Buddy Ebsen liked to tell the story about the time he tried to get Shirley Temple to rehearse their dance sequence for 1936’s Captain Jan. “She got there and asked my dad, ‘Is the dance set?’” Buddy’s daughter Kiki Ebsen Tells Close. “He said, ‘No, I’m going to make a couple of changes.’ She turned around and said, ‘Call me when it’s set, and I’ll learn it.’ The point is, she didn’t have time to learn a dance that wasn’t set.”
Shirley, who was 8 at the time, learned to perform in an hour. “He was very impressed with her talent,” adds Kiki.
There has never been another child star as beloved as Shirley, who made 29 films by the time she turned 10, but she didn’t live a fairy-tale existence. She worked long hours and received death threats, but she retired at the age of 22 with only $40,000 in her bank. “I stopped believing in Santa Claus at the age of six when my mother took me to see him in a store and he asked for my autograph,” she once quipped.
At 3, Shirley began taking…