's child psychologists and other experts, the series is able to impart life lessons and illustrate educational tools that a viewer can use throughout their adolescence. You would be hard-pressed to find anyone—even Oscar—who would take issue with the show’s approach or its mission statement.

Yet that’s exactly what happened in early 1970, when a board of educational consultants in Mississippi gathered, polled one another, and decided that Sesame Street was too controversial for television.

The series had only been on the air for a few months when the newly formed Mississippi Authority for Educational Television (also known as the State Commission for Educational Television) held a regularly scheduled meeting in January 1970. The board had been created by the state legislature with appointees named by Governor John Bell Williams to evaluate shows that were set to air on the state’s Educational Television, or ETV, station. The five-member panel consisted of educators and private citizens, including a teacher and a principal, and was headed up by James McKay, a banker in Jackson, Mississippi.

McKay’s presence was notable for the fact that his father-in-law, Allen Thompson, had just retired after spending 20 years as mayor of Jackson. Highly resistant to integration in the city during his tenure in office, Thompson was also the founder of Freedom of Choice in the United States, or FOCUS, an activist group that promoted what they dubbed “freedom of choice” in public schools—a thinly veiled reference to segregation. Mississippi, long the most incendiary state in the nation when it came to civil rights, was still struggling with the racial tension of the 1960s. Systemic racism was an issue.

Entering this climate was Sesame Street, the show pioneered by Joan Ganz Cooney, a former journalist and television producer who became the executive director of the Children’s Television Workshop. On the series, the human cast was integrated, with black performers Matt Robinson and Loretta Long as Gordon and Susan, respectively, appearing alongside white actors Jada Rowland and Bob McGrath. The children of Sesame Street were also ethnically diverse.

Zoe (L) and Cookie Monster (R) are pictured in New York City in November 2009
Astrid Stawiarz, Getty Images

This appeared to be too much for the Authority, which discussed how lawmakers with control over ETV’s budget—which had just been set at $5,367,441—might find the mixed-race assembly offensive. The panel's participants were all white.

The board pushed the discussion aside until April 17, 1970, when they took an informal poll and decided, by a margin of three votes against two, to prohibit ETV from airing Sesame Street—a show that came free of charge to all public television stations. (The decision affected mainly viewers in and around Jackson, as the station had not yet expanded across the state and was not expected to do so until the fall of 1970.)

The members who were outvoted were plainly unhappy with the outcome and leaked the decision to The New York Times, which published a notice of the prohibition days later along with a quote from one of the board members.

“Some of the members of the commission were very much opposed to showing the series because it uses a highly integrated cast of children,” the person, who did not wish to be named, said. “Mainly the commission members felt that Mississippi was not yet ready for it.”

The reaction to such a transparent concession to racism was swift and predictably negative, both in and out of Mississippi. Board members who spoke with press, usually anonymously, claimed the decision was a simple “postponing” of the show, not an outright ban. The fear, they said, was that legislators who viewed ETV as having progressive values might shut down the project before it had a chance to get off the ground. It was still possible for opponents to suffocate it before it became part of the fabric of the state’s television offerings.

The concern was not entirely without merit. State representative Tullius Brady of Brookhaven said that ETV exerted “a subtle influence” on the minds of children and that the Ford Foundation, which funded educational programming, could use its influence for “evil purposes.” Other lawmakers had previously argued against shows that promoted integration.

Grover is pictured at AOL Studios in New York City in May 2015
Slaven Vlasic, Getty Images

Regardless of how the decision was justified, many took issue with it. In an anonymous editorial for the Delta Democrat-Times, a critic wrote:

“But Mississippi’s ETV commission won’t be showing it for the time being because of one fatal defect, as measured by Mississippi’s political leadership. Sesame Street is integrated. Some of its leading cast members are black, including the man who does much of the overt ‘teaching.’ The neighborhood of the ‘street’ is a mixed one. And all that, of course, goes against the Mississippi grain.”

Joan Ganz Cooney called the decision a “tragedy” for young people.

Fortunately, it was a tragedy with a short shelf life. The following month, the board reconvened and reversed its own informal poll result, approving of Sesame Street and agreeing that ETV could air it as soon as they received tapes of the program. Thanks to feeds from Memphis, New Orleans, and Alabama, Sesame Street could already be seen in parts of Mississippi. And thanks to the deluge of negative responses, it seemed pointless to try to placate politicians who still favored segregation.

In the fall of 1970, the Sesame Street cast appeared in person in Jackson and was met by representatives from the board, which helped to sponsor the live performance, though it’s not clear any apology was forthcoming.

Sesame Street would go on to win numerous awards and accolades over the proceeding 50 years, though it would not be the only children’s show to experience censorship on public television. In May 2019, ETV networks in Alabama and Arkansas refused to air an episode of the PBS animated series Arthur in which a rat and aardvark are depicted as a same-sex couple getting married.

Attention Movie Geeks: Cinephile Is the Card Game You Need Right Now

Cinephile/Amazon
Cinephile/Amazon

If you’ve got decades worth of movie trivia up in your head but nowhere to show it off, Cinephile: A Card Game just may be your perfect outlet. Created by writer, art director, and movie expert Cory Everett, with illustrations by Steve Isaacs, this game aims to test the mettle of any film aficionado with five different play types that are designed for different skill and difficulty levels.

For players looking for a more casual experience, Cinephile offers a game variety called Filmography, where you simply have to name more movies that a given actor has appeared in than your opponent. For those who really want to test their knowledge of the silver screen, there’s the most challenging game type, Six Degrees, which plays like Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, with the player who finds the fewest number of degrees between two actors getting the win.

When you choose actors for Six Degrees, you’ll do so using the beautifully illustrated cards that come with the game, featuring Hollywood A-listers past and present in some of their most memorable roles. You’ve got no-brainers like Uma Thurman in Kill Bill (2003) and Arnold Schwarzenegger in Total Recall (1990) alongside cult favorites like Bill Murray from 2004's The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and Jeff Goldblum in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984). Of course, being a game designed for the true film buff, you’ll also get some deeper cuts like Helen Mirren from 1990’s The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover and Sean Connery in 1974's Zardoz. There are 150 cards in all, with expansion packs on the way.

Cinephile is a labor of love for Everett and Isaacs, who originally got this project off the ground via Kickstarter, where they raised more than $20,000. Now it’s being published on a wider scale by Clarkson Potter, a Penguin Random House group. You can get your copy from Amazon now for $20.

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