This morning we learned of the death of Shirley Temple Black. Although Mrs. Black passed away at age 85, to baby boomers and pre-boomers, Shirley Temple will always stay that little girl with curls, singing and dancing to the songs "On the Good Ship Lollipop," "Animal Crackers In My Soup," and, of course, “Polly Wolly Doodle.”
A film star during the 1930's and 40's she was the youngest person ever to win an Academy Award. Shirley Temple was easily one of the most recognized persons in the world, some say as much, or more than both Presidents Hoover and Roosevelt, as well as the baseball great Babe Ruth, or cinema star Bette Davis. America related to her innocence. The world loved her because she made us feel good when times were tough.
Shirley Temple knew when it was time to retire from her film career. At the age of 21 she called it quits and moved on with the rest of her life. Many child stars have struggled with the pressures of stardom, turning to drugs, alcohol, and even crime. Others faced bouts of depression, or worse, suicide. Some of us remember the very public fall of McKenzie Philips. The child star of the 70's TV show One Day at a Time, she was swept away by drugs and alcohol. The same happened to Dana Plato and Gary Coleman - both starred on the show Different Strokes. And there are many others, who for a time were shining lights. Their lives simply crashed from having to carry the unbearable weight of great fame at an early age. Shirley Temple, however, became a successful mother, wife, and eventually a U.N. Ambassador.
Some may say that the world has become more complicated since the reign of Shirley Temple. Not so. Many child stars from that period also suffered the same collapse after stardom. A number of the cast of the popular “Our Gang” comedy films had problems dealing with their fame, too. Matthew Bear, who played Stymie, led a life of drugs and crime. Little Scotty, (Scotty Beckett) had a history of violence and drugs. He died at age 38 of an overdose of barbiturates. Carl Switzer, who played the hilarious Alfalfa, was shot to death during an argument that he apparently started. Many times stardom, especially child stardom, was a recipe for disaster.
Shirley Temple never let us down. She simply walked away from stardom and carried on with her life. Losing Shirley is a little like losing part of our own innocence. Despite the many dark places the world has been since the 1930’s we have always had the image of Shirley Temple dancing and singing “Polly Wolly Doodle." It made us all feel better.
Sometimes we should just be like Shirley Temple and sing “Polly Wolly Doodle” all day. Thank you, Shirley. You were a class act.