Former Hollywood Child Star Shirley Temple Black Dies at 85

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and Adam Hetrick
11 Feb 2014

Shirley Temple
Shirley Temple
AFP/File

Shirley Temple Black, who, as Shirley Temple, commanded film screens in the late 1930s as the sunny face of Hollywood, died Feb. 10 at her home in Woodside, CA. She was 85.

Temple Black was surrounded by family and caregivers when she peacefully passed away from natural causes at her home in Woodside, CA, her publicist stated.

From 1935 to 1938, the apple-cheeked, curly-headed tot was filmdom's top box-office draw. (As a measure of her popularity, consider that actresses Shirley Jones and Shirley MacLaine, both born in 1934, were both named after her.) Often playing orphans, her radiant optimism, cherubic singing voice and significant dancing skills cheered up world-weary audiences. As she said herself years later, "People in the Depression wanted something to cheer them up, and they fell in love with a dog and a little girl."

Her innocent, good-hearted films—beginning with "Little Miss Marker" in 1934, her breakout role—told of a world where goodness and bootstrap determination, with a Pollyanna-ish song or two thrown in for good measure ("The Good Ship Lollipop" and "Animal Crackers in My Soup" were the most famous), could untangle any plot knot and solve the world's ills. The White House's chief resident himself recognized the actress' work. "It is a splendid thing that for just fifteen cents an American can go to a movie and look at the smiling face of a baby and forget his troubles," said President Roosevelt.

Her subsequent films included such box-office hits as "The Little Colonel," "Curly Top," "The Littlest Rebel," "Poor Little Rich Girl," "Stowaway," "Wee Willie Winkie," "Little Miss Broadway" and "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm." In them, she hoofed it with the likes of dancing great Buddy Ebsen and, most famously, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, with whom she starred in four films.



As she approached adolescence, her popularity faded. MGM offered her the lead in "The Wizard of Oz"—a role that might have provided her a bridge to adult stardom—but 20th Century Fox producer Darryl Zanuck famously rebuffed the job (possibly the most infamously wrongheaded role refusal in film history). By 1940, she had been dropped by Fox, and signed by MGM. She found modest success in films like "Since You Went Away" and "The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer," but by 1950, at the age of 22, she had retired from the screen.

Mrs. Black surprised many when she reinvented herself in middle age as a successful public servant. In 1950 she married Charles Alden Black, a WWII Navy intelligence officer and the assistant to the president of the Hawaiian Pineapple Company, as well as the son of James B. Black, the president and later chairman of Pacific Gas and Electric. (Mr. Black said that, at the time of their marriage, he had never seen any of her films.) The Blacks were conservative, and soon Shirley threw herself into Republican fundraising efforts. Her bid to become a California Congresswoman in 1967 failed, but soon after she was appointed Representative to the U.N. by President Nixon. From 1974 to 1976 she was Ambassador to Ghana, and was made Chief of Protocol of the United States from 1976 to 1977. By all accounts, she acquitted herself ably and professionally in all these positions. In 1989, President George H.W. Bush appointed her ambassador to Czechoslovakia, where she witnessed first hand the fall of Communism among the Eastern Bloc countries.

She is survived by her children Lori Black, Charles Alden Black Jr. and Linda Susan Agar, the child of a previous marriage. Charles Black predeceased her in 2005.

Private funeral arrangements are currently being made. A remembrance guest book will be opened shortly at ShirleyTemple.com. Contributions in Temple Black's memory may be made to the Commonwealth Club of California's 2nd Century Campaign or to the Education Center at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles.