Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Temple Tuesday: Shirley Speaks Out!

When the name “Shirley Temple” comes up, most people think of the little girl that cheered up movie audiences during the 1930’s Depression with her songs, dances, and positive attitude. In 1972, Shirley performed an even greater service by speaking publicly about her breast cancer surgery. While this may not seem like much in an era of over-sharing, Shirley’s bravery was incredible as breast cancer was a taboo topic that many women were too embarrassed about to mention in public. Accompanying this publicity shot was the following caption:

11/6/72 STANFORD, CALIF: Shirley Temple Black, former child movie star, disclosed 11/6 that she has undergone surgery for removal of a breast because of Cancer. Mrs. Black is shown recovering at the Stanford medical Center here 11/6. She had the operation last Friday.

My memory was jogged about this courageous action when Shirley expert supreme, Rita Dubas, put a video on her youTube channel showing Shirley’s May 25, 1973 appearance on “The Mike Douglas Show.” Guests included Tony Bennett, Muhammed Ali, Corbett Monica (comedian), and Lorna Luft, (daughter of Judy Garland). “As a child, a star that the whole world adored,” Douglas said in his introduction. “As an adult, a concerned American and special assistant to the chairman of the President's Council of Environmental Quality. Here is Mrs. Shirley Temple Black.” Predictably, Shirley’s entrance was accompanied by a piano arrangement of “On the Good Ship Lollipop.” Douglas immediately mentioned a previous appearance on his show where they had shown a movie clip from one of her childhood films. “What kind of feelings does that evoke?” “I feel all of 45 years old,” Shirley replied, “which is what I am!” Shirley was not one to wallow in the past or rest on her laurels of long ago.

Just a few months before, Shirley had written an article about her experience with breast cancer that appeared in the February 1973 issue of McCall’s magazine.

Douglas asked her why she announced the news in this fashion. “It was a shock to me to find out that I had this malignant problem, and I had one day to make a decision between the biopsy and the mastectomy…in other words, the removal of a breast. And so, during that one day between the biopsy and the operation itself, I thought, ‘What can I do to help my sisters in the United States and in the World?’ And I talked to my daughters and my husband, and my son, and decided that it would be best to announce that it happened to me, and maybe that way I could help my sisters to check for unusual lumps, and unusual symptoms, and to go to the doctors regularly, and to do self-examinations.” Shirley received 50,000 letters in just two short weeks after the surgery. She wrote the article the day she got home and finished it in two weeks. “I hope that ladies will read it.…I titled it, ‘Don’t sit home and be afraid’ because I’ve got three girlfriends at home right now that have lumps, and they are afraid, and they’re not going to the doctor, and I keep calling them up. They don’t like to hear me on the phone anymore! But you know, if you don’t make the decision to do this, the alternatives are worse, because you die. It’s that simple.”

The episode shows a very poised and knowledgeable woman who answered candidly all the questions that Douglas asked about her experience. With humor when it was appropriate, Shirley showed all of the world that she was a brave woman who had much to do with her life and was not about to let cancer get in the way. Here is Shirley’s portion of that show; definitely worth watching.

In chatting back and forth about this episode, Rita remembered a recipe that Shirley had shared on television once (probably on an earlier Douglas episode) for Shirley Temple Black’s Quick Dinner. Rita recalls it being a delicious mixture of chopped beef, tomato paste, and vegetables in a skillet. Her mom sent away for the recipe, but it has been lost to the ages. Anyone out there recall or have this treasured recipe?

See more Shirley Temple Black photos at my main website.


Fifthrider said...

It's kind of sad to think there was a time shame overcame self-preservation. Today you can't get people to stop talking about their maladies. ( Self included ) Good for Shirley, she may have saved lives by making it a public topic.

Melissa said...

The particular kind of cancer that I had is one that has a high cure rate if caught early, but a low survival rate overall because it so rarely *is* caught early. Much respect to Mrs. Black and all the pioneers who got people talking.

Daveland said...

Thanks for sharing, Melissa - I hope you are doing ok now.

Mark said...

As a man who has women in his family where this has been an issue, thank you for posting this, Dave!

Melissa said...

Thanks, Dave - sixteen years cancer-free.