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Shirley Temple Black dead at 85: Child star made America forget Great Depression

Shirley Temple Black, an American film and television actress, singer and dancer, who later entered politics, died late Monday night at the age of 85 at her home in Woodside, California.

Shirley Temple Black dies at 85. Entertainer Bill 'Bojangles' Robinson and Shirley Temple in a scene from one of their films.
Shirley Temple Black dies at 85. Entertainer Bill 'Bojangles' Robinson and Shirley Temple in a scene from one of their films. (ARCHIVE PHOTOS/GETTY IMAGES)
Shirley Temple, who died Monday at the age of 85, is pictured in a Christmas photo from 1935, in an era where she was considered an American institution.
Shirley Temple, who died Monday at the age of 85, is pictured in a Christmas photo from 1935, in an era where she was considered an American institution.SILVER SCREEN COLLECTION/GETTY IMAGES

She rose to fame as arguably the most popular child star in Hollywood history. She began acting at age 3 and became a massive box-office draw before turning 10, commanding a then unheard of salary of $50,000 per movie.

According to Wikipedia, Her first film of notice was in 1932 when she played in "War Babies," part of the "Baby Burlesks" series of short films. In April 1934, "Stand Up and Cheer!" became Temple's breakthrough film. Her charm was evident to Fox heads and she was promoted well before the film's release. Within months, she became the symbol of wholesome family entertainment. Her salary was raised to $1,250 a week, and her mother's to $150 as coach and hairdresser. In June, her success continued with a loan-out to Paramount for "Little Miss Marker."

On December 28, 1934, "Bright Eyes" was released. It was the first feature film crafted specifically for Temple's talents and the first in which her name appeared above the title. Her signature song "On the Good Ship Lolliop" was introduced in the film and sold 500,000 sheet music copies. The film demonstrated Temple's ability to portray a multi-dimensional character and established a formula for her future roles as a lovable, parentless waif whose charm and sweetness mellow gruff older men.

In her adulthood, she went from a beloved child icon to national diplomatic figure, serving four presidents. According to Politico, Shirley Temple Black served four presidents.

  • Served in three ambassadorships, her first was a diplomatic post was as U.S. delegate to the United Nations by President Richard Nixon in 1969.
  • She was also the ambassador to Ghana from 1974 to 1976, appointed by President Gerald Ford.
  • Worked for the Department of State as a foreign affairs officer-expert from 1981 to 1989 under President Ronald Reagan.
  • Then she was the ambassador to Czechoslovakia from 1989 to 1992, appointed by President George H.W. Bush.

She ran for office in an unsuccessful campaign for the U.S. House in 1967. Running as a Republican, Shirley Temple Black sought to replace the deceased Rep. J. Arthur Younger to represent San Mateo County, Calif., saying at the time she wanted to break the all-male hold on California’s congressional seats. She lost to Republican Rep. Pete McCloskey.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously declared: "As long as our country has Shirley Temple, we will be all right. 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."

At the Kennedy Center Honors in 1998, President Bill Clinton praised Temple Black’s service. "Shirley Temple had the greatest short career in movie history and then gracefully retired to, as we all know, the far less strenuous life of public service," Clinton said. "She did a masterful job as ambassador, from Ghana to Czechoslovakia, where she made common cause with Vaclav Havel in the final, decisive days of the cold war. In fact, she has to be the only person who both saved an entire movie studio from failure and contributed to the fall of communism. From her childhood to the present day, Shirley has always been an ambassador for what is best about America."

Shirley Temple Black will never be forgotten.

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Sources:

POLITICO

Boston Globe

Wikipedia

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Send John Presta an email and your story ideas or suggestions, johnpresta@att.net.

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