Shirley Temple's Death Reminds Us There Are Still Few Protections For Child Stars

Few Protections For Child Actors Exist Even Today
American child actress Shirley Temple. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
American child actress Shirley Temple. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

At the end of Shirley Temple's life, we remember her as one of the first child stars. Appearing in more than 50 films before retiring at age 22, Temple was the biggest star -- child or adult -- of Hollywood's Golden Age.

She was hailed as one of the few child actors to truly survive child stardom. Hollywood, though, wasn't kind to the children it employed and offered far less protection to performing minors than the little that is available today. By her own account, Temple endured incidences of emotional and sexual abuse from producers, and was left all with next to nothing after her father mismanaged her earnings, which were valued at more than $3 million

According to the Washington Post, in her 1988 autobiography, “Child Star,” Temple wrote that she once inquired about her investments only to discover that she was left with only $30,000 to her name; half had gone to her parents and the rest paid the for living expenses of other family members.

Temple wrote that she "felt neither disappointment nor anger" toward her father for failing to put her money in a court-ordered trust. The same, however, cannot be said for countless child actors who suffered similar fates in the following years.

Temple made the majority of her fortune between 1935 and 1939, which was the same year California responded to plight of child actor Jackie Coogan. The California Child Actor's Bill aka The Coogan Law, was passed after Coogan turned 21 and realized that his parents had spent nearly all of his money. Today the law, which has been updated over the years, requires a child's employer to set aside 15 percent of their earnings in a trust that is the sole property of the child and can only be accessed once the child turns 18.

But even with the law in place, that means the remaining 85 percent of a child performer's earnings are left unprotected, and there have been countless stars who have taken their parents to court for spending their hard earned cash. LeAnn Rimes, Mimi Gibson, and Gary Coleman famously sued their parents for squandering or mismanaging their money.

While Coogan's Law has been updated over the years to include more protection for child actors, minors appearing on reality shows are left completely open to financial exploitation. Just as the Hollywood Walk of Fame refuses to honor reality stars, Coogan's Law does not recognize the children that appear on these shows as performers, or even as workers, which also denies them the protection of child labor laws (of which 18 states have no laws to protect child actors and only half of the states require work permits).

So while it's likely that stars such as Kendall and Kylie Jenner (who audiences watched grow up on "Keeping Up with the Kardashians") likely had trusts in place from their father Bruce Jenner's reported $100 million fortune, it's more worrisome for children whose families rely on their reality show paydays as their main source of income.

A child reality star such as Alana "Honey Boo Boo" Thompson is entirely reliant on her parents to ensure her earnings are being set aside for the future, since the state of Georgia doesn't require trust accounts for any child actor, according to USA Today. Alana's mother, June Shannon, told TMZ in January 2013 that she voluntarily set up trust funds for her four daughters and grandchild. Even though she rests easy knowing that her children can "look back and say, 'Mama played it smart. Not like those other reality TV people,'" there would be no protections in place.

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