Shocking Hollywood news broke Tuesday when beloved actress Shirley Temple Black, child star turned UN Ambassador passed away at 85, although her cause of death has yet to be revealed, it's believed she died of natural causes. The life of Shirley Temple was one of the rare Hollywood success stories: She made the transition from child star to adult ambassador leaving show business at 18 to start a family.
Shirley Temple's career began at three when she auditioned and began filming the series Baby Burlesks which was a satire using preschoolers in diapers with large pins to cover the top events in the world, movie stars and current events; but the problem with these satires was that they were often sexist and racist. Despite the often misguided story line, Shirley claimed they were some of the best things in her life. In between doing the satires, these kids were often loaned out for ads and product placements which also led to Shirley being loaned out to Paramount and Warner Bro Studios for bit parts.
Her parents managed to take control without taking advantage which wasn't such the case for many child actors, they allowed her to work and allowed her to be a kid when it was necessary, she was given the best of both worlds, which in show biz is rare. But because she was given both chances, it allowed her to stay grounded.
After the satires ended, Fox signed Shirley Temple to a contract in which her first major breakthrough film, Bright Eyes was filmed and released, as well as the song "Good Ship Lollipop" which became Shirley's signature song. Over the next few years, her films would brighten up dark days during the Depression era.
During her succession of films, Shirley was given a juvenile Oscar award and footprints in front of Grumman's Chinese theater, a first for a child star. Later a merge with Twentieth Century would prove to be an invaluable career move because the team under Darryl Zanuck would use adaptations of fairytales to enhance Shirley's image even more including a Little Princess and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farms.
Shirley was offered the screen test for The Wizard of Oz but was turned down but was denied because Darryl Zanuck refused to pay the loan out fee required by MGM. She was denied the iconic role that gave Judy Garland her push even more into the spotlight (and the beginning of Judy's problems with pills).
After so many years in the business, Shirley Temple walked away from Hollywood wanting to be a normal kid. Although she was given a new contract with MGM after her parents bought out her contract from Twentieth Century, she decided to simply walk away from everything she'd ever known: from the possible deals and from being one of the highest-paid actresses in Hollywood. But her desire to be normal and to get married is more important than her career, and so at 17 years old, she gets married to get married to John Ager and three years later their daughter is born.
However, after so many years together, Shirley realizes that John Ager is not the man for her and decided to divorce him. Year later, she meets the man who becomes the love of her life and the father of her other two children, Lori and Charles Jr. For nearly 55 years they remained together until Charles Alden's Black's death.
After raising her children, Shirley was appointed to a the House of Representatives as well as the Ambassador to Ghana and later Czechoslovakia as well as by three different presidents. She was even instrumental in the inauguration and the inauguration ball of President Jimmy Carter.
In between all this, Shirley Temple had been diagnosed with breast cancer, but instead of keeping it to herself as was the M.O. of most cancer victims at the time, she instead went public with radio campaigns as well as magazine articles, becoming one of the first woman to speak about the disease and how it affected her every day life -- including her radical mastectomy which was often the treatment for the early 1970s.
Shirley Temple sort of faded into the background of Hollywood history and only recently resurfaced when she was given an award by the Screen Actors Guild. Even though so much time had passed, when she smiled, there was a familiarity about her that still lingered and made you cheer for her.
Shirley Temple was one of the few child stars who transitioned to adult without winding up in rehab or be sent to jail for any reason. She lived her life as simply as possible, and when she had enough she knew enough to walk away when it was time instead of being dragged down by the curse of the Child Star which was and still is rare -- especially in an age of paparazzi and celebrity up-to-the-minute gossip.
When you hear the name "Shirley Temple," it's more than just a cute little girl in pin curls with big dimples who sang and danced: You think of the racial barriers she broke down with Bo Jangles or how she was one of the first child actresses to have their own endorsement deals before she was old enough to read.
The world has lost a tremendous talent and one of the most genuine people in show business. Without her, the country wouldn't have been able to get through its darkest days during the Depression. She was the star before the term was popular.
She was everything little girls everywhere aspired to be and many times -- although we couldn't live up to that standard -- we still wanted to be a part of her world, where everything worked out in the end and it was always a happy ending. So few movies today can live up to the past and it's a good thing to someday show our kids the quality that films used to have and what it was like for a little girl to be successful in an adult business.
I admit, I'm not a big fan of her movies, but I do admire who she was and what she overcame to become a wonderful wife, mother, great-grandmother and a great great grandmother. I know every time I go down the cookie aisle of the grocery store I'll start humming, "Animals Crackers in my soup/ monkeys and rabbits loop de loop" and smile.
What was your favorite Shirley Temple memory or Movie? Are you going to go out and get the Shirley Temple DVDs just to relive those glory days of film?
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