Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Tribute to Shirley Temple Black

Shirley Temple Kid 'N Africa photo

I was saddened this morning to read that one of my childhood heroines, Shirley Temple Black, had passed away. I vividly remember the first time I saw her on television; I was flipping channels and came upon a black and white movie with a little curly-haired girl tap dancing on top of an all-white piano. Turns out it was the end of the movie ("Curly Top," 1935) and I would have to wait until the next Sunday to see another Shirley Temple movie. Here's a colorized version of that very scene:

Every week, "The Shirley Temple Theater" on our local TV station would show a different Shirley Temple movie, and I sat in front of the set and watched every one of them.

What fascinated me about her so? Well, there were others who danced better, and plenty of others who sang better, too, but very few (if any) in films had her sunny disposition, can-do attitude, and total lack of artifice.

Shirley Temple 1934 photo

Her films were simple and adhered to a very strict format. Typically, Shirley was orphaned or missing at least one parent, causing her to shamelessly play matchmaker to create a new family for herself. You knew there'd be a happy ending and that Shirley's home would be whole again by the end of the film. Along the way there'd be plenty of opportunity for Shirley to sing and dance a memorable tune that would stick in your head, and if there were any mean-spirited or hateful people that she'd encounter, well...Shirley would unthaw them pretty darn quick with a smile and a positive message. Even President Lincoln had to acknowledge her request, which in this particular film ("The Littlest Rebel") was to free her father from jail.

Shirley Temple 1935 Littlest Rebel photo with Abraham Lincoln

During the Depression, one of the darkest times of this nation's history, Shirley provided 80 minutes of happiness in a darkened theater for those who had very little joy in their own life. She was credited with lifting the spirits of the world with a toss of her curls and the warmth of her smile. For 20th Century Fox, she was a cash cow, saving the studio from bankruptcy and becoming a merchandising bonanza, spearheaded by the release of a slew of dolls created in her likeness, which happened to save the Ideal Toy Company from financial ruin, too.

Shirley Temple Little Colonel Ideal doll photo

Shirley's film career as a child ended for all the reasons you might guess; she got older, the country became a bit bored with the predictable nature of her films, and others came along that had more talent. At the age of 12, Shirley temporarily retired to focus on being a normal teen and to attend private school at the Westlake School for Girls.

Shirley Temple Young People 1940 photo

Shirley made a number of movies as an adult, some of which are actually pretty darn good, with my favorite being "The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer" with Cary Grant.

Shirley Temple and Cary Grant Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer 1947 photo

Shirley eventually decided to leave films and with her second marriage, achieved happiness with both husband (Charles Black) and family.

Shirley Temple and Charles Black photo

At a time when women were fighting for equality, Shirley quietly began a second career for herself in politics, showing that you didn't have to burn your bra to be an achiever. Some of the positions she held included Representative to the 24th United Nations General Assembly under Richard Nixon, Ambassador to Ghana for Gerald Ford, and first female U.S. Chief of Protocol (also under Ford). She served as the U.S. Ambassador to Czechoslovakia (1989—1992), having been appointed by President George H. W. Bush. She rounded up her political career by serving as a trainer to future diplomats.

She was also one of the first women to speak up about breast cancer, sharing her own story in 1973 and encouraging women to get checked early. It was a very brave thing to do for such a private person at a time when women just did not speak about such things.

Afterwards, Shirley stayed in the public eye with appearances, honorary Oscars, and the release of her autobiography, the very candid and funny book "Child Star" in 1989.

Shirley Temple Black promoting her autobiography Child Star photo

Here she is with Liza Minnelli, Milton Berle, and Jack Haley, Jr. Eva Marie Saint can be seen in the background:

Liza Minnelli, Milton Berle, Shirley Temple and Jack Haley, Jr. photo

Thank you Shirley for your many years of service to this country. I am sure that Heaven will shine a little brighter with you up there.

Liza Minnelli, Milton Berle, Shirley Temple and Jack Haley, Jr. photo

Follow my Daveland updates on Twitter and view my most recent photos on Flickr. See more vintage Shirley Temple photos on my main website.


Major Pepperidge said...

Wow, I was sad to learn of her passing. She was an adorable kid, and grew to be an amazing lady.

K. Martinez said...

Somehow I knew when I'd open your blog this morning, Shirley Temple would be here smiling. Nice tribute, Dave.

Heidi Ann said...

I have completely adored her my entire life. I cried when I heard it on the news this morning. Yours was a lovely post, and as one of Shirley's most ardent admirers, I228 thank you.

Anonymous said...

I have always respected her, she made quite a life and career in the real world away from Hollywood, proving that is possible.

Sorry to see her go, we will not see her like again, I am afraid.

Thank you, Dave for the post, wistful and respectful, without being sad.


Irene said...

Thank you for a wonderful tribute post. I cried this morning too.

beachgal said...

As kid in the late 40s through early 50s, like other generations before and after me, I was hooked on Shirley Temple movies. Her tap dancing with the likes of Buddy Epson, Gloria Stewart and the magnificent Bill 'Bojangles' Robinson made me want to practice my tap and ballet lessons harder than ever. Early TV I grew up with was not quite yet ready for longer feature movies, so first passing of her films I saw on the 'big' screens - often the movie theater round my neck of the woods had a Saturday children's double feature (and then some) matinee for 10 cents. We never knew what we would see until the movies started and it was always welcome if it was a Shirley movie, even if it was a repeat. I had many favs through the years, but as a kid always came back to Wee Willie Winkie. She was faced with seemingly grown up issues in an exotic location and someone she loved died right in front of our eyes while she sang Old Lang Syne to him. It tugged at my heart-strings and showed a lot of the flair she had with her remarkable one take timing. Her passing was expected, but it does not make me any less saddened to know another piece of my childhood is gone. She always had grace as an 20-40 something. I recall how perfect a 'Cinderella' figure she was in presenting the 'Shirley Temple's Storybook' hour on TV in the late 50s - early 60. She also was a hero to me when she shared her breast cancer diagnosis in the early 70s - women didn't talk about that much then. Nice thing is we have her image living on as icon from the movies like a Clark Gable or a Charlie Chaplin. Indeed she was a stellar original.

beachgal said...

Side note - reading your captions, I saw the reference to Eva Maria Saint (always a fav of mine). She is nearly 90 now and still acting in front line feature films and TV. She will debut in Winter's Tail that releases this Friday. One would never know she is of that age to look and listen to her. Hope for me maybe? North By Northwest, Exodus and The Sandpiper all are credits to her acting talents. I hope that TV and print news are not already pre-producing her passing story - she has given us much through the years and seems to want to keep going despite the years under her belt.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post and tribute to a charming and brilliant woman. A life well lived for the benefit of many. Thanks Dave.


Dave DeCaro said...

Thank you all for the nice comments. Having Shirley pass was almost like losing an old friend.