Shirley Temple, the original child star, dies at 85

Actress retired from screen life at age of 22 and later embarked on a career as a diplomat

Wed, Feb 12, 2014, 01:00

Shirley Temple Black, the iconic child star whose 1930s screen performances brightened up America in the darkest days of the Great Depression, has died at the age of 85


A major box-office draw between 1935 and 1939, the little girl with a mop of blond ringlets was best known for her roles in films such as Curly Top , The Little Colonel and The Littlest Rebel after her rendition of Baby Take a Bow in 1934’s Stand Up and Cheer first charmed movie audiences.

Photographed more often than president Franklin D Roosevelt, Temple, who was born in Santa Monica, California, started performing at the age of three after her mother enrolled her in dance classes.

Her performances made her the most popular film star in the late 1930s, outshining adult stars such as Clark Gable and Greta Garbo.

‘Little Miss Miracle’
Her cheery performances earned praise from Roosevelt who named her “Little Miss Miracle” for lifting the morale of the American public during the Great Depression with her performances.

“As long as our country has Shirley Temple, we will be all right,” he said.

She won a special Academy Award in 1935 at the age of six for “outstanding contribution to screen entertainment”.

By the time she reached her late teens her popularity had waned but by then her success in the movies had made her a multimillionaire as the films spawned lucrative merchandise including dolls and clothes that capitalised on her clean-cut image of precocious American youth.

Temple retired from screen life at the age of 22 after appearing in 23 movies and later embarked on a second career as a diplomat.

In 1950 she married Charles Black, a marriage that lasted until his death in 2005. She sat on the boards of major corporations, including the Walt Disney Company and Del Monte, and became a fundraiser for the Republicans, running unsuccessfully for Congress in 1967.

She was appointed a delegate to the United Nations General Assembly by president Richard Nixon in 1969 and was later appointed US ambassador to Ghana from 1974 to 1976, shining in the role to the surprise of many career diplomats.

She served as chief of protocol for president Gerald Ford in 1976 and 1977 and was appointed US ambassador to Czechoslovakia in 1989 by George HW Bush.

Adopting an ambassadorial role for cancer sufferers, she won public praise when she spoke out about breast cancer after undergoing a mastectomy in 1972.

She urged women not to “sit home and be afraid” and raised awareness for an illness that was little talked about at the time.

Temple Black’s publicist said that the former Hollywood star died of natural causes at her home in Woodside, California on Monday. Her family saluted her “for a life of remarkable achievements as an actor, as a diplomat and [as] our beloved mother, grandmother [and] great-grandmother.”

When she was honoured by the Screen Actors Guild in 2006, she joked: “I have one piece of advice for those of you who want to receive the lifetime achievement award – start early.”