Remembering Shirley Temple (1928-2014)

blackAs usual, Robert Osborne says it best.

“Shirley Temple was a good friend and an extraordinary human being who, after being the most famous person in the world at age 6 and Hollywood’s pint-sized queen at age 7, grew up to be such a lovely, civic-minded citizen, wife and mother, as well as the U.S. Ambassador to two countries,” the TCM host said today in a statement. “There will never be another one like her.”

Temple, who became Shirley Temple Black in 1950 when she married World War II hero Charles Alden Black, died of natural causes at her Woodside, California home late Monday night at age 85. Despite her retirement from the big screen at the age of 22, and a transition to a second career in government in which she served under four U.S. presidents, Black never surrendered her status as one of the most recognizable icons of classic film. And she likely never will.

3b653a70d5eb13160005b01f3999958eTCM announced today that they’ve scheduled an evening-long tribute to Black on Sunday, March 9 beginning at 4:30 p.m. The eight-film, 13-hour marathon begins with Alan Dwan’s HEIDI (1937), based on the famed novel by Johanna Spyri, and concludes with one of Black’s final films, THAT HAGEN GIRL (1947), opposite Ronald Reagan at 4:15 a.m.

While audiences didn’t necessarily buy the romantic pairing of the teenaged Temple with the 38-year-old future president, the two developed a lifelong friendship that led to Black’s service as a foreign affairs officer-expert in the Reagan State Department (1981-1989). Black’s career in diplomacy actually began in 1969, when President Richard Nixon named the 41-year-old former Screen Shot 2014-02-11 at 6.20.31 PMchild star a delegate to the United Nations General Assembly. This followed an unsuccessful run for the House of Representatives in 1967, in which Black, a Republican hawkish on Vietnam, lost to Rep. Pete McCloskey, a Korea and Vietnam vet who was decidedly anti-war. Later assignments included Ambassador to Ghana (1974-1976), Chief of Protocol at the State Department under President Gerald Ford (1976-1977, first female to hold that role), and Ambassador to Czechoslovakia (1989-1992) under President George H. W. Bush.

Screen Shot 2014-02-11 at 7.11.41 PM“Shirley Temple had the greatest short career in movie history and then gracefully retired to, as we all know, the far less strenuous life of public service,” President Bill Clinton said at the Kennedy Center Honors in 1989. “From her childhood to the present day, Shirley has always been an ambassador for what is best about America.”

In a sense, Shirley Temple’s career as a political figure began in the mid-1930s, when President Franklin Roosevelt used her to rally a populace disheartened by lingering economic catastrophe.

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

TCM Remembers Shirley Temple BlackSunday, March 9
4:30 p.m. – HEIDI (1937)
6:15 p.m. – STOWAWAY (1936)
8 p.m. – BRIGHT EYES (1934)
9:30 p.m. – THE LITTLE PRINCESS (1939)
11:15 p.m. – I’LL BE SEEING YOU (1944)
12:45 a.m. – THE BACHELOR AND THE BOBBY-SOXER (1947)
2:30 a.m. – A KISS FOR CORLISS (1949)
4:15 a.m. – THAT HAGEN GIRL (1947)

Politico has more info on Black’s career in foreign service, and an excellent photo gallery.

Other remembrances of Black can be found at Self-Styled Siren, Nitrate DivaBacklotsTrue Classics, The Examiner (Jennifer Garlen), Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings, Chinephiled (Danny Miller), Stardust, and Christy Putnam. The New York Times obit is here. And Leonard Maltin has a great piece about meeting Black while he was reporting for Entertainment Tonight in the late ’80s.

About willmckinley

Will McKinley is a New York City-based writer, producer, reporter, radio host, and #OldMovieWeirdo. He’s been a guest on Turner Classic Movies (interviewed by host Robert Osborne), Sirius Satellite Radio and the official TCM podcast. Will has written for PBS and Slate and his byline has appeared more than 100 times in the pages of NYC alt weeklies like The Villager and Gay City News.
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7 Responses to Remembering Shirley Temple (1928-2014)

  1. armand says:

    Thanks Will. Shirley Temple Was our friend, her graceful demeanor shared by everyone.

  2. She was so beloved…by everyone. I hope TCM does a great movie tribute to her…I know where I will be, phone off and popcorn in hand…God Bless you Shirley, you cheered me as a child and continue to…

    • willmckinley says:

      Sandi, sometimes it takes a death to remind you of the importance of someone’s life. It’s clear that the world (as seen through the eyes of the media, at least) looked at this woman as one of the great stars in movie history. People loved her 80 years ago and they continue to.

  3. Thank you, Will. Shirley has meant so much to so many generations, and has brought happiness to them all.

  4. willmckinley says:

    Thanks Christy. I enjoyed your remembrance.

  5. Oh dear. The “TCM Remembers” video made me cry. A remarkable talent as a child, and a remarkable woman.

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