People

Published: Wednesday February 12, 2014 MYT 2:25:00 PM
Updated: Monday April 14, 2014 MYT 9:29:16 PM

Remembering Shirley Temple 1928-2014, child star who became diplomat

Shirley Temple in an undated publicity photo taken during her heyday as a child star in 1930s Hollywood. The star-turned-diplomat passed away on Monday at the age of 85. – AFP/HO

Shirley Temple in an undated publicity photo taken during her heyday as a child star in 1930s Hollywood. The star-turned-diplomat passed away on Monday at the age of 85. – AFP/HO

From her beginnings as an adorable child star to her illustrious adult career as a US diplomat, we take a look back at Shirley Temple Black’s celebrated life.

SHIRLEY Temple Black, who lifted America’s spirits as a bright-eyed, dimpled child movie star during the Great Depression and forged a second career as a US diplomat, died late on Monday evening at the age of 85.

Black, who lured millions to the movies in the 1930s, “peacefully passed away” at her Woodside, California, home from natural causes, surrounded by her family and caregivers, her family said in a statement on Tuesday.

“We salute her for a life of remarkable achievements as an actor, as a diplomat, and most importantly as our beloved mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, and adored wife of 55 years,” the statement said.

As actress Shirley Temple, she was precocious, bouncy and adorable with a head of curly hair, tap-dancing through songs like On The Good Ship Lollipop.

As Ambassador Shirley Temple Black, she was soft-spoken and earnest in postings in Czechoslovakia and Ghana, out to disprove concerns that her previous career made her a diplomatic lightweight.

“I have no trouble being taken seriously as a woman and a diplomat here,” Black said after her appointment as US ambassador to Ghana in 1974. “My only problems have been with Americans who, in the beginning, refused to believe I had grown up since my movies.”

Tributes to Black streamed in on Tuesday following the news of her death.

Former US President George H.W. Bush, who appointed Black as ambassador to the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic, said she excelled as both a child star and a diplomat.

“She captured the affections of millions around the world by her endearing performances on the silver screen as a young girl, but I also admired Shirley for her selfless service to our country later in her life,” he said in a statement.

The Czech government praised Black, saying she became one of the symbols of the country’s newly won freedom when she served as the US ambassador in Prague from 1989 until 1992.

“With her charm and openness, she greatly contributed to the renovation of an old friendship of our countries and nations,” the Czech Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The entertainment world also mourned her death and turned to Twitter to express its sadness.

“Little Shirley Temple raised the spirits of a nation during the Great Depression. RIP,” actress Mia Farrow tweeted.

Whoopi Goldberg referred to Black’s signature song in her tribute to the former child star on Twitter. “The Good Ship Lollypop has sailed today with Shirley Temple aboard a true one of a kind,” she wrote.

Actress Kristin Chenoweth praised Black as a “legendary child star and wonderful diplomat”.

Black, born on April 23, 1928, started her entertainment career in the early 1930s and was famous by age six. She became a national institution, and her raging popularity spawned look-alike dolls, dresses and dozens of other Shirley Temple novelties as she became one of the first stars to enjoy the fruits of the growing marketing mentality.

A photo taken on June 26, 1937, shows US film star Shirley Temple arriving at the premiere of the film Wee Willie Winkie in Hollywood. During 1934-38, the actress appeared in more than 20 feature films and was consistently the top US movie star. – AFP/HO/ACME

Black was three when her mother put her in dance school, where a talent scout spotted her and got her in Baby Burlesk, a series of short movies with child actors spoofing adult movies.

Movie studio executives took notice. In 1934 she appeared in the film Stand Up And Cheer! and her song and dance number in Baby Take A Bow stole the show. Other movies in that year included Little Miss Marker and Bright Eyes – which featured On The Good Ship Lollipop – and in 1935 she received a special Oscar for her “outstanding contribution to screen entertainment”.

She made some 40 feature films, including The Little Colonel, Poor Little Rich Girl, Heidi and Rebecca Of Sunnybrook Farm in 10 years, starring with big-name actors like Randolph Scott, Lionel Barrymore and Jimmy Durante.

She was a superstar before the term was invented. Black said she was about eight when adoring crowds shouting their love for her made her realise she was famous.

“I wondered why,” she recalled. “I asked my mother, and she said, ‘Because your films make them happy.’”

She was such a moneymaker that her mother – who would always tell her “Sparkle, Shirley!” before she appeared before an audience – and studio officials shaved a year off her age to maintain her child image.

Her child career came to an end at age 12. She tried a few roles as a teenager – including opposite future US President Ronald Reagan in That Hagen Girl – but retired from the screen in 1949 at age 21.

The Screen Actors Guild gave her its 2005 Lifetime Achievement Award. In her acceptance speech posted on the group’s website, she said: “I have one piece of advice for those of you who want to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award: Start early!”

In 1998, she was a Kennedy Centre honouree, one of a select few to receive the annual award.

Shirley Temple Black backstage after receiving the Screen Actors Guild's Lifetime Achievement Award at the 12th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards in Los Angeles, California, on Jan 29, 2006. The award recognised her years not only as a child star, but as a diplomat and humanitarian. – Reuters/Mario Anzuoni

Politics and diplomacy

Temple was only 17 in 1945 when she married for the first time to John Agar, who would eventually appear with her in two movies. Their five-year marriage produced a daughter.

In 1950, she wed Charles Black. Their marriage lasted until his death in 2005, and they had two children.

Black’s interest in politics was sparked in the early 1950s when her husband was called back into the Navy to work in Washington.

She did volunteer work for the Republican Party while trying to make a comeback with two short-lived TV series, Shirley Temple’s Storybook in 1959 and The Shirley Temple Theatre a year later.

Seven years after that, she ran unsuccessfully for Congress in California but stayed in politics, helping raise more than US$2mil for US President Richard Nixon’s 1972 re-election campaign.

She was later named to the US delegation to the United Nations and found that her childhood popularity was an asset in her new career.

“Having been a film star can be very helpful on an international basis,” Black once said. “Many people consider me an old friend.”

Sometimes the public found it hard to accept her in diplomatic roles. But in 1989 she pointed out her 20 years in public service were more than the 19 she spent in Hollywood.

In 1974, US President Gerald Ford appointed Black ambassador to Ghana. Two years later, he made her chief of protocol. For the next decade she trained newly appointed ambassadors at the request of the State Department.

In 1989, President George H.W. Bush made Black ambassador to Prague – a sensitive Eastern European post normally reserved for career diplomats. Black had been in Prague in 1968, representing a group fighting multiple sclerosis at a conference, when Soviet-bloc tanks entered to crush an era of liberalisation known as the Prague Spring.

Czech President Gustav Husak did not seem daunted by the prospect of a US ambassador who had witnessed the invasion. He told her that he had been a fan of “Shirleyka”.

In 1972, Black was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a mastectomy. She publicly discussed her surgery to educate women about the disease.

Black is survived by her children, Susan, Charlie Jr, and Lori; her granddaughter Teresa; and her great-granddaughters Lily and Emma, the family statement said. It said private funeral arrangements were pending. – Reuters

Tags / Keywords: Lifestyle, Shirley Temple Black, actor, child star, celebrity, diplomat, ambassador, death, memoriam, obit, obituary

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