*Includes the child stars' quotes about their own lives and careers.
*Includes bibliographies for further reading.
Shirley Temple remains the most famous child star of all time, but even this designation fails to reflect the magnitude of her popularity during the era in which she worked. While it is true that she was not the first child actor to reach Hollywood fame, she was the first - and to this day, perhaps the only - star who rose to the very pinnacle of the Hollywood elite before she even turned 10 years old. For this reason, it is no exaggeration to view Shirley as the progenitor for all of the child actors that succeeded her. Moreover, her cultural importance constitutes an even more important barometer through which to measure her overall significance. Not only was Shirley a film star, but she had a monumental impact on a generation of children who grew up during the Great Depression, with her plucky optimism emotionally uplifting an American public struggling both financially and emotionally. She was not only a young actress but also a brand name, someone who offered fathers and mothers hope for their children to achieve the same success as the famous child star. Yet, for all of Shirley Temple's fame, it is no doubt surprising to many that her actual films received scant critical acclaim. Her films were never mentioned on critical "best of" lists, nor did they regularly appear on the list of nominees for the Academy Awards.
In many ways, Judy Garland's rise to fame seems almost predestined. Not only was she a national sensation at a young age, but her parents and sisters were all vaudeville entertainers. On top of that, Garland's parents owned and operated a movie theater, making it all the easier to draw the conclusion that singing and acting were simply professions which she was born into by virtue of her pedigree. Judy's early childhood quickly demonstrated that she had a gifted voice that developed well beyond its years and seemingly did not require any formal training in order to achieve success; her first performance before a public audience came when she was still a toddler, and she would continue to act up until her death, never pausing for more than a few months at a time. That Garland was able to secure starring roles almost immediately after signing a contract with MGM in 1935 only corroborates the belief that Garland was practically born with the ability to succeed in show business and the motion picture industry.
Of course, Garland might be known today based more on her demise than anything else, and there's no denying that one of the most fascinating (and tragic) aspects of her life story is the manner in which her downward spiral occurred with the same rapid progression as her meteoric ascent. Garland died in 1969 at the age of 47, but she had lost control over her life years earlier and was actually fortunate to live as long as she did.
Alongside Shirley Temple and Judy Garland, with whom he acted in a series of films, Mickey Rooney was one of America's most beloved child stars during the 1930s. Rooney had already made his mark in A Family Affair (1937), but he was the face of the incredibly successful Andy Hardy series, which produced several box office hits and featured Rooney in 13 movies, several alongside Judy Garland, who shot to fame as a teen in The Wizard of Oz.
At the same time, the fact that the peak of his success came when he was so young has helped obscure the fact that he has acted in 10 different decades. Rooney is one of the only actors still alive who worked in the silent film era, yet he recently appeared in 2012's Last Will and Embezzlement. In the process, Rooney has been awarded a Juvenile Academy Award, an Honorary Academy Award, two Golden Globes and an Emmy Award.