Film News: Former Child Star Shirley Temple Dies at 85

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SAN FRANCISCO – She was the biggest movie star in the world at less than 10 years old. Shirley Temple (Black) – who entertained Depression weary audiences through most of the 1930s with her curly haired optimism – died on February 10th of natural causes at 85, according to a family representative.

Shirley Temple
Shirley Temple in the Film ‘Bright Eyes’ (1934)
Photo credit: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Shirley Jane Temple had a remarkable life, beginning at a very young age as a megawatt child star, and after an attempt to transition into young adult roles, a “retirement” at 22 years old. Her next life phase included two marriages – the second lasting 54 years – and a productive era in politics and as a U.S. diplomat.

Temple was born in April of 1928 in Santa Monica, California. Her mother enrolled her in dance classes at the age of three, at the same time creating her famous ringlet hair style (copied from popular silent movie actress Mary Pickford). She made her film debut in 1932 in a series of educational films, and started doing bit parts for the studio system just one year later. In April of 1934, she starred in Fox studio’s “Stand Up and Cheer!,” her breakthrough, and a star-making vehicle the same year, “Bright Eyes.” What followed was an unprecedented string of Depression-era hit movies, and the child star moppet Shirley Temple was the biggest box office draw in the film business from 1935 to 1938.

Everything her image touched in that era turned to gold, from movies (“The Little Colonel,” “Curly Top,” “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm,” “The Little Princess.” “Heidi”) to songs (“On the Good Ship Lollipop”) to merchandising (dolls, dresses. soap, cutout books). During a time in which up to 25% of the U.S. population was out of work, Temple cleared $300,000 in royalties from the various products, doubling her film salary. It was a true Shirley Temple Mania.

In her transition to teen and young adult characters, Temple could not duplicate her earlier success, despite roles in now classic films like “Since You Went Away” (1944) and “The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer” (1947). She even co-starred with future president Ronald Reagan in “That Hagen Girl” (1947). During that period, she famously was married at 17 years old (to John Agar) and divorced four years later. She retired from movies at the ripe old age of 22, in 1950.

The second act of her life included a second marriage to Charles Black in 1950, which lasted until his death in 2005. Temple came back to television in the late 1950s, and made various appearances on that medium until the 1990s. But it was her involvement in politics – as Shirley Temple Black – that redefined her image in later life. After an unsuccessful run for Congress in 1967, the self-proclaimed “liberal Republican” became an ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia, and the first female Chief of Protocol of the United States for President Gerald Ford. During that time, she also sat on the boards of corporations including The Walt Disney Company and Del Monte, and charities like the United Nations Association and the National Wildlife Federation.

Shirley Temple Black died of natural causes at her home in Woodside, California, near San Francisco. She is survived by three children.

Her fame during the height of the 1930s could be summed up in this reminiscence…”I stopped believing in Santa Claus when I was six. Mother took me to see him in a department store and he asked for my autograph.” And finally about her early movie career…”I class myself with Rin Tin Tin. People in the Depression wanted something to cheer them up, and they fell in love with a dog and a little girl.”

Source material for this article came from Wikipedia and Reuters. Shirley Temple Black, 1928-2014. senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Senior Staff Writer

© 2014 Patrick McDonald,

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