Shirley Temple – The Teenage Years

By Karen Harris

Formal headshot portrait of actor Shirley Temple wearing a low cut evening dress, posing with flowers. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

We may remember Shirley Temple most for the films she did as a child actress in which she sang, dance, and dimpled her way through life. Shirley Temple was the biggest star of the 1930s, all before she even hit double digits. But like many child stars, Temple’s transition from youthful, childish roles to more mature and challenging one was not an easy one. Movie producers, eager to squeeze every ounce of box office bankability out of the young star, developed roles to showcase a sexier, bubblier teenage Temple but were not able to recapture the magic of Temple’s youthful draw. Let’s take a look at Shirley Temple’s teenage years. 

Temple in "The Blue Bird"

Shirley Temple Was a Has-Been at Age 12

Shirley Temple, born in 1928, began her entertainment career at age four, and within a few years, she was the biggest box office draw of the decade. She made movie after movie throughout her childhood, including “The Little Princess,” “Curly Top”, “Heidi”, and “Baby, Take a Bow.” But in 1940, at the age of 12, she starred in two flogs in a row, “The Blue Bird” and “Young People”, both for Twentieth Century Fox. Temple was at a weird age…too old to play the childish roles she was used to playing and too young for more mature, teenage roles. Her contract with the studio was terminated and Temple concentrated on being a school girl. 

Temple in "Kathleen"

Temple Moved to MGM Studios

As a 13-year old in 1941, Shirley Temple signed with a new studio, MGM, in hopes of making a comeback. The studio initially planned to pair Temple with Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland for the musical, “Babes on Broadway”, but they feared Temple’s talent wasn’t strong enough for her to hold her own with Garland and Rooney. Instead of “Babes on Broadway”, MGM cast Temple in the starring role in “Kathleen”, a movie about a lonely young girl who plays matchmaker to her widowed father. The movie was not the success that the studio hoped it would be and Temple and MGM mutually agreed to end her contract. 

Temple in "I'll Be Seeing You"

Temple Was 16 When She Made Her Next Film

In 1944, David O. Selznich contacted the then-16 year old Shirley Temple about developing her career. He signed the teenager to a four-year contract and cast her in two wartime films, “Since You Went Away” and “I’ll Be Seeing You.” Both films dealt with the lives of families left at home when servicemen left for war. 

Shirley Temple Was a Teen Bride

When she was just 15 years old, in 1943, Shirley Temple met a young Army Air Corps sergeant named John Agar. Agar was 22 at the time, but that didn’t stop him from entering into a romance with the young actress. With her family’s blessing, the two wed on September 19, 1945, in Los Angeles. Temple was 17 years old on her wedding day. The young couple’s relationship was rocky at best. Despite sharing a daughter, Linda Susan, which Temple had when she was 20 years old, the couple divorced in 1949, after just four years of marriage.

Shirley Temple and Cary Grant in "The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer"

While Her Marriage Was in Shambles, Temple Still Continued to Act

In 1945, Temple starred in “Kiss and Tell”, a story about two boy-crazy teens. After that role, she appeared in “The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer”, a film that earned the screenwriter, Sidney Sheldon, an Academy Award. In this movie, Temple again plays a boy-crazy, flirtatious teen who has a fascination for older men. The object of her affection is played by Cary Grant, although his character is more interested in the bobby-soxer’s older sister, played by Myrna Loy

Ronald Reagan and Shirley Temple in "That Hagen Girl"

Temple Co-Stars with Ronald Reagan in an Odd May-December Romance

The 1947 movie, “That Hagen Girl,” cast Shirley Temple with Hollywood actor and future president Ronald Reagan in a strange story that teetered on incestuous. Temple’s character, Mary Hagen, is a teen in a small town. It is well-known that she is an illegitimate child, but the town gossips try to unravel who her father is. The prime suspect for the girl’s illegitimate father is Ronald Reagan’s character, Tom Bates, a prominent lawyer. Bates behaves in a rather fatherly manner toward the Hagen girl while she tried to determine if he is her biological father. During this process, however, the two fall in love. Thankfully, the film makes it clear that Bates is not her real father before the two run off to get married. 

Temple in "A Kiss for Corliss"

“A Kiss for Corliss” Was Temple’s Final Film

A sequel to “Kiss and Tell”, “A Kiss for Corliss” turned out to be Shirley Temple’s final starring role. She was barely out of her teenage years when she appeared in this film. Although she was cast as a bubble teen, she was, in fact, a wife and mother at this time. More than one film critic labeled Temple’s acting as “boring and indifferent” and the former child actress realized it was time to re-evaluate her career choices. She went on to serve as a foreign ambassador, marry for the second time, and have two more children 

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Karen Harris


Karen left the world of academic, quitting her job as a college professor to write full-time. She spends her days with her firefighter husband and four daughters on a hobby farm with an assortment of animals, including a goat named Atticus, a turkey named Gravy, and a chicken named Chickaletta.