Gertrude Temple-her name doesn’t ring a bell?

Gertrude Temple and daughter, Shirley

Gertrude Temple and daughter, Shirley

How about this-Shirley Temple.

Shirley Temple’s mother, Gertrude, longed for a girl after having two sons.  In a desperate attempt to have a girl, Gertrude encouraged her husband to have his tonsils removed-she had heard that it would help produce a girl.  He did it, and Gertrude was convinced she would have a baby girl as a result.  She played musicals to her unborn child, hoping it would inspire her to be an actress/songstress. Gertrude herself had longed to be a ballerina, but had grown too tall to ever make it a career.  Perhaps, her little girl could be a star.

Always prepping for stardom, Gertrude would have Shirley memorize words to popular songs.   Shirley frequently would be asked by her ambitious stage mom to perform for friends.  Gertrude would be at her side urging her to “sparkle, Shirley, sparkle.”

Understanding that in Hollywood, image reigns supreme, Gertrude would daily style little Shirley’s curls in a laborious process that required hours of sitting still in the chair.  56 curls would adorn her head-not 55 or 57-exactly 56 everyday.  Her poise and ability to dance, caught the eye of a scout.  She was asked  to perform in a film called Baby Burlesks-the little girls would be dressed mostly as adult from the waist up, along with a giant diaper for their bottoms.  During the filming, if a child missed their mark, or was slow to respond to direction, they would be sent to the Black Box.  It was a narrow black box with only a block of ice for seating.  “It didn’t cause lifelong psychological damage,” says Black, “but it did teach me discipline. By the time I was 4, I knew how to hit my mark.”

Momangers/stage mothers almost always are seeking the fame and achievement that escaped them.  Shirley Temple made her mother proud as the country fell in love with the curly-haired little girl with a huge smile and dimples.  Instead of twerking away into adulthood, Shirley Temple retired as a teenager, and her parents insisted she attend a public school and not be treated any differently than the other students.

Her own assessment of her career is modest. “I class myself with Rin Tin Tin,” she said once. “At the end of the Depression, people were perhaps looking for something to cheer themselves up. They fell in love with a dog and a little girl. It won’t happen again.”

Nice job, Gertrude.  You raised a lovely girl-AND got a chance to live out some of your dreams, too.  Well played.