By A. Glenn Mandeville

Few would dispute that Shirley Temple was the biggest child star of all time. Born April 23, 1928, she was a breath of fresh air in a nation made weary by the Great Depression. For 15 cents, you could forget your troubles, sit in a cool theater, and live a life that many thought might be gone forever.

Temple was no stranger to show business. Appearing at age 3 with ringlets set by her mother (to imitate Mary Pickford), she would go on to appear in a staggering number of films and a lifetime in the public eye.

In 1957, the Ideal Toy Corporation issued a new generation of Shirley Temple dolls. Made of materials not available when the dolls were first released in the 1930s, these dolls were made of rigid vinyl with rooted, washable Saran hair, along with many fashions made from nylon fabric. On some models, the eyes opened and closed as well as rolling from side to side. These breathtaking new dolls were available in three sizes: 15, 17, and 19 inches. No extra boxed fashions were available for the dolls.

Photos courtesy of Richard Chapman and Mike Marquez.

At the heart of the reason for this release was the television show “Shirley Temple’s Storybook,” which introduced a whole new generation to Shirley Temple. The show aired in the late 1950s as a series of specials — Temple starred in some and narrated others — which also introduced a host of stars, including Claire Bloom, Charlton Heston, Agnes Moorhead, and Jonathan Winters. Invariably this led to a regular TV show that lasted until 1961 and to broadcasts of virtually all of Temple’s movies on TV. The time was right for Ideal to make another move appealing to another generation.

At the 1958 Toy Fair, Ideal introduced what it called miniature Shirley Temple dolls. At 12 inches tall, she still fit the name miniature doll, which virtually every manufacturer was using. This doll had all the qualities of the larger dolls and in addition had an extensive wardrobe that was of a superior quality. This doll was definitely one of the winners in the miniature fashion-doll race. The outstanding feature of this doll was the creamy vinyl and lifelike skin tones, along with amazing hair styling that only the most brave would disturb.

The dolls were so popular that they were advertised on television using actual footage from Shirley Temple films along with images of the new dolls. Considering that Madame Alexander considered TV advertising vulgar, as did other manufacturers, Ideal had an open field for advertising all their dolls in the late 1950s.

Ideal’s claim that 300,000 Shirley Temple dolls were sold within a six-month period added to the mystique of the dolls and the fashions available. The fashions were staggering and varied. Most were just pretty little-girl dresses, coats, and hats, along with popular movie costumes. Most notable were outfits from “Captain January” and “Wee Willie Winkie,” as well as a very rare cowgirl fashion.

Starting in 1958 and lasting until around 1961 were the store specials. These sets were often packaged in a television-screen box with various costumes. Having examined a few of these sets in person and on auction sites, I have never seen two that were exactly alike! They retailed for around $10, and I have seen leftover stock marked for as low as $5 in 1961, when it was obvious that Mattel’s Barbie doll had taken over the miniature market. The separate outfits usually came in one of two boxes and the stock numbers are meaningless, as retailers would often switch out a damaged box for a better one. Most outfits are tagged with an Ideal Shirley Temple tag and perhaps a purse.

Eventually, Shirley Temple moved on to a life in politics. Her married name was Shirley Temple Black, and she retained her sparkling personality until her passing February 10, 2014, leaving us with a shining legacy of classic films, dolls, paper dolls, and tons of memorabilia. She truly was “The World’s Darling,” as the buttons on the early dolls proclaimed.

A. Glenn Mandeville is the author of numerous books on dolls and doll collecting. Dolls from the collections of A. Glenn Mandeville and Tony Poe. Photos courtesy of Richard Chapman and Mike Marquez. Technical support by Richard Chapman