Shirley Temple Black dead: Long Island remembers the 'Curly Top,' 'Heidi' child star
Shirley Temple Black, the child star whose dimpled face became a beacon of hope and good cheer during the Great Depression in such hit movies as "Bright Eyes," "Curly Top" and "Heidi," and later found a second career as a U.S. diplomat, died Monday evening. She was 85.
Publicist Cheryl Kagan said Temple died of natural causes surrounded by family at her home in Woodside, Calif. She had recently begun hospice care, according to her nephew, Richard Black.
"We salute her for a life of remarkable achievements as an actor, as a diplomat and most importantly as our beloved mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and adored wife for 55 years of the late and much missed Charles Alden Black," read a statement from Temple's family. "We ask that our family be given the opportunity at this time to grieve privately."
"I worked with her and she was nice little girl. She never grew up in my mind," says Jerry Schatz of Copiague, who co-starred with Temple in the 1936 film "Captain January."
A starlet who made her screen debut in a diaper at 3, Temple was a studio-system dynamo who churned out more than 40 feature films, most of them before the age of 10. At 6, she became the first person to win a juvenile Oscar. Her tiny handprints are in the cement outside Grauman's Chinese Theatre. By 9, she was America's top box-office draw -- outearning screen queens like Joan Crawford and Katharine Hepburn -- and was reportedly earning $125,000 per picture. Temple-branded merchandise, including dolls, dresses, mugs, dishes and soap, sold in the millions, doubling her income. Her total childhood fortune was an estimated $3 million -- roughly $45 million in today's dollars.
Temple's success, however, was built on something deeper than popularity. At a time of crippling unemployment, soup kitchens and breadlines, Temple served as a symbol of youth, gaiety and sunny days ahead. She often played cuddly orphans whose cheery smile, playful pout or welling eyes melted frosty hearts. In "Bright Eyes" (1934), she was the object of dueling foster parents; in "Captain January," a tyke torn from her adoptive father; in "Little Miss Broadway" (1938), an orphan who helps a troupe of show-biz folks pay the rent; and in "The Little Princess" (1939), a child who goes from riches to rags when her soldier father is believed dead. To moviegoers besieged by their own landlords and bill collectors, Temple sent the much-needed message that kindness, goodness and generosity always win the day.
"As long as our country has Shirley Temple, we'll be all right," President Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, according to lore. "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."
The little girl would later serve her country in another way. Unlike so many child stars, Temple grew into a serious and civic-minded woman drawn to politics. In 1967, long after retiring from motion pictures and taking the name Shirley Temple Black (after her second husband), she ran for a seat in California's 11th congressional district. She lost, but two years later, in 1969, Temple was appointed representative to the 24th United Nations General Assembly by President Richard Nixon.
It was the start of an unlikely second career as a diplomat. Under President Gerald Ford, she served as U.S. Ambassador to Ghana from 1974 to 1976. Soon after, she became the first female chief of protocol, an advisory position to the president, vice president and secretary of state. Despite being a Republican, Temple oversaw arrangements for President Jimmy Carter's inauguration and inaugural ball. She served as the U.S. ambassador to Czechoslovakia from 1989 to 1992, a turbulent period that marked the birth pangs of the Czech Republic.
She also helped destigmatize breast cancer after being diagnosed with the disease and undergoing a mastectomy in 1972. After the procedure, she gave a televised news conference from her hospital bed and later described her experience in McCall's magazine.
"I did it because I thought it would help other women, my sisters," Temple later said.
Though Temple found fans and autograph hounds in nearly every part of the world, she took her diplomatic duties seriously and seemed content to stay out of the limelight. "They've asked me to be in more movies, but I just say no thanks," she told the San Francisco Chronicle before receiving a 1998 Kennedy Center Honor. "My real love in life is to work with people, to be a negotiator for good," she said. "So being able to represent the United States has surpassed it all, in what I think has been a very good life."
Temple was born April 23, 1928, in Santa Monica, Calif., to Gertrude Amelia Temple, a homemaker, and George Francis Temple, who worked at a bank. It was Gertrude who enrolled her daughter in a dance school, where she was spotted by Educational Pictures. Temple's appearance in the studio's "Baby Burlesks" shorts -- in which tots were dressed up to spoof popular movies -- eventually led Temple into the major studio system.
Her first important feature, Fox Film's "Stand Up and Cheer!" (1934), was a morale-boosting effort about a U.S. president (Warner Baxter) who marshals the entertainment industry to pep up the country. Based on an idea by Will Rogers and featuring a 6-year-old Temple singing "Baby, Take a Bow," the movie set the tone for the tiny actress' coming career.
Throughout the rest of the 1930s, Temple starred in as many as four movies a year. Temple sang the hit songs "On the Good Ship Lollipop" in "Bright Eyes" (1934) and "Animal Crackers in My Soup" in "Curly Top" (1935). She performed a spirited, perfectly synced tap dance on a staircase with Bill "Bojangles" Robinson in "The Little Colonel" (1935), an early example of a white female dancing with a black male on screen. Her 1937 film "Heidi" remains the definitive adaptation of the popular children's' book.
As Temple's fame soared, a backlash was inevitable. In 1937, novelist and critic Graham Greene panned the Temple vehicle "Wee Willie Winkie" as something akin to kiddie porn, catering to an audience of "middle-aged men" who responded to Temple's "desirable little body." Greene found that he had tangled with the wrong moppet when Fox sued him for libel and won.
At 20th Century Fox, Temple was an industry unto herself. On the lot, she had a private bungalow where she received visitors such as Amelia Earhart and Albert Einstein. Studio head Darryl F. Zanuck employed 19 writers called the Shirley Temple Story Development Team. He also hired a live-in bodyguard to tail the tot, even on family vacations. Gertrude Temple was paid $250 per week to accompany her daughter, and to hand twist and brush those precious curls -- always precisely 56 of them.
"I stopped believing in Santa Claus," Temple once said, "when my mother took me to see him in a department store and he asked for my autograph."
Yet by all accounts, Temple grew up humble and levelheaded. An early mentor at Fox, Edward Sheehan, provided Gertrude with valuable parenting advice, Temple recalls in her 1988 autobiography "Child Star." "She can't get spoiled, Mrs. Temple," Sheehan warned. "She gets spoiled, it shows in the eyes." As a result, Temple never saw her piles of fan mail, nor the toys sent by admirers, which mostly went to charity. When honors and accolades rolled in, Gertrude put them in perspective.
"When I got the Academy Award, I asked her if I got it because I did the best job," Temple once recalled of her mother. "She said it was because I made the most films. That was a good answer. It puts you in your place."
As Temple entered her teens, however, audiences seemed to lose interest. At the age of 14, she received her first on-screen kiss from Dickie Moore in the comedy "Miss Annie Rooney," but the movie flopped. She fared better with Cary Grant in the adult romp "The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer" (1947), but subsequent films proved unmemorable.
Meantime, her marriage to hard-drinking soldier turned actor John Agar was collapsing. They had a daughter, Linda Susan Agar, in 1948, but Temple filed for divorce the following year.
In 1950, at the age of 22, Temple retired from motion pictures. She later dabbled in television, joining NBC for "Shirley Temple's Storybook" in 1958, but never again made a feature film.
Temple met Charles Alden Black, a Navy intelligence officer, early in 1950. Though wealthy and well-connected (his father was the president of Pacific Gas and Electric), Black had no idea who Temple was. "It was very refreshing to me," Temple said, "a handsome guy who wasn't interested in Hollywood or anything about it." As it happened, Temple herself was no longer wealthy. The $3 million she had earned during her girlhood had been frittered away by her father, leaving her roughly $90,000. By the end of 1950, Temple and Black were married. They remained so until he died in 2005 of complications from a bone marrow disease.
Their son, Charles Alden Black Jr., born in 1952, became director of business operations for Stanford Research Institute; their daughter, Lori Black, born in 1954, became the bassist for the grunge band The Melvins.
By all accounts, Temple's life in and out of the movies was a happy one. In interviews she was dependably upbeat and gracious, always good-humored about her famous past but far more engaged in the present. "Long ago," she once said, "I became more interested in the real world than in make-believe. I can hardly wait to see what happens next."
Shirley Temple's notable movies:
"Stand Up and Cheer" (1934)
"Little Miss Marker" (1934)
"Baby Take a Bow" (1934)
"Now and Forever" (1934)
"Bright Eyes" (1934)
"The Little Colonel" (1935)
"Our Little Girl" (1935)
"Curly Top" (1935)
"The Littlest Rebel" (1935)
"Captain January" (1936)
"Poor Little Rich Girl" (1936)
"Wee Willie Winkie" (1937)
"Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm" (1938)
"Little Miss Broadway" (1938)
"Just Around the Corner" (1938)
"The Little Princess" (1939)
"Susannah of the Mounties" (1939)
"The Blue Bird" (1940)
"Young People" (1940)
"Miss Annie Rooney" (1942)
"Since You Went Away" (1944)
"I'll Be Seeing You" (1944)
"Kiss and Tell" (1945)
"The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer" (1947)
"That Hagen Girl" (1947)
"Fort Apache" (1948)
"Mr. Belvedere Goes to College" (1949)
"Adventure in Baltimore" (1949)
"The Story of Seabiscuit" (1949)
"A Kiss for Corliss" (1949)