Shirley Temple was a little girl, dancing her way through the heart of the entire world, when my mother and her sister were also little girls. The way later generations wanted to be Marcia Brady or the real-life girl (and doll collector) Marie Osmond, my Mother and her sister wanted to be Shirley. In fact, a lot of little girls wanted that, and their mothers encouraged them. There were Shirley look-a-like contests, Shirley inspired dresses, toys, dishes, paper dolls, a nonalcoholic drink, and, of course, dolls. The Ideal Toy Company increased its popularity tenfold by producing its composition Shirley Temple doll, but other American companies made them, and many other companies around the world did as well. In my own collection I have a 1950s French Shirley type doll of hard plastic and early vinyl, and there is a Canadian Shirley of composition as well.
“Shirley Mania” gripped the universe, or so it seemed. The thousands upon thousands of dolls sent to her were testament of the love people around the world felt for her. She was sent so many dolls, that duplicates and “unliked” dolls went to charity. Wouldn’t it be a fun project to send out a “call for dolls” around the world? If any one can document they have a doll from the thirties that was donated by Shirley Temple, I sure would like to know about it! Whole armies of dolls remained, to be culled again in around 1970 when the collection went on display at Stanford’s Children’s Hospital. I’d like to extend my “call for dolls” to those dolls given away as well.
Yet, despite giveaways, thousands of dolls and other items remained. Sometime during the 90s, Temple took her dolls home from Stanford, and they joined her other costumes, objects, memorabilia, jewelry, and toys saved first by Temple’s mother, Mrs. Gertrude Temple, and then by Shirley herself, until she died in 2014. Dolls were used as props in her films, especially Emily from “The Little Princess,” and the dancing dolls from “Poor Little Rich Girl.” A large bisque doll appeared in “Heidi.” Theriault’s conducted two auctions, Love Shirley Temple, and Love, Shirley Temple, Take II, after Shirley’s death.
I glued myself to The Internet during the first auction, and won Shirley’s pink knitted boy doll, beautifully preserved for over 80 years. I got caught up in the memories, and the music that played before the auction, and watched a little girl dressed up in a copy of the “Stand up and Cheer” dress dance. I had known who Shirley Temple was since Kindergarten. My mother’s favorite doll was a Shirley twin, not by ideal, but still a portrait of Shirley. My aunt had an actual Ideal Shirley. My dolls often had their hair done in the signature Shirley curls, and in third grade, my babysitter, Aunt Rosie, twirled my usually long brown hair into something that very closely approximated Shirley’s “do.” Rosie sent me with her mink stole wearing Chanel No.5 to school, all dressed up for the Christmas program. Later, she gave me my first blue pitcher with Shirley’s image on it. It was gifted to her to give to me by her friend, a lady then in her late seventies. Thank you, Aunt Rosie, and Mrs. McKinney. Ironically, I once read a magazine article that quoted Temple as saying that many fans sent her the blue glass dishes with her image on them, and that she put them in her dishwasher to remove the image so she could have a nice set of blue dishes!
My enthusiasm for all things Shirley never waned. At age 9, I was already an avid antiquer and “picker.” My mom and I found several very old composition and bisque dolls in need of TLC at the now defunct “Light House Antiques,” located in an old open fruit market building that once graced the banks of The Mighty Mississippi River. We were cleaning up one of the old dolls, when I came across the words “Ideal” and “Shirley Temple” on the back. We were both so excited, we couldn’t stand it.
Over the years, our Shirley subset collection grew. We found composition dolls in all sizes, and later the vinyl dolls of the 1950s, 1970s, 80s, and 90s. I found paper dolls, cloth Shirley dolls [made from a pattern in one of the Tower Press doll magazines], modern porcelain Shirleys, salt glaze figurines, bisque figures, Shirley pins, a six pack of Shirley Temple soda, Danbury mint dolls, books, videos, and DVDs. My Holy Grails are the “Hawaiian Shirley Temple” and the mechanical Shirley that plays the organ. One of my favorite collectibles is a vintage postcard of Shirley dancing with Bill Robinson, Bo Jangles himself. Of course, there were the photos of her own dolls that my Uncle Tom and I had taken over the years at Stanford, and the autographed copy of her own Child Star. On Veterans Day, 1988, I stood in line two hours for that book to be signed, and to meet Shirley Temple. She commented on my sweater, which had a little Inuit girl embroidered on it, and she was very friendly. I’ll keep that sweater forever, and it will be displayed in a place of honor when Dr. E’s Doll Museum becomes brick and mortar.
On trips around the United States, my parents and I visited other doll collections that featured Shirley dolls, including Hobby City in Anaheim, which is showcased in the film Shirley Mania. We followed her career and added clippings to our scrapbooks telling of her bout with breast cancer and her career as a diplomat. Even when she was older, she had that smile, and those little girl dimples that captured so many hearts. It was her whole personality, as well as her films, that added to the mystique of the dolls. She seemed immortal, and it was a shock when she died. Her fans, though, live on. Shirley Temple dolls are so popular, that scarcely any serious collection of vintage or antique dolls lacks one. Facebook groups are devoted to her, and writers still write about her. She continues to inspire books, movies, and film festivals. Her celebrated achievements are not limited to her childhood acting career, but her courage facing cancer, her diplomatic work, and her charitable acts are also remembered. My other discipline is law, and we study The Shirley Temple Act, 29 U.S.C. 213(c), a piece of federal legislation named in her honor to help protect the assets of child actors.
So, it seems Shirley Temple’s memory has touched almost every aspect of our lives. She was very real, and spoke up when she didn’t like something. For instance, I have a newspaper clipping from the 80s where she refused to give her name to be licensed for making soda. Last year, though, I did find the six pack I mentioned earlier. My acquaintances in Palo Alto, where she lived, told me she could be difficult in Macy’s if she didn’t get what she wanted, and I’ve also heard from those who know her as a young woman that she could be spoiled. Well, couldn’t we all? I don’t like her any less because she was human, that’s for sure. Even the dolls aren’t perfect; the early composition dolls can craze, and their eyes dull. Their ringlets often lose their curl, and their dresses fade, but Shirley’s memory never well. I’d tap dance up and down that staircase with her and Bo Jangles any time. As the lyrics from the theme song of her TV show read, “dreams are made for children/And a dream is a fairy tale.” Shirley Temple and the dolls made in her image let us be children and dream for as long as we want. That’s her legacy to doll collectors.
About the author: Ellen Tsagaris has collected dolls since she was three years old. She has made dolls, priced dolls, repaired, dressed, and studied dolls. She has set up at craft shows and presented papers on dolls and their history at the Midwest Modern Language Association. She is the author of several articles on dolls that have appeared in Doll Reader, National Doll World, Doll Designs, International Doll World, Hope and Glory, Doll News, Adventures, and The Western Doll Collector. She is the author of two books about dolls, Bibliography of Doll and Toy Sources and With Love from Tin Lizzie; A History of Metal Heads, Metal Dolls, Mechanical Dolls, and Automatons. An active blogger, she features two blogs about dolls, Dr. E’s Doll Museum, and Doll Museum. She lectures on dolls for various organizations and has displayed part of her collection in museums.
“Dolls are among the oldest cultural artifacts, and perhaps are the oldest toys. My passion for dolls began when I was a toddler, and it has never stopped. Explore the wonderful world of all things ‘doll’ with me.”
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