Shirley Temple Black, the child actor who was among Hollywood’s biggest stars in Depression-era America, died Monday night at her California home. She was 85. Here’s the Associated Press on just how big of a star she was in her dimpled childhood prime:
A talented and ultra-adorable entertainer, Shirley Temple was America’s top box-office draw from 1935 to 1938, a record no other child star has come near. She beat out such grown-ups as Clark Gable, Bing Crosby, Robert Taylor, Gary Cooper and Joan Crawford. In 1999, the American Film Institute ranking of the top 50 screen legends ranked Temple at No. 18 among the 25 actresses. She appeared in scores of movies and kept children singing “On the Good Ship Lollipop” for generations.
Temple was credited with helping save 20th Century Fox from bankruptcy with films such as “Curly Top” and “The Littlest Rebel.” She even had a drink named after her, an appropriately sweet and innocent cocktail of ginger ale and grenadine, topped with a maraschino cherry.
Temple would retire from the movie business at 21, a decision that would seem nearly inconceivable to today’s child stars, many of whom attempt to extend their pop culture fame by any means necessary. Temple, instead, would find a second act as a diplomat and a third publicly dealing with breast cancer, as the New York Times documents this morning:
After marrying Charles Alden Black in 1950, she became a prominent Republican fund-raiser. She was appointed a delegate to the United Nations General Assembly by President Richard M. Nixon in 1969. She went on to win wide respect as the United States ambassador to Ghana from 1974 to 1976, was President Gerald R. Ford’s chief of protocol in 1976 and 1977, and became President George H. W. Bush’s ambassador to Czechoslovakia in 1989, serving there during the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe.
After winning an honorary Academy Award at the age of 6 and earning $3 million before puberty, Shirley Temple grew up to be a level-headed adult. When her cancerous left breast was removed in 1972, at a time when operations for cancer were shrouded in secrecy, she held a news conference in her hospital room to speak out about her mastectomy and to urge women discovering breast lumps not to “sit home and be afraid.” She is widely credited with helping to make it acceptable to talk about breast cancer.
Look for Slate to have more on Temple and her legacy shortly.