“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.
TCM 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 child 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.
“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 Black – Sunday, 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 Diva, Backlots, True 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.