Shirley Temple

Death of Shirley Temple

April 23, 1928 - February 10, 2014
San Francisco, California | Age 85

Iconic child star dies at 85


HILLEL ITALIE, The Associated Press

Shirley Temple, who sang, danced, sobbed and grinned her way into the hearts of Depression-era moviegoers and remains the ultimate child star decades later, died Monday night at 85.

Other pre-teens, from Macaulay Culkin to Miley Cyrus, have been as famous in their time. But none of them helped shape their time the way Temple did.

Dimpled, precocious and adorable, she was America's top box office star during Hollywood's golden age and such an enduring symbol of innocence that kids still know the drink named for her: a sweet, nonalcoholic cocktail of ginger ale and grenadine, topped with a maraschino cherry.

Her movies — which included "Bright Eyes" (1934), "Curly Top" (1935), "Dimples" (1936) and "Heidi" (1937) — featured sentimental themes and musical subplots, with stories of resilience that a struggling American public strongly identified with.

Her early life was free of the scandals that have plagued Cyrus, Lindsay Lohan and so many other child stars — parental feuds, or drug and alcohol addiction.

She was a tribute to the economic and inspirational power of movies, credited with helping to save 20th Century Fox from bankruptcy and praised by President Franklin D. Roosevelt himself as a bright spirit during a gloomy time.

She was "just absolutely marvelous, greatest in the world," director Allan Dwan told filmmaker-author Peter Bogdanovich in his book "Who the Devil Made It: Conversations With Legendary Film Directors."

"With Shirley, you'd just tell her once and she'd remember the rest of her life," said Dwan, who directed her in "Heidi" and "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm." ''Whatever it was she was supposed to do — she'd do it. ... And if one of the actors got stuck, she'd tell him what his line was — she knew it better than he did."

Her achievements did not end with movies. Retired from acting at 21, she went on to hold several diplomatic posts in Republican administrations, including ambassador to Czechoslovakia during the sudden collapse of communism in 1989.

Temple, known in private life as Shirley Temple Black, died at her home near San Francisco. The cause of death was not disclosed.

She appeared in scores of movies and kept children singing "On the Good Ship Lollipop" for generations. From 1935 to 1938, she was the most popular screen actress in the country and was a bigger draw than Clark Gable, Joan Crawford or Gary Cooper.

In 1999, the American Film Institute ranking of the greatest screen legends put Temple at No. 18 among the 25 actresses.

"I have one piece of advice for those of you who want to receive the lifetime achievement award: Start early," she quipped in 2006 as she was honored by the Screen Actors Guild.

In "Bright Eyes," Temple introduced the song "On the Good Ship Lollipop." She was teamed with the dancer Bill "Bojangles" Robinson in the 1935 movies "The Little Colonel" and "The Littlest Rebel." Their tap dance up the steps in "The Little Colonel" (at a time when interracial teamings were rare in Hollywood) became a landmark in the history of film dance.

At age 6, she won a special Academy Award — and was presented with a miniature Oscar statuette — in 1935 for her "outstanding contribution to screen entertainment" in the previous year.

Temple became a nationwide sensation. Mothers dressed their little girls like her, and a line of dolls was launched. Roosevelt observed: "As long as our country has Shirley Temple, we will be all right."

Temple's mother, Gertrude, worked to keep her daughter from being spoiled by fame and was a constant presence during filming.

But Temple later suggested that in some ways, she grew up too soon. She stopped believing in Santa Claus at age 6, she once said, when "Mother took me to see him in a department store and he asked for my autograph."

Decades later, her interest in politics brought her back into the spotlight.

She made an unsuccessful bid as a GOP candidate for Congress in 1967. After Richard Nixon became president in 1969, he appointed her as a member of the U.S. delegation to the United Nations General Assembly. In the 1970s, she was U.S. ambassador to Ghana and later U.S. chief of protocol.

She then served as ambassador to Czechoslovakia during the administration of President George H.W. Bush.

She considered her background in entertainment an asset to her political career.

"Politicians are actors too, don't you think?" she once said. "Usually if you like people and you're outgoing, not a shy little thing, you can do pretty well in politics."

Born in Santa Monica, California, to an accountant and his wife, Temple was little more than 3 when she made her film debut in 1932 in the Baby Burlesks, a series of short films in which tiny performers parodied grown-up movies, sometimes with risque results.

Temple married Army Air Corps Pvt. John Agar in 1945. They had a daughter, Susan, in 1948. The actress filed for divorce the following year. She married Charles Black in 1950, and they had two more children, Lori and Charles. That marriage lasted until his death in 2005 at age 86.


Associated Press writers Martha Mendoza and Matt Reed contributed to this report.

JAKE COYLE, The Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — Franklin Roosevelt once said: "As long as our country has Shirley Temple, we will be all right. When the spirit of the people is lower than at any other time during this Depression, it is a splendid thing that for just 15 cents, an American can go to a movie and look at the smiling face of a baby and forget his troubles."

As America's top box-office draw from 1935 to 1938, the tiny Temple gave the country some much needed escapism. Retired from movies by her early 20s, she was an early epitome of the child star, one who never fell into the kind of trouble that has haunted many young sensations since.

But whereas many child stars have appealed primarily to young audiences, Temple beguiled a largely adult movie-going nation with what film critic David Thomson called her "elfin perfection": "a phenomenon who had only to be observed for an audience to be held."

In "The Little Girl Who Fought the Depression: Shirley Temple and 1930s America" (which W.W. Norton will release May 5), John F. Kasson writes: "At a time when movie attendance knit Americans into a truly national popular culture, they did not want a mirror of deep deprivation held up to them, but a ray of sunshine cast on their faces."

Here are five films that Temple shined in:

— "Bright Eyes" (1934): It's in this film that Temple gave perhaps her most beloved performance, singing "On the Good Ship Lollipop" down the aisle of an airplane. The rows of adoring men (and everyone else, for that matter) swoon at the cuteness. The movies don't always have to be complicated things.

— "The Little Colonel" (1935): Along with "The Little Rebel," this was one of two films Temple made in 1935 with the tap-dancing great Bill "Bojangles" Robinson. (They also made two other movies together.) They were a striking pair. Separated by race, decades in age and several feet in height, they were nevertheless a perfect match, particularly in their famous staircase dance sequence. The racial politics of "The Little Colonel" are by no means spotless (Robinson plays a broadly smiling servant), but Temple and Robinson's magical harmony in dance may have left a more powerful impression.

— "Curly Top" (1935): This film contained one of Temple's biggest hits, "Animal Crackers in My Soup," in which she serenades her orphanage at mealtime, "I walk around like Noah's Ark/ I stuff my tummy like a goop." The New York Times said of "Curly Top": "So shameless is (the film) in its optimism, so grimly determined to be cheerful, that it ought to cause an epidemic of axe murders and grandmother beatings." But Temple, the review noted, was irresistible, playing dramatic scenes "with the precision of a veteran actress." Though a child, Temple was often the best actor in her films.

— "Wee Willie Winkie" (1937): Long before John Ford teamed up with John Wayne, he (fresh off winning the best picture Academy Award with "The Informer") directed the slightly more diminutive Temple in this film. Loosely based on a Rudyard Kipling short story, it's about a British regiment fighting rebels in India. Reviewing the film, novelist Graham Greene — so convinced by Temple's adult-like gestures — claimed she was just masquerading as a child. He suggested that Temple's adult admirers were responding to "her well-shaped and desirable little body, packed with enormous vitality." A subsequent lawsuit over the review bankrupted the magazine, Night and Day.

— "Heidi" (1937): Temple often played orphans, including in Allan Dwan's drama about a Swiss girl kidnapped by her grandmother and taken to live richly in Germany. The portrait of Old World splendor in "Heidi" played as fantasy during the Depression. Along with "Wee Willie Winkie," it captured Temple transitioning toward slightly more mature performance.


Celebrities react to Shirley Temple's death

DERRIK J. LANG, The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The praises of Shirley Temple are being sung by celebrities across Hollywood who remembered her as America's prolific little darling.

For the fifth time in its history, the Chinese Theatre planned to dim the lights in its famous forecourt, which features Temple's little hand- and footprints, in tribute to the star of such films as "Curly Top," ''Heidi" and "The Little Colonel."

Temple, known in her other life as Shirley Temple Black, died Monday night at her home near San Francisco at age 85. The cause of death was not disclosed.

Margaret O'Brien, a fellow child star during the same era, reminisced about her unique bond with Black. The "Meet Me in St. Louis" actress said she and Black were able to communicate about an experience "that we couldn't share with others."

"Although there were periods of time that we would not be able to speak, we exchanged Christmas cards every year and tried to keep in touch," said O'Brien. "It has hit me hard to think that she isn't going to be available to call on for advice or a cheerful word. I, as so many others, will miss her."

"Lassie" and "Lost in Space" actress June Lockhart recalled when Black first came to her high school as a freshman after years of being tutored on the Fox lot. There was a uniform dress code and no lipstick was allowed. Black joined the drill team, and Lockhart was the captain.

"We became friends and she was great fun," said Lockhart. "While we were at Westlake, we did the film 'Miss Annie Rooney,' and Shirley had her first screen kiss on screen. She was one of a kind and will be missed."

Kevin Costner, while promoting his film "3 Days to Kill," reminisced about watching Black's films from a Time-Life collection.

"I remember when they came on, you watched them," said Costner. "You watched her, and those stories always had a high level of meaning when you were very, very young, to see a child so gifted and really cute."

George Clooney, while promoting his film "The Monuments Men" in London, remarked on Black's indelible legacy.

"It was really fun to see all those clips of her and remember how long ago she was such a big part of our industry," Clooney said. "She has a great legacy, and she lived a wonderful life, so it's sad that she's gone but she sure has a great legacy for it."

Bob Balaban, Clooney's "Monuments Men" co-star, ruminated on the "Wee Willie Winkie" star's scandal-free image.

"You would think she would have grown up into a monster," he remarked. "As far as I could see she had no trauma about it, she just launched herself into the adult world and went into politics. That's amazing. That doesn't happen that much."

Decades after she left Hollywood, her interest in politics brought her back into the spotlight. Retired from acting at 21, she went on to hold several diplomatic posts in Republican administrations.

Black made an unsuccessful bid for Congress as a Republican in 1967. After Richard Nixon became president in 1969, he appointed her a member of the U.S. delegation to the U.N. General Assembly. In the 1970s, she was U.S. ambassador to Ghana and later U.S. chief of protocol.

A few months after she began serving as the ambassador to Czechoslovakia in 1989, communist rule was overthrown as the Iron Curtain collapsed across Eastern Europe.

Former President George H.W. Bush, who appointed Black to the post in Czechoslovakia, saluted her Tuesday for "her selfless service to our country" and her film career.

"In both roles, she truly lifted people up and earned not only a place in our hearts, but also our enduring respect," Bush said.

Marc Grossman, press secretary and speechwriter for Cesar Chavez, recounted how Black inspired one of the legendary farm-worker rights advocate's most popular speeches, his introspective address to the Commonwealth Club in 1984.

"Cesar and Mrs. Black had lunch together on the days before the speech and got along like old friends," said Grossman. "They shared common interests in gardening and vegetarianism. Mrs. Black related how she had been a member of the Screen Actors Guild as a child actor and maintained her membership in the union over the years so as to support other young actors."

Nancy Reagan, who knew Black from both Hollywood and her political work, remembered her simply as "truly an American icon."


Associated Press writers Hillel Italie, Ryan Pearson, Hilary Fox, Martha Mendoza and Matt Reed contributed to this report.