Shirley Temple – A Child Phenomenon

Shirley Temple….There is so much that could be said about Shirley Temple and how this child star was a bright spot in the bleak grayness of the Great Depression.  The doll that this child star inspired brightened the lives of hundreds of thousands of children during that time.  To those of us who collect dolls, she still brightens our days and brings a smile to our faces.

The six-year-old actress, became a national film phenomenon who illuminated the silver screen.  Shirley Temple, the doll, was introduced to little girls in 1934.  By the end of her first year acting, Shirley would be featured in seven films and would become the top-grossing box office star in the world.

Meanwhile, the Ideal Novelty and Toy Company approached the Temple family with its Shirley Temple doll concept.  After months of negotiations with Temple’s parents, the company secured an exclusive contract to produce a doll of the movie star.  Ideal had the body as they had perfected the torso for a doll called Ginger the year before.  Reportedly, the designer Bernard Lipfert had to make twenty molds before the head was finally approved by everyone involved.  Those first dolls were composition dolls.

The first costume for the Shirley doll portrayed the actress as she looked performing “Baby Take a Bow” in Stand Up and Cheer, her movie of that year.  This inaugural doll had a slightly chubbier face than the real Shirley.  The faces of the later dolls were slimmed down.  At first the dolls were made in four sizes, which prices ranging from three to seven dollars.

The Shirley Temple doll was perfect for a marketing campaign of Hollywood proportions.  Playthings, the industry trade journal reported in 1936 that Ideal pitched “one of the largest national promotions ever undertaken by any doll or toy manufacturer.”  Along with an advertisement for the doll, a contest was announced in the comic strip sections of fourteen million Sunday newspapers.  The top ten prizes were REAL Scottish Terrier puppies like Shirley’s pet, Corky.  Other prizes included doll accessories as clothes and carriages.

The Shirley Temple doll was not only the most popular celebrity doll ever made, she was also the most copied.  Nearly everybody wanted to get onto this band wagon.  Even the renowned doll maker Madame Alexander, after publicly opposing the exploitation of Shirley Temple’s fame as an actress, produced a Little Colonel doll in 1935.  Alexander maintained that the doll was based on the children’s book on which the character was based.  It just happened that the release of the doll coincided with the release of Temple’s movie The Little Colonel.  The doll looked very much like Ideal’s Shirley….

By 1939, the Great Depression drew to a close and the dark clouds of WWII were gathering.  Shirley’s reign as a box-office queen had come to an end.   That same year, Ideal ceased production of the doll.  Ideal was never a company to turn its back on success, they did use some of the Shirley molds for other dolls, including Snow White.



The Shirley Temple doll did make a comeback in the 1950s in vinyl and plastic.  Then, again in the 1970s, she took yet another bow.  I guess, like her movies, Shirley doesn’t age…..

Those of you who read my blog know that all the photos featured here are both taken by myself and the dolls are mine.  I have only three Shirley Temple dolls, but they represent a broad range of the 1950s thru the 1970s dolls.  The first doll pictured is the one  I am most proud of.  I love her size and the sculpt of the doll.  And she also has on all original clothes.   She is the oldest that I have. My plans are to restore her, but quite frankly, all those sausage curls are quite intimidating to me as her hair will have to be washed…I will wake up one morning feeling “brave” and go for it.  That’s how I roll. LOL!

The second doll pictured is a reproduction by Ashton Drake Galleries which has never been out of the box and more than likely will be sold at some point.  The third doll is a small 17″ plastic doll that is simply used as a prop with my large dolls.

Any way you choose to look at it, Shirley Temple was a glimmer of hope when we as a nation needed it.  She has remained a sought after doll to many collectors, me included.

I’m happy you chose to share this little bit of time with me.  I hope you will share this blog with a doll-collecting friend.  Until the next time we get together and “Let’s Talk Dolls”…stay well and be kind to one another.



BabyBoomer Dolls