Shirley Temple Black died Monday night, her publicist confirmed. The iconic child star-turned-diplomat was 85 years old.
A dancer and an actress since the age of three, little Shirley Temple was Darryl Zanuck’s hope for saving 20th Century Fox, and it worked.
As long as our country has Shirley Temple, we will be all right.” President Franklin D. Roosevelt said. When the spirit of the people is lower than at any other time during this Depression, it is a splendid thing that for just 15 cents, an American can go to a movie and look at the smiling face of a baby and forget his troubles.”
I grew up in a house that strongly supported this idea. “On the Good Ship Lollipop“ is one of my earliest childhood memories, as is identifying with Shirley as another curly-haired little girl on my TV screen who loved to sing and dance. Of course she was being paid to do it, and I was just a kid in my pajamas in the living room on Saturday morning, but that didn’t really matter to me. She looked like she was having as much fun as I was, and that was the important thing.
What I learned from Shirley, among other performers I was exposed to as a child, is how wonderful it is to grow up with music. She brought it into American homes for decades long before I was born.
She wrote in her autobiography, Child Star, that her mom, Gertrude Temple, engineered her professional dancing career from the time she was three. She continued to act in films until the early 1960s, until she retired to raise her family and forge a career in politics. She won a special Academy Award in 1935, when she was only 6 years old, “in grateful recognition of her outstanding contribution to screen entertainment during the year 1934.” She made four films that year: The Little Colonel, Our Little Girl, Curly Top, and The Littlest Rebel.
Child stars take a lot of criticism and are often as famous for their tumultuous personal lives as they are for what they do onscreen. It’s safe to say their lives are not like other young children who don’t grow up in the public eye. “I stopped believing in Santa Claus when I was 6,” Temple said. “Mother took me to see him in a department store and he asked for my autograph.”
Regardless of this scrutiny, Shirley had no dramatic public stories. She left the entertainment spotlight by the mid-1960s after making 60 films and is remembered solely for her outstanding work — not for a controversy. She set her sights on a career in politics and international affairs, including stints as Ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia. “Politicians are actors too, don’t you think?” she said. “Usually if you like people and you’re outgoing, not a shy little thing, you can do pretty well in politics.”
Temple Black’s husband Charles died in 2005. She left behind two children, as well as grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Her family released this statement:
“We salute her for a life of remarkable achievements as an actor, as a diplomat, and most importantly as our beloved mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, and adored wife for 55 years of the late and much missed Charles Alden Black.”
This seems like the best possible way to be remembered, in addition to the memories of those of us around the world who grew up with Shirley’s songs and dancing in our lives. It’s a fine day to introduce a child in your life to “On the Good Ship Lollipop,” and to share a Shirley Temple topped with extra cherries, of course.