Shirley Temple Black: Iconic Child Star and Diplomat Dies

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Shirley Temple Black, whose dimples and curls captivated audiences for generations, died late Monday evening. The former child star and diplomat passed away due to natural causes in her California home. She was 85 years old.

Born Shirley Jane Temple on April 23, 1928 in Santa Monica, California, she began her film career when she was only three years old. That is when Temple Black began dancing at a studio run by Ethel Meglin. Meglin was a former Ziegfeld Follies girl, and her studio served as a starting point for the child actor’s career. It wasn’t long until Temple Black was discovered by Charles Lamont, who cast her in Baby Burlesks. In the Baby Burlesks series, toddlers parodied roles major stars of the day portrayed on film. Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich were such roles the young Temple Black played.

The actress rapidly became a box office smash, eventually able to command $50,000 per movie, a salary unheard of at the time. She found wild success in film during the Great Depression, and Temple Black placed herself on even-footing with the dog Rin Tin Tin. ”At the end of the Depression, people were perhaps looking for something to cheer themselves up. They fell in love with a dog and a little girl. It won’t happen again.”

In 2006, Temple Black was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Screen Actors Guild. In a press release, the President of the Guild at the time, Melissa Gilbert, said she could not think of anyone more deserving of the award. “Her contributions to the entertainment industry are without precedent; her contributions to the world are nothing short of inspirational. She has lived the most remarkable life, as the brilliant performer the world came to know when she was just a child, to the dedicated public servant who has served her country both at home and abroad for 30 years. In everything she has done and accomplished, Shirley Temple Black has demonstrated uncommon grace, talent, and determination, not to mention compassion and courage.”

In 1934, she appeared in ten movies, including Stand Up and Cheer, Little Miss Marker, Baby Take a Bow, and Bright Eyes. In the latter, she would sing and dance in one of her most remembered numbers, “On the Good Ship Lollipop.” By six, she was awarded with a Juvenile Academy Award; it was an unprecedented honor to mark her contributions to the entertainment industry.

From 1935 to 1938, she led the box office and lifted the nation’s spirits, staring in films alongside heavyweight stars of the day like Lionel Barrymore, Jimmy Durante, and Gary Cooper. She appeared in over forty motion pictures, playing most of her roles before reaching the age of 12. The pace of movies fell off as she reached adolescence and adulthood — her last movie as a child actress would be The Blue Bird. The end of her child acting days did not close the book on her success. She would once again light up screens across America narrating and taking part in the television programs Shirley Temple’s Storybook and The Shirley Temple Show through 1961. In addition to further on-screen accolades, Temple Black also had political ambitions.

She did not win her bid for a Congressional seat in the 1960s, but did distinguish herself with a diplomatic career. In 1969, she was appointed by President Nixon to serve as a delegate for the U.S. to the 24th United Nations General Assembly.”Those who have observed her at the United Nations say she has come into her own as a mature, serious-minded woman and a hard-working, effective diplomat,” the Los Angeles Times reported in 1970.

Dante Fascell, a Democratic Representative from Florida, added that working with her had been “a pleasure.” Of her tenure with the UN, Fascell told Temple Black she “took over even more than your share of the burden. Despite the critics, Mrs. Black not only served ably, but she was able to get the news coverage that none of us could get.”

Temple Black went on to serve diplomatically in other Republican administrations. In 1974, President Ford named her the Ambassador to the Republic of Ghana, and in 1989, President Bush appointed her as the Ambassador to Czech and Slovak Federal Republic. She also served in the State Department under Reagan, was the first woman to be White House Chief of Protocol (during the Ford Administration), and held other posts at the United Nations.

In 1998, Temple Black was honored by the Kennedy Center for her lifetime contribution to the arts and American culture. She held honorary doctorates from the University of Santa Clara and Lehigh University. In 1999, she was ranked 18 out of 25 among women on the American Film Institute’s list of the greatest film legends.

Temple Black was married twice; first to John Agar who she met on set filming Fort Apache. The couple had one daughter together, and divorced a few years later, and in 1950, she met Charles Black while vacationing in Hawaii. She had two more children with Black. The LA Times reports Temple Black is survived by her son, two daughters, a granddaughter, and two great-granddaughters.

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