Francis Albert Sinatra was the only child of two Italian immigrants. His father was Anthony Sinatra, a New York fireman of Sicilian origin, and his...
When Shirley Jane Temple was born April 23, 1928, in Santa Monica, California, little did her parents George and Gertrude dream that their little “bambina” would influence the next decade more than any other child in the century. To thousands of viewers, wearing their shabby clothes and worn-out shoes, seated in darkened theaters across the country, Shirley as “Curly Top, Bright Eyes and the Little Princess” with her twinkling toes and dimpled smile melted the hearts of the very young, the very old and everyone in between. Shirley also provided a delightful relief from the reality of the dark and dreary depression days.
When Mrs. Temple enrolled her three year old in a dancing class, fate stepped in via a talent scout, for Educational Pictures, visiting the dance studio searching for children to be featured in short one reel spoofs called Baby Burlesks. When Fox Film Corporation asked Mrs. Temple to bring little Shirley over to test for a singing and dancing part in “Stand Up and Cheer”, the rest “became history”. The song and dance routine “Baby take a Bow” brought Shirley fame! The nation’s movie goers eagerly awaited each new Temple film, and by 1936, Shirley rose to first place at the box office. Shirley was showered with gifts and honors from admirers throughout the world and her hairdo, dresses and mannerisms were widely copied and anything “Shirley”- dolls, dishes, hankies, etc. sold like hotcakes!
In New York City, Italian born mothers, many non-English speaking fresh off the boat, curled hair around rag strips in an effort to emulate Shirley’s curls, made dresses for their little girls with ruffles like Shirley wore (Baby Take a Bow), bought Shirley hankies, and made sure that “Santa” always left a “Shirley Temple” doll under the Christmas tree, or at least a Shirley Temple less expensive look-a-like doll, which was treasured, not knowing the difference. And, years later when our parents became grandparents to our little “bambinas”, “nonno” would proudly announce to all that “la bambina sembra un’altra Shirley Temple”.
Shirley Temple received 15 deluxe Lenci Dolls at once, so her official doll collection had a definite “Italian connection”. In 1935 when she appeared with Jane Withers in the movie “Bright Eyes” pushing buggies with Lenci dolls inside, “Pinkie” her favorite doll, was from Shirley’s own collection. No doubt she had various other dolls, before acquiring the fifteen fabulous Italian made (in Torino). Lenci dolls made of felt, organdy and lace, but these were luxury dolls not owned by the average child in those depression days.
Shirley loved these Lenci dolls and long after she retired from the screen and was living with her husband and family in Woodside, California, she added many beautiful Lenci dolls to her collection and through the 1980’s, loaned them to Stanford Hospital so they could be on display in the Children’s wing of the hospital, where they remained until October of 1989, when due to earthquake damage, the display area was closed for repairs.
In 1998, Shirley also loaned several Lenci dolls from her collection to the Museo Italo Americano in San Francisco, when thanks to the generosity of the “Piemontesi Nel Mondo” president Andrew Canepa, benefactor Henry Trione and general membership, they co-sponsored the “Classic Lenci Dolls” exhibit in Northern California.
By responding on cue when her mother said “Sparkle Shirley” she became the movie miracle of the Depression years and the most successful child star in Hollywood history. Shirley once recalled that she stopped believing when “Mother took me to see Santa in a Hollywood department store he asked Me for my autograph”. After a few modest junior miss roles as a teenager, Shirley Temple, who was a firmly entrenched superstar by the time she was five and relentlessly adorable in such films as “Little Miss Marker”, “The Little Colonel” and “The Littlest Rebel” decided to retire from the screen.
In 1945, when Shirley was seventeen, she met and married John Agar, an actor whom Shirley later divorced. They had one daughter, Susan. As a young adult, Susan, while attending college met and married Roberto Falaschi. After they parted, Roberto Falaschi remarried and with his new wife Carla, moved into the San Francisco Italian Consulate building at 2590 Webster Street, in 2005. They remained for several years while Roberto served as Italy’s Consul General.
A life-long Republican, Shirley lost a run for Congress in 1967, but was named U.S. Delegate to the United Nations two years later. She also served as U.S. Ambassador to both Ghana and Czechoslovakia and also as U.S. Chief of Protocol, which put her in charge of all State Department ceremonies. Shirley died recently (February 10th) at age 85 at her home in Woodside, California, the Spanish-style home she and her late husband Charlie built in 1992, next door to the home where they raised their family, Charlie Black Jr., now 61, Lori Black now 59, and Susan Falaschi now 65. Despite all her accomplishments, she will always be Little Shirley Temple in people’s minds and they’ll always be showing her movies, so new generations will get to know “the biggest little star” who is now in heaven too.