What second chance would you like to have?

It was a long time ago but we’ll never forget the “self-reliant” little girl with the golden ringlets. The little girl whose mother always said, “Smile, Shirley.”

I loved seeing her on the silver screen, and I loved drinking my milk from a Shirley Temple cup. But most of all, I loved playing and imagining with my Shirley Temple paper dolls.

Especially, the one that was almost life size. The one that still lies carefully boxed in my basement.

If you were young with Shirley Temple, you simply can’t forget the fun of it. And this week I spent my evenings with nostalgia–looking at Shirley’s movies. Shirley dancing. Shirley smiling. Shirley singing. Shirley making everyone around her happy.

It makes you feel good to see a movie like that. But the truth is this time I wasn’t really looking too hard at Shirley Temple.

No, this time my eyes were focused on Shirley’s co-star–Gloria Stuart. The beautiful smiling young woman who made more than 45 movies a half-century ago and then seemed to disappear from sight only to reappear as an 87-year-old star in the film of the century.

Playing with Shirley Temple was only a tiny part of Stuart’s early career. Two movies to be exact–“The Poor Little Rich Girl” and “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.” But it was enough to give me a feel for Stuart’s personality and style.

Says Stuart of Shirley Temple, “She was a miracle to work with.” She describes Shirley as polite, sweet, and professional. And watching the old classics, I wondered if Stuart’s co-stars wouldn’t have said the same about her.

By the same token, I couldn’t help asking where Stuart has been for the last half-century and why, up until last year, her name was only vaguely familiar.

It’s true that Stuart did leave Hollywood very early in her career. But it’s also true that she didn’t sink into boredom for a half-century and then suddenly become an Academy Award nominee in her ninth decade. Gloria Stuart has built a life, and being a star in “Titanic” at 87 is its logical conclusion.

After the 1930s, most of Stuart’s acting was on the stage. She became an activist with the Screen Actors Guild to follow her political convictions. And successfully took up painting. She also accepted occasional screen roles that suited her.

Thus it was that the energetic, intelligent actress was ready when her big opportunity came.
So what about your life? Why not think back to the beginning of your career. When you were a rising star as a young teacher. Or were first made factory foreman. When you took over the farm. Or got your first promotion at the bank. When you were fresh out of medical school.

When your career was at its fresh and glowing best.

Think back to that time, then think of all the wonderful things that you’ve done in between. And understand how qualified all those life experiences have made you.

Then think about what opportunities are available to you now. Are they entrepreneurial? Or volunteer? Or in the workforce? Are they a replay of something you’ve done before? Or would you like to dabble in something totally new?

Because after all, if Gloria Stuart could have a second chance, why shouldn’t you?

Marie Snider is an award-winning health care writer and syndicated columnist.