Shirley Temple Black, America's Favorite Child Star, Dies at 85
Shirley Temple sang and danced her precocious heart off for America in the 1930s and 40’s and is the single most popular child-star in film history. Shirley made 23 films during the Great Depression and made Americans smile through some very dark times.
She rose to international fame in 1934’s Bright Eyes and charmed the pants off audiences in a series of films where she was often an orphan with a plucky, “can-do” attitude about life. Shirley’s characters were always precocious with more common sense than any of the adults. Her most successful collaboration was with legendary African-American actor Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. They starred in four films together: The Little Colonel, The Littlest Rebel, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm and Just Around the Corner. Their staircase dance number in “The Little Colonel” stands out as a classic musical moment in film history.
During the height of her game Shirley Temple dolls and other memorabilia was huge and she was photographed more often than then President Franklin D. Roosevelt. She even had a drink named after her due to the frequency with which she ate out at restaurants with adults. Ordering a Shirley Temple is still popular with kids today.
The older Shirley got the lower her box office went. She had two flops in 1940 – including 20th Century Fox’s answer to The Wizard of Oz, The Blue Bird. The Blue Bird is a must see if you have never seen it. From pets that turn into talking people, a Druid forest fire and a visit to the land of “unborn children” it’s a wild, weird (at times creepy) and wonderful ride. After a few more films that fell flat Shirley retired from acting at the age of 22.
Far from disappearing into obscurity, or the haze of ex-child-star problems, Shirley’s post acting career was filled with all sorts of meaningful and adventurous experiences. She was married twice – her 2nd to Charles Black lasted for 55 years until his death in 2005. She raised her children, and was active in the community. After moving to Washington after Charles took a military appointment Shirley was exposed to politics. Politics became a lifelong interest.
In 1969, President Nixon appointed her to the five-member United States delegation to the 24th session of the United Nations General Assembly. She was later appointed the to be the US ambassador to Ghana in 1974. In 1989 President George H.W. Bush appointed her as the US Ambassador to Czechoslovakia.
In the 1970s Shirley was diagnosed with Breast Cancer. Shirley announced her diagnosis and the details of her surgery from her hospital bed to the media via TV, radio and later a magazine article. She was the first prominent female to speak out about the disease in a public and open way.
Shirley Temple was an amazing woman, child actress and politician and she will forever be in the hearts and minds of all of her fans. If you played the summer game last year you may recall we had an entire series of Shirley Temple trivia-based badges to earn. If you didn't play the game or are wondering "what GAME?!" visit play.aadl.org to found out more! The game will be back in June this year! Remember Shirley by seeing how much you know about her, and her career with these fun trivia and catalog scavenger hunt based badges. Go ahead and click on any of the images of Shirley above and you can get started answering the clues by using the library catalog!