With the passing of child star Shirley Temple at the age of 85, a luminous presence has left us.
Shirley Temple's career as a child actor enthralled our country at a time when economic tensions gripped most families when just about everyone could use a laugh. Shirley was, as they used to say, the real ticket. Fresh faced and dimpled with that sweet voice, she was adorable without being pretentious, as natural on screen as you could imagine her performing for the relatives in your living room. Radiating star power, she tap-danced her way into everyone's heart.
And oh, her curly hair. Had anyone ever given ringlets the cachet that she did?
Shirley's movie career began years before I was born, but as a child I watched her black and white movies on Saturday afternoon television. I remember being star struck by the gumption, as they used to call it, of this miniature ball of fire, the way she sang as clear as a bell and danced so effortlessly. You couldn't help but be tickled by her sunny disposition and her obvious delight in entertaining.
And as a child, I liked the way she held her own with adults. In my day you were always expected to be deferential to adults. Shirley was never rude, but she stood up for herself. No matter who were her co-stars, she upstaged every one of them.
When I think of Shirley Temple, I picture her singing "On the Good Ship Lollypop" or "Animal Crackers in my Soup." I remember her in "The Littlest Colonel" and "Bright Eyes." And I certainly remember having my own Shirley Temple doll.
Unlike many child stars whose acting careers end with their childhood years, Shirley went on to pursue another career, as a U.S. ambassador. As a role model, she could not have been more influential on young girls, including me. I remember thinking how exceptional she was for striking out on a new career and being successful at it.
When she publicly discussed her breast cancer in order to help other women, I again was struck by her bravery in trailblazing an untraveled landscape.
But there was something else. Along with the naturally curly hair, Shirley and I shared the same birthday. That was a quirk of happenstance that nonetheless gave me a sense of pride, to be connected to her that way.
As a little girl she was America's sweetheart, and as an adult she was the kind of role model we want for our daughters.
We will miss you, Shirley Temple. Rest in peace.
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