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From the archives of The Diane Rehm Show: a special rebroadcast of a 1988 interview with Shirley Temple Black. The child star and former ambassador died last week at age 85.
- Shirley Temple Black Famous child star of the 1930's and former U.S. ambassador
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Back in 1988, I had the great pleasure of interviewing Shirley Temple Black. I was part of the generation who grew up with her movies, had wonderful memories of watching her onscreen. Franklin Delano Roosevelt called her "Little Miss Miracle." Black died last week at age 85. Today, we'll bring you a special broadcast of my conversation, which occurred shortly after the publication of her memoir, "Child Star."
MS. DIANE REHMYou'll notice my voice sounds very different in this interview, which occurred 10 years before I was diagnosed with Spasmodic Dysphonia. I do hope you enjoy listening to the conversation.
MS. DIANE REHMWhat a pleasure to meet you.
MS. SHIRLEY TEMPLE BLACKWell, how are you, Diane?
REHMI am well, and just so much better having heard you sing.
BLACKThat was fun.
REHMYou know, as I was reading your book, "Child Star," I could almost believe that the preparations for your stardom really began before you were born.
BLACKI think so. My mother kind of planned a blitz. She had two boys, and when I was born, they were 12 and 10 years of age. And she wanted a girl baby, but she was afraid to try again, because she might get another boy. So, she suggested to my Dad that he go to the doctor and see what could be done. And the doctor said, well, if you have your tonsils out, this is so ridiculous, but if you have your tonsils out, you'll be able to have a girl child. Oh dear, silly to talk about it.
BLACKSo my Dad had the tonsils out, and they grew back. So he went back to the doctor, and, actually, there's some reason for this, because what he wanted was for my Dad to be in very good physical shape.
BLACKI mean, that's the only way girls are born, right? So, my Dad had his tonsils out the second time, and nine months later, I arrived.
REHMIsn't that marvelous? But in the meantime, your mother had the radio tuned to classical music, she was insuring that this little baby girl would be very culturally attuned.
BLACKShe went to the park, she admired beautiful flowers. She played beautiful music, and she went to see -- she liked Janet Gaynor a lot, and went to see her films. And Mary Pickford's films. And she really did stage a blitz.
REHMSo, clearly, you were an adored child when you came into that household.
BLACKWell, and they bathed me in love my whole life.
BLACKIt was a wonderful -- my mother, I mean my father and brothers were great, but my mother was, I think, the most wonderful mother that a girl could have.
REHMYou dedicated the book to her.
BLACKI've dedicated the book to her.
REHMShe obviously was a wonderful help mate to you.
BLACKAnd she knew how to let me -- she knew how to release me enough. She had the reign on me, but she knew how to release that reign so that I was able to make judgments of my own, and decisions of my own. And judgments about people. And who I liked, who I didn't like, what I wanted to do. She didn't push, in fact, many times, I think, I pulled her around.
REHMIt's interesting, because I've heard it said that the greatest gift that any parent can give a child is the belief in one's self. And obviously, that is precisely what she gave to you. You started dancing lessons very early.
BLACKTwo and a half.
BLACKShe did that because I had so much energy, that she was afraid I was gonna pull the house down, I think. So, she thought, what can I do with this...
REHMI mean, what kind of energy are we talking about, Shirley?
BLACKI mean, you know, I never took a nap.
BLACKAnd I have a granddaughter just like this. My granddaughter doesn't want to take a nap, and never has. So I was just busy all day. And she wanted to channel that energy and put me in Miss Meglin's dancing school. And I was a Meglin Kitty.
REHMHow did you get along with Miss Meglin?
BLACKMrs. Meglin was quite stern, but she also banked at my father's bank. There was a business relationship, and she said how healthful this dancing exercise would be for a child. And it was. I learned how to dance between 2 and a half and three.
REHMAnd this is what kind of dancing we're talking about?
BLACKEverything. We started out with the time step, which is the traditional, and I learned the box step, the rumba, the -- all kinds of falling. We'd fall in a pile. Shuffle off to Buffalo. All those things.
REHMBut how about ordinary tap dancing?
BLACKWe did that, but that was with the time step. And first, the simple time step, and then it would become a triple tap. So by the time I -- that was my learning curve. By the time I started the baby burlesques at age three and a half, I had a basic understanding of dancing, and how to fall down, and how to find the light, which was very interesting.
REHMThis is a fascinating story that you tell in the book.
BLACKThat was interesting, because there were about 30 little children, all between the ages of three and five in the baby burlesques. And we were told not to look at the floor, to find our marks. They'd put a little piece of tape on the floor, but we weren't supposed to look down. Very unprofessional. So, devised a scheme, as a little girl, that if I felt the light very warmly on my cheek, and on my shoulder, I would know I was in the right place. And if I felt coolness or shadow, I knew I was in the wrong place. So that was my starlet period.
BLACKStarlets have clean teeth, clean socks, you know, and they're always obliging. And they have to have ridiculous positions that they take. By the time I got to Fox Studio and did the number you played, I really knew a lot about the craft itself.
REHMAnd what age would that have been?
BLACKWhen I made that film, "Stand Up and Cheer," I was five. But as soon as I got to that studio, they took a year off my age. And I didn't know it. So I was suddenly four years old.
REHMAnd you were already, as far as they were concerned, slightly older than they wanted you to be.
BLACKWell, and they did this to all female stars. All actresses had at least one year taken off. I was lucky they didn't take off two.
REHMYou know, when my daughter was a little girl, I took her for ballet lessons, as well. She's 25 now, Shirley. But I'll tell you, pretty soon, she rebelled against ballet lessons, and she talks about it now with great good humor, but I just wonder whether any little part inside little Shirley Temple wanted to say, I don't want to do this.
BLACKOh, never. No, I loved it. I loved it. The book, "Child Star" is about my love for my mother and my profession. And also a very special teacher I had at the studio.
REHMAnd you're talking about Bojangles.
BLACKWell, that, but my school teacher, Clammy Clam, who's now 81, and looks wonderful. But, Clammy Clam, whose real name is Francis Clampt, and she put up with that awful name I gave her. But she likes it, even now. Now she likes it. But, Clammy, when I would have an important visitor come to the studio from India or Germany or the Soviet Union, or wherever, she would then give me one week about that country. We'd study one week, the geography, the per capita, the import/exports. Everything about it.
BLACKSo that at a very early age, I think, Clammy helped me to develop my just very strong interest now in international relations.
REHMIsn't that remarkable, that in spite of...
BLACKA special teacher.
REHMExtraordinary schedule you were obviously keeping, you managed to feel that good about a solid education.
BLACKAnd when Amelia Earhart came to the studio, and I met her, we then studied Amelia Earhart's last trip, in detail. We had a map on the wall, and every day, Clammy and I would put a pin in where she was then. And when, finally, her plane disappeared, the map stayed up there for a bit. And then just disappeared itself.
REHMI, of course, was referring to Bill "Bojangles" Robinson who was your...
BLACKWell, he was my favorite actor, dancer and dance teacher. And friend. And he goes all through my book. He even showed up in Bethesda Naval Hospital, when I had my son, Charlie Jr., back here in 1952. I had a very difficult time after a very labor with Susan. Four hours, you know, she was born. There was kind of a mix up at the hospital, and they did a cesarean section, which, I don't think I really needed. But I was very ill for about six weeks, and almost died about six times.
BLACKAnd it was one of those times -- I was alone in my room at the hospital, and there was an electric fan up on the wall. And I looked up, I was in great pain. I had peritonitis, pneumonia, a blood clot in my lung, pleurisy.
BLACKA lot of things. And I looked up, and Bill Robinson's face was in that fan, and he said, come on up, darling. It's nice up here. And I got so scared that I pushed the bell for the nurse, and I said, please don't leave me alone anymore, 'cause I don't want to die.
REHMI saw one film clip of you and he dancing together, going up the stairs.
REHMAnd the precision of the sounds that the two of you made together, and the absolute synchronization and adoration that seemed to be virtually mutual.
BLACKWe held hands, and I learned to dance from Bill by listening, not looking at the feet. It was kind of a magic between us. Some kind of chemistry. And he treated me as a peer, which I liked. He didn't treat me as a little kid. He talked to me as he would to any of his friends.
REHMAnd you're listening to a rebroadcast of a 1988 interview with Shirley Temple Black. Short break. We'll be right back.
REHMYou're listening to a rebroadcast of a 1988 interview with Shirley Temple Black.
REHMShirley Temple Black is with me this morning. We're talking about her new autobiography. It's called "Child Star." I know many of you in our listening audience will want to talk with her. And I'll open the phones in just a moment. Your mother...
BLACK...and answers too.
REHM...and answers indeed. Your mother, of course, far more actively involved in your career than your father. Your father sort of attending to his own professional life.
BLACKIt was kind of a partnership. My mother and I worked at the studio and my dad managed his own business and managed my money.
REHMManaged your money.
REHMAnd there were questions about that money and how it was managed.
BLACKWell, it wasn't his fault, I don't think. I had about -- well, when I was 22 years old I finally said, well, I was supposed to take control of my money at age 21.
REHMBecause you had been married the first time at age 17.
BLACKThat's right. That's correct. And so we had a meeting, my mother, father and his business partner in the library of our home. And they had stacks of paper and they talked, talked, talked. Mother knew nothing about this. And finally I said, very interesting talk but what's the bottom line? What do I have? And it turned out that out of about 3,400,000 that I had earned since I started, I had $44,000 in a trust fund. That was it. And it was a big surprise but I have no resentment to my dad.
BLACKHe left school in the 7th grade. He was a banker during the depression and did quite well there. But I think that he was counseled badly and I think he was an innocent led to slaughter. And I have no resentment. In fact, I took care of him in my home. He had a problem the last few years of his life. He died at age 92 in 1980. And his swallowing muscle paralyzed. And he wouldn't let anyone feed him but me. So I would puree his food and feed him. And we never talked about it again, never talked about the loss of the money. We just -- I just said, I've got more with my love for my husband and my little girl Susan who was born then. And Charlie Black and I have been married 38 years and I wouldn't change anything.
REHMI understand that. I think that there might've been a fair amount of questioning or indeed resentment from someone else. But you obviously had a lot of inner resources to fall back on.
BLACKWell, he was a very proud man. And everybody liked him. And he used to give wonderful cash loans to people. And neither -- maybe not get the money back or certainly not with any interest. And, you know, it just went -- they lived -- we all lived very modestly. We had a very modest lifestyle but it was gone.
REHMShirley, even now as I read about and think about that darling child who was a film star, I'm appalled to read of some of the incidences which occurred in your career. I mean, an adult exposing himself to you, a rape when you were how old?
REHMIt makes one wonder, I mean, if you had a child who was as intent as apparently you were, given today's climate, given today's different attitudes about -- and different awareness about sexual abuse, about child abuse and that sort of thing, were you running a risk then and would you allow a child to do that now?
BLACKI wouldn't change anything in my life, which is -- and there were some bumps and bruises and unpleasant times. But how are we going to learn how to be good citizens and really know what to do with our lives unless we face these things? Somebody asked me, if you could come back as somebody in another life who would you come back as? And I said, Shirley Temple. Hopefully Shirley Temple Black. I'd like to find that same good man again, you know. But I wouldn't change anything.
BLACKAnd I -- in the book -- in "Child Star" if I have any writings file at all, Diane, when I was a kid in high school I adored Charles Dickens. I loved the way he would describe faces and clothing and rooms. And a lot of my classmates didn't think Charles Dickens was that -- they thought it was kind of boring. But I happen to be a big fan. And so she says modestly, there's a little of the Charles Dickens in it but my big hero is Erma Bombeck. So there's more Erma Bombeck in me. And I've told Erma Bombeck this. I said, you are just super.
REHMShe's a lovely person.
BLACKAnd I approach life the way she seems to approach life and the way she writes, with humor, everyplace I can finds it.
BLACKEven in a bad, bad situation I'll try to find humor.
REHMWell, and with an acceptance of the reality that that is what made up your life. That is what has given you the strength and the courage to do what you've done in your life. Without these experiences somehow it would've been very different for you.
BLACKIt strengthened me and it also helped me to teach my own children the basic values and how to cope with problems of this nature.
REHMI love the fact that as you relate in "Child Star" what you did when this adult male exposed himself to you was exactly what you did just now.
BLACKWell, I giggle. In fact, I laughed hardily. I was 12 years old and it was my first day away from our wonderful Fox studio, which took such good care of me. And mother and I went to this new big important studio. And when he exposed himself, I said to myself, I thought he was a producer. It turns out he's an exhibitor but I laughed so hard that he was infuriated. And he said, get out of here, out, out, out, which I think saved me maybe from a big problem. I think the laughter saved me.
REHMDid you immediately relate what had happened to your mother?
BLACKI'd never seen anyone naked before except myself, so I had no clue. And I think that's why it struck me so funny. So I went down to the entrance to the administration building and met my mother who had been separated from me. She had been in a meeting with Louis B. Mayer, who was the head of that studio. And we walked silently to the car and we got in the car and started home. And I just couldn't wait to tell her. I said, I've got to tell you what happened.
BLACKAnd I told her and she took my hand and she looked kind of thoughtful and she said, well, almost the same thing had happened to her with Louis B. Mayer, although he didn't do that to her but he did entice her to his casting couch. And he kept saying, oh you're a beautiful mother. You're a beautiful momma and you should be a star in your own right. And he's putting his hand on her knee. And that's when she got up and backed out of the office holding her purse in front of her. So we made it out of there.
REHMAnd that's what I was about to say, both of you were very fortunate in that regard. But there are stories that other people were not quite so fortunate and did not manage to get out quite as gracefully as you did.
BLACKWe were both lucky.
BLACKAnd of course in those days my mother, at least, never told me anything about sex, just zero. And it wasn't until I was in the 7th grade and finally was in a real school with other girls, I learned everything in one week. You know, it didn't take more than a week. And I would go home with an awful-colored story that I'd heard at school not knowing what it meant. And at the dinner table with my two brothers and my father and my mother I would say, guess what I learned today? And I would tell this dirty joke. And they would all say, ah, how -- Shirley, don't -- you know, and I said, well what does it mean? And then no one would tell me, you know.
REHMShirley, one more question before I open the phones, and that is learning to cry on cue and what you had to do to go through that.
BLACKWell, what I did, people couldn't tell me anything sad because nothing sad had happened to me. So it isn't like an adult star who can think of a lost love or the death of somebody. The only thing that had died that I cared about, but not a great deal, was a painted turtle. One of those little pink -- painted bright pink and the turtle died and we gave it a very nice funeral and dug a hole in the ground at our house in the yard. But I had nothing really sad to think about.
BLACKSo finally my mother and I would go to the back of the soundstage where it was quiet and kind of dark and I would stand there and try to make my mind absolutely blank, and then I could get the tears to come. So I think I might've been an early method actress without knowing it.
REHMCan you still do it?
BLACKI can still do it. You want me to now?
REHMIsn't that -- our listeners couldn't see you.
REHMAll right. Let's open the phones here and welcome them in. Morning, you're on "The Diane Rehm Show."
GEORGEGood morning. Shirley, I hope I can call you Shirley.
GEORGEI always wanted to.
BLACKWhat's your name?
GEORGEHi. I had a little painted turtle also.
GEORGEAnd it died and I really felt terrible about it.
BLACKYeah, well, you know, if they paint the turtles they will die and they shouldn't paint turtles.
GEORGEI agree. The paint comes off actually if the turtle lives long enough.
BLACKYeah, mine was about like a week and he expired.
GEORGEYou've already answered my questions and I just want to remark that a couple of years ago I saw your film "The Little Rebel" on television.
GEORGEAnd the scene of you on Abraham Lincoln's lap I think is one of...
BLACKSee that shows you how old I really am. Did you like that scene?
GEORGEIt's a beautiful scene. I think it's one of the best on film I ever saw.
BLACKWell, and he was a wonderful Abraham Lincoln. I remember he cut an apple in the scene for me. And it was a lovely scene and you're nice to remember it, George.
REHMThanks for calling.
REHMBye-bye. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." What about the whole process of colorization? Where are you on that issue, Shirley?
BLACKWell, I haven't seen any of my films, which I understand have been colorized. I, as an actress from way in the past, I'm against colorization because we spent hours with the best cinematographers, the best lighting experts getting all the shadows right for the mood of the scene, getting everything perfect. And the two films that I have seen -- other films, not my own -- that have been colorized, it seems to kind of flatten everything out. And the only thing that looks really good is a bouquet of flowers, you know.
BLACKBut I also though am not against modernization because I live for today and tomorrow. And if this is the way it's going to be, I just hope they have the original copies for those very interested in cinematography...
BLACK...who -- and the cinema who are able to see the original versions. It's awful for something like a Hitchcock movie where you have the dramatic, you know, values.
BLACKMorning, you're on the air.
JOHNOh boy. Well one, I agree with Shirley on the colorization thing. This is a great pleasure to talk to Shirley Temple.
BLACKThank you. What's your name?
JOHNMy name's John.
JOHNAnd Shirley, this is just between you and me, so everybody else turn off your radio.
BLACKOkay. Don't listen, Diane.
JOHNI had a tremendous crush on you when I was in grade school...
BLACKAnd you never told me, did you?
JOHNNo. I didn't know where to write to you. I probably would have if I could have.
BLACKOh, aren't you nice?
JOHNSent you a Valentine or something. But, you know, because I grew up in the '50s when your films were on television.
JOHNMy mother was a very big fan of yours and insisted that we always watch your movies every time they were on the tube. And so I had no problem with that.
BLACKWell, they didn't hurt you any, did they?
JOHNOh, no. They were wonderful, wonderful, wonderful movies. I've got two questions for you, okay?
JOHNFirst, I heard or read somewhere that you were the first choice to play the role of Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz."
JOHNAnd -- is it?
JOHNSo how was it that you did not get the part and Judy Garland did?
BLACKWell, it's a sad story in a way. Darryl Zanuck who was the head of 20th Century Fox Studio and Louis B. Mayer began negotiations for me to play Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz." And the deal they finally made was that they would borrow -- Fox Studio would borrow Jean Harlow and Clark Gable to make a film at Fox and I would be loaned to MGM to play Dorothy. Well, just at the last minute Jean Harlow suddenly died. And so the whole deal fell through. But, you know, in retrospect, I don't think they could've found a better Dorothy than Judy Garland in that role.
JOHNOh yeah, she was marvelous.
REHMAll right. And your other question, sir.
JOHNYes. When did you stop making movies and why?
BLACKWell, it's that Charlie Black again, that wonderful husband of mine.
JOHNOh, I see.
BLACKHe did tell me, you see, that he liked me. You didn't but he did. Charlie and I got married December 16 of 1950. I had made my last movie in 1949 called "A Kiss For Corliss." Wasn't a great movie but it did have David Niven in it. And Charlie and I -- well, he was recalled into the Navy during the Korea incident, or Korean War. And we moved to Washington, D.C., lived out in Bethesda, Md. on River Road. And that's where we were for the next two-and-a-half years. And I was through with make believe. I wanted to work in the real world.
REHMAll right, sir. Thanks so much for your call.
REHMBye-bye. You know, your qualities that made you such a winning child star are retained obviously in your adulthood. I wonder about your own knowledge of your qualities of lovability, playfulness, flirtatiousness. I mean, as a child you obviously had that and I wonder whether you knew how to do it and how it came to you.
BLACKI fell in love very easily. I fell in love with someone I would -- my father and mother would sit in the front seat of the car and I'd be in the backseat. And I'd flirt with anybody that I took a -- you know, any good handsome man. I'd fall in love with Forest Rangers. I fell in love with every leading man I worked with. And then my biggest crush I think was J. Edgar Hoover. And so I just thought...
REHMHe was crazy about you too. He was crazy about you.
BLACKHe was crazy about me. And he had the most comfortable lap that I have ever sat on. His lap was just right. It wasn't too soft and it wasn't too hard and it wasn't bony knees. It was a wonderful, comfortable lap. And he and I were very close friends. He was one of my heroes.
REHMYou've been listening to a very special rebroadcast of the 1988 interview I did with Shirley Temple Black after the publication of her book "Child Star." A short break and we'll be right back.
REHMYou're listening to a rebroadcast of a 1988 interview with Shirley Temple Black.
REHMHi, you're on the air.
JERRYGood morning, Diane.
JERRYWell, you've done it again.
JERRYYou have the propensity to keep outdoing yourself in bringing guests onto the show.
JERRYI'm certainly going to call back and order a copy of the show for my granddaughter.
BLACKThat's a good idea.
BLACKWho is this?
JERRYThis is Jerry.
BLACKI'm Shirley. Hi, Jerry.
JERRYHi. I have two questions I'd like to ask. I'd like to ask one of Shirley Temple and I'd like to ask the other of Ambassador Black.
JERRYBut I'm not quite sure which...
BLACKWe're both ready.
JERRYOkay, good. When I take my granddaughters out to eat some good restaurant, we find of course that every waitress...
JERRY...and every bartender knows how to mix a Shirley Temple.
JERRYBut nobody knows how to mix an Ambassador Black. Do you know how to mix an Ambassador Black?
BLACKI don't like the Shirley Temple drink, but...
JERRYWell, my granddaughters do.
BLACKI know, little children usually do. They're a little too saccharin and a little too sweet for me. But I'm currently suing a man in the Encino area of California who has -- his corporation has put out Shirley Temple in a bottle. It's called the Shirley Tea, and the original Shirley Temple soda pop or something. And I'm suing him because he's stolen my name.
REHMOh, my gosh.
JERRYWell, then you should.
BLACKWell, sure. I don't mind if every bartender and waitress and person in the world makes that drink, but I don't want to be in a bottle sold around the country.
JERRYWe -- myself and my granddaughters collect as many of your movies as we can find on tape, and they're always favorites, and...
JERRY...as I say, the girls enjoy being able to order a drink and have it known. But when the waitress asks for my order, I order an Ambassador Black and nobody knows what I'm...
BLACKUh-oh, what does she give you? What does she give...
JERRYDo you know how to mix it?
JERRYIt's exactly the like a Shirley Temple, only it's taller.
BLACKYou mean with the maraschino cherries and all that?
REHMAll right, sir.
REHMEnjoy it. Thanks for calling.
JERRYThe question I was gonna ask of Shirley Temple, but I guess it's already been answered is, when are you going to make another movie?
BLACKNo, I like international relations. And for the last eight years I've been working here at the Department of State, and I love Washington, D.C., and I like the people here and I like the work.
REHMYou must talk about your meeting with Franklin Delano Roosevelt and especially your encounter with Mrs. Roosevelt.
BLACKYes. Well, Eleanor Roosevelt came to meet me at the studio and watched me do a dance number with George Murphy, who later went on to be a United States Senator from California. And Eleanor was enthralled with our tap dance for "Little Miss Broadway." And she asked me, she stayed several hours and she said, when you come back to Washington, we'd very much -- I'd like you to meet my husband and I'd like you to come to my home. Well, we did both in 1938. And I met President Roosevelt in his office, and was very tight lipped in front of him.
BLACKFala, the dog, was lying there asleep, paid no attention to me. But the president said, I thought Shirley Temple smiled. Why aren't you smiling? And finally I had to tell him that another one of my teeth had dropped out that morning. And he kind of smiled. It was a front tooth, so it was, you know, right in the front and I was embarrassed about it. And he kind of giggled and chortled and said that he'd had that problem over the years himself. So that was my meeting with the president.
BLACKThen I went to Eleanor Roosevelt's estate, Hyde Park, and she was having a barbecue for us. She was cooking lamb chops over the barbecue. She had on a sundress. And she leaned over as she was turning the lamb chops, and in my purse I had my sling shot. And here I am -- I was really a tomboy, but America didn't know that. They thought I was always sweet and nice little girl.
REHMPrim and priss and...
BLACKAnd here's this 10-year-old kid, me, I open my purse, got out my trustee slingshot, picked up a pebble and hit her right on target in the rear as she bent over. And she went, oh, you know. And the Secret Service looked around, you know. What happened? What happened? Nobody saw what happened except my mother. And when we got back to the hotel, she punished me in the same area that I'd hit Mrs. Roosevelt.
BLACKAnd, you know, I'm sorry that I did that, Diane. She was one of my heroine and a role model, but I couldn't resist that target.
BLACKIt was right there.
REHMYeah, I understand that you're sorry you did it, but...
BLACKI really am.
REHM...it is such a sign of the normalcy of that child.
BLACKBad, bad child.
REHMHi, you're on the air.
UNIDENTIFIED MALEWell, I'm just thrilled, Diane. And I tell you I really am.
REHMGood. Me too.
MALEI have one question. I am -- first of all, you know that everybody is talking about the same little film that always stands out in my mind is "The Littlest Rebel." And I get -- and you answered another question that I was always thought it was Bojangles Robinson because -- I just don't know where I picked that up, but I always -- and I bet -- I bet someone knows Bojangles Robinson had danced with Shirley Temple in that movie.
BLACKOh, yes, absolutely. You're right.
MALEAnd they told me -- then people told me, oh, no, he's been dead for years. I said, no, no, he was an ex-slave. I know it was him. So you've answered that question. I have a real serious question. What relationship did you share -- I think you touched on it a little bit, but I have a feeling that he relationship between -- well, maybe not only Bojangles Robinson, but the other black characters that portrayed in "The Littlest Rebel," there was something beyond the film, that there was a more personal relationship that existed, that it was just not actors acting our parts, but it was something much more close than that.
BLACKNo, you're right.
MALEBut it comes across in the film, and you can't fake that.
BLACKI'm color blind. I always have been color blind. And when I went to Ghana as U.S. Ambassador, I was a white woman and there were 10 million black Africans there. And I think it didn't take more than three or four days, then you didn't even think about the color at all. And that's why one can be an effective ambassador with things like that. But in the movie you speak about, it was true there were a lot of children, and there were a lot of black children in it. And I had a lot of fun with them. They were -- in fact, one of them, the director had one little boy run up to my father who visited the set.
BLACKRarely did he come to the set. And so the little boy jumps up into my father's arms and says, Daddy, Daddy, Daddy. My father didn't have a great sense of humor about it, but I thought it was terribly funny.
REHMThanks so much for your call, sir.
MALEThank you, Diane.
REHMAppreciate your comments. One movie star that you did have the privilege of acting with early on was Ronald Reagan.
REHMYou talked about his being one of the best kissers.
BLACKYeah, I keep saying that, that he was one of the best kissers in films, but I hadn't kissed very many, now that I think about it. Kind of limited experience in the kissing department on film. Not in my private life.
REHMI understand that very well.
BLACKOh, I love boys. You know, that was great. But Ronald Reagan was more interested in 1948 when I made this film with him, more interested in the union problems of the film crew than he was in acting, in my opinion. And he was kind of showing that part already. During the film, I was secretly pregnant with my first daughter, Susan. And...
REHMThis was from your first marriage to...
REHM...to John Agar.
BLACKThat's correct. And Ronald Reagan was supposed to save me from a river in this movie. It was kind of a soap opera type thing. And we did the scene over and over with wind machines and all. Well, he got pneumonia and had to go to the hospital where he spent some time. And then his wife, at that time Jane Wyman, lost the baby that they were going to have. So it wasn't a terribly happy time for him. But he was -- he was a good sport about it and fairly good natured.
REHMAnd your marriage to John Agar wasn't a very happy time for you.
BLACKNo, that was four difficult years. I learned a lot. I was only 17 when I got married. And I certainly got married for a dumb reason. I got married because I wanted to be the first girl in the graduating class at high school to get married. That's not a very rational, mature judgment. And my mother couldn't do much about this because she had married at 17, so her argument was not -- in fact, she didn't fight it. She liked Jack Agar a lot. And I was very much in love with him, and tried and tried and tried to make it work. And we both made mistakes and it didn't work. And we finally got divorced and wished each other well.
REHMYou learned pretty quickly he had some very serious problems, for example, alcoholism.
BLACKWell, he drank a great deal. I don't know if I'd call it alcoholism, but he did drink a great deal. And then his personality would change. And he found a lot of other women to dance with, beautiful, long-legged, blonde starlets. And I'd sit at the table alone. And I think it was only 10 days after we got married that he not only danced with this beautiful blonde, but they had a long kiss on the dance floor. You know, their lips were locked together. And everyone looked at me to see what my reaction would be. And I looked at me too 'cause I had no idea what to do about this except to keep trying. And it didn't work, but I got a beautiful baby from that marriage, and then met my man, Charlie Black.
REHMWith whom you have been for 38 years.
BLACKYeah, December 16th we start number 39.
REHMOurs is the 19th of December, and we will start 29.
BLACKVery good, congratulations.
REHMThank you. Hi, you're on the air.
MARYANNHi, I'm calling because I'm a woman mainly with all these wonderful men friends, but I grew up...
BLACKWho are you?
MARYANNHi, Shirley. I'm Maryann.
MARYANNI'm sure you must be aware of the great influence you had on other little girls.
BLACKWell, I get mixed reaction. I met a lady in Boston yesterday who had gone to the beauty parlor when she was in Kindergarten.
BLACKHer mother wanted her to have a permanent. See, I had naturally curly hair.
MARYANNI know, but there's some of us with straight.
BLACKAll right. Well, she was taken to the beauty parlor, and it was the horrible machine that I guess they put on your head.
BLACKAnd when they took the thing off, the rods out, all of her hair came with it, and she was...
MARYANNOh, mine stayed.
BLACK...she started Kindergarten bald. And I said, do you hate me for that? She said, no, she said, I love being the only bald kid in Kindergarten. She had a good attitude, and she had lovely hair now.
REHMBut our caller...
MARYANNYes, well, I have a...
REHM...is so absolutely right about that.
BLACKDid you have a permanent, Maryann?
MARYANNWell, did I? I think I had a permanent love hate relationship with you.
BLACKYep, that's what happens. That's what happens.
MARYANNBut it was really marvelous, though, as I look back on it now.
BLACKNow, can I tell you a secret, Maryann?
MARYANNBeg your pardon?
BLACKCan I tell you a secret?
BLACKI wanted to be tall with long legs...
BLACK...and I wanted to have long, straight, black hair and bangs.
MARYANNWell, I'm not tall either.
BLACKYeah, so neither one of us did that, right?
MARYANNNeither one of us did. But I did dance.
MARYANNAnd I learned later in life that I wished I had kept it up a little more. My mother died when I was 17, and that was the influence.
BLACKOh, it's very good for you to dance.
BLACKIt's good for you. I mean, even carrying a tray in the kitchen...
MARYANNThat's right. That's right.
BLACK...you know, you do it nicely.
REHMThanks so much for calling.
MARYANNOh, thanks so much for having me. Bye-bye.
REHMYou're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Hi, you're on the air.
RUDYGood morning. Oh, boy, I just want to say, well, I'm nervous to begin with.
REHMDon't be nervous. It's all right. We're just two of us here in the studio.
BLACKYeah, we're all alone here.
RUDYWell, Shirley, I practically grew up with you in my childhood, that is to say, you know, spending time in front of the TV, and you just about made my childhood.
BLACKDid you watch the "Shirley Temple Storybook," the fairytale shows?
RUDYI think I watched just about everything, but...
RUDY...but strangely enough I never knew any titles to your movies. I just knew that, hey...
RUDY...Shirley Temple's on, let's watch it.
BLACKI don't know your title. Who are you?
RUDYOh, my name is Rudy.
RUDYHi. And, listen, I'm glad you survived the child prodigy syndrome. And when I was seven years old, I was in "The King and I" on Broadway originally.
RUDYAnd I didn't quite survive it as, you know, coming out a wholesome person, but...
BLACKWell, it must be awfully hard. My mother wouldn't let me do the stage. She wouldn't let me do tours...
BLACK...like I'm doing now for the book. And so, yeah, I hope you're okay now, Rudy.
RUDYOh, yeah, yes, I'm great. But my coworker and I were just commenting on your voice. As soon as we heard you, we heard the voice that, you know, we grew up with.
RUDYYes, I can still hear the cuteness...
BLACKI'm kind of a basso profondo now.
REHMExcept that the inflections remain very, very...
REHM...similar I think.
BLACKIsn't that interesting?
RUDYYou can hear the cuteness of the voice, as it's still maintaining.
REHMI agree. Well, I'm glad you're enjoying it.
BLACKWell, being cute at 60 is not easy.
REHMThanks so much for your call.
RUDYOh, I just got one question.
RUDYListen, I just want to know what is your opinion of the R rated movies today? Like, do you think it's really necessary to show R rated movies? 'Cause I just got a tremendous amount of joy in watching the movies without all the sex and violence.
REHMAll right. Thanks.
BLACKWell, I'm a foe of censorship, but I agree with you, there's some really rotten stuff out. But if people don't like it, they won't -- then they won't make them anymore. If there's public demand, people will go to see this kind of film. I don't go to movies anymore. Well, on rare occasions. Usually trapped in an airplane. I see a lot of things in airplanes.
REHMTell me how your career as a child star has affected your career in the diplomatic service, and what gifts you brought with you in that regard.
BLACKWell, Diane, Shirley Temple opens doors for me. Shirley Temple opens doors for me all over the world. And if Shirley Temple Black can contribute something, then I do. But I find when I go to other countries, for instance, when I met Anwar Sadat, who was one of my modern heroes, when I met Sadat, he said, my favorite film was "Heidi." Could you get a copy of that for me? And I was able to. When I met Golda Meir, her favorite film was "Heidi." And I thought, this is before they were getting along at all.
BLACKAnd then I met members of the PLO. They think of me as someone they've known forever, sort of like an old friend or a relative. Romanians, the Soviet Union, People's Republic of China. There's a wonderful love that I feel around the world, and that helps me my work because I like to try to help the U.S. national interests wherever I go, and try to work out settlements of things.
REHMWe're out of time and I'm really sad to...
REHM...have to shorten this.
BLACK...it's so much fun to work with you.
REHMWell, thank you so much.
BLACKYou have nice callers.
REHMI told you, they're just...
BLACKCan I do it again sometime?
REHMOh, I hope you'll come back and see me.
BLACKI'm doing a book too. I'm starting the outline.
REHMTerrific. And is this more?
BLACKThis will be the last 19 years of government service.
REHMWonderful. I will look forward to that. Thank you so much for being here.
BLACKThank you, Diane.
REHMThe book we've been talking about this morning is called "Child Star," and my guest this morning, Shirley Temple Black. You've been listening to a very special rebroadcast of one of my favorite interviews with Shirley Temple Black back in 1988. She died last week at age 85. Thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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