Why Did Shirley Temple Get Divorced?

Shirley Temple was Hollywood’s biggest box office star in the 1930s, starring in nearly 30 movies before she reached the age of 10.

Temple continued to act into her teens, but her later movies weren’t quite as successful. Two of those films included Adventure in Baltimore and Fort Apache, both of which she starred in alongside her husband at the time, fellow actor John Agar.

Agar and Temple tied the knot in 1945, when Temple was just 17 years old. But the marriage was ultimately short-lived, ending in divorce less than five years later. Here’s what you should know about Temple’s troubled first marriage to Agar.

Shirley Temple and John Agar at their wedding
Shirley Temple and John Agar at their wedding in 1945 | Keystone/Getty Images

Agar married Temple when she was just 17

Agar was raised in a prominent Chicago meatpacking family and attended prestigious college preparatory schools as a young man. After high school, he joined the Navy Air Corps and later transferred to the U.S. Army Air Corps, where he rose the ranks and became a physical education instructor and sergeant.

Temple met 22-year-old Agar when she was just 15 years old. According to The Guardian, the pair was introduced at a party hosted by Temple’s manager, David O. Selznick, and the rest was history.

The couple tied the knot two years later on Sept. 19, 1945, in an Episcopalian wedding ceremony for over 500 guests at Wilshire Methodist Church in Los Angeles. Agar and Temple’s wedding reception – at Temple’s parents’ palatial California home – was celebrated by over 700 partygoers, Calisphere reports.

The young bride, then 17, was excited to start her widely-publicized new life with Agar – and her manager was keen to make an actor of him as well.

Selznick quickly signed Temple’s husband on with a five-year management contract at $150 per week. The couple appeared in two movies together: the successful Western Fort Apache and the anti-suffragette-themed Adventure in Baltimore, which was widely panned.

Shirley Temple, John Agar, and Linda Susan Agar in 1948
Shirley Temple, John Agar, and Linda Susan Agar in 1948 | Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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The couple’s marriage was affected by Agar’s alleged alcoholism

On Jan. 30, 1948, Temple and Agar welcomed their daughter, Linda Susan Agar, into the world. But their marriage was already on the rocks.

According to The Telegraph, Temple recalls in her autobiography, Child Star, that her first marriage was never as ideal as it might have seemed. She began to see red flags as early as their honeymoon, when Agar questioned whether he was really Temple’s first sexual partner. Temple also claimed that her husband had an unpredictable temper that sometimes even exploded into violence against her.

What’s more, Agar allegedly drank excessively and was arrested several times in the early days of his marriage to his new bride for drinking and driving. His reckless behavior reportedly didn’t stop there, as Temple frequently discovered Agar was unfaithful to her during their brief marriage.

Shirley Temple Black and Charles Black
Shirley Temple Black and Charles Black in 1965 | Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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Temple accused Agar of ‘mental cruelty’ in her divorce filing

Finally, just four years after marrying Agar, Temple filed for divorce from her first husband. She cited “mental cruelty” as the reason for the divorce, which she was granted – along with custody of the couple’s daughter – at the end of 1949.

However, Temple moved on, marrying Charles Alden Black just a year later in Dec. 1950. (She would go by Shirley Temple Black for the rest of her life.) Temple and Black had two children together – Charles Alden Black, Jr., and Lori Black – and were happily married for over 50 years until his death in 2005.

Meanwhile, Agar continued to struggle with his drinking habits. He was arrested for drinking under the influence of alcohol several more times over the subsequent years. AmoMama reports that Agar even seemed to hold a grudge against his ex-wife years later. When Agar was asked to provide information for an FBI background check when Temple embarked on a political career, he allegedly claimed the former child actor was “emotionally unstable.”

Still, Temple’s ex-husband went on to become a staple in a number of sci-fi B-movies, as well as appearing in several other westerns. He married model Loretta Combs in 1951, with whom he shared nearly 50 years of marriage until her death in 2000.