The Kennedy Center

Shirley Temple Black


Shirley Temple Black
(actress, born April 23, 1928, Santa Monica, California; died, February 10, 2014, Woodside, California) From the start, Shirley Temple had what the camera loves: bright eyes and a curly top, a magical presence and irrepressible charm -- and an amazing talent. President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, proclaimed that "as long as our country has Shirley Temple, we will be all right." She was the star of more than forty motion pictures, most of them made during the 1930s before she had celebrated her 12th birthday. The recipient of a special Academy Award for her performance in Bright Eyes, Shirley Temple became a unique symbol of American movies and a joyous tonic for a nation greatly troubled by the Great Depression. She was a household name throughout the nation and the world.

Her father was a banker and her mother a housewife, yet Shirley's future in show business was all but ordained. Her mother claimed that Shiriey's very first words were a lyric to a Rudy Vallee song. Baby Burlesque, a movie studio that specialized in slightly wicked parodies of movie hits--with tiny tots in roles made famous by adult stars--gave Shirley her first professional work. Soon, the precocious little girl with adorable dimples was playing Jane to a pint-sized Tarzan and Wild West femme fatale to cowboys in diapers. Her saucy, wide-eyed impersonation of Marlene Dietrich destroying the hearts of baby legionaries with a pout and a song that can still raise an eyebrow or two. By 1933, the Hayes Code put a stop to Baby Burlesque productions and the hard-working five year-old found herself unemployed along with the rest of the country. Not for long, though. A year later at Fox Studios, she graduated from contract player to full-blown star with just one picture.

Stand Up and Cheer was released in 1934, became a national sensation, and Shirley Temple has personified young Hollywood ever since. On screen Shirley had the wondrous ability to radiate sheer happiness, she was everything Depression-era parents wanted their children to be. Only six years old, Shirley had already made 20 films. On loan to Paramount, she catapulted to international fame with Little Miss Marker, based on the classic Damon Runyon story. Fox welcomed back its prized star with the first of several custom-made showcases, Baby Take a Bow. Later the studio released Bright Eyes, featuring a fully dimensional character that gave Shirley an opportunity, for the first time, to demonstrate her dramatic gifts alongside her song-and-dance expertise. It solidified the formula that would serve Shirley so well in future roles: ragamuffin clothes, parents in peril, boundless optimism, and an uncanny ability to melt the hardest of adult hearts. It also introduced Shirley Temple's signature song, "On the Good Ship Lollipop," which sold half-a-million copies, and earned its star a special Academy Award.

In 1935 Fox Studio became 20th-Century Fox and its dynamic head, Daryl F. Zanuck, made the cult of Shirley Temple his top priority. In that year alone, four of Shirley's most memorable films were released. The Little Colonel, a civil war drama with music, introduced the sweetest, unlikeliest couple in tap dance history, as little Shirley Temple and. the great Bill "Bojangles" Robinson showed the world how to dance up and down stairs in incomparable style. They were an incandescent and daring duo, as the times still did not permit any affectionate, physical contact between blacks and whites. Our Little Girl and Curly Top followed, the latter introducing another song classic, "Animal Crackers." The Littlest Rebel reteamed her with Robinson as she single-handedly kept northern carpetbaggers from devouring the South.

Shirleymania was now in full bloom. President Roosevelt publicly praised her "infectious optimism," Fox saw unimaginable earnings from Shirley's pictures, and Shirley-endorsed products--dresses, cereal, and soap. Shirley Temple dolls were selling at a rate of 1.5 million a year. At seven, little Shirley saved her studio from bankruptcy and Zanuck was grateful. The studio's top talent were put to work on her pictures. Fox's Shirley Temple Development Division employed nineteen writers and Zanuck even assigned his own body guard to protect his precious star. Rarely--if ever--has the Hollywood studio system ground its Byzantine machinery to such happy effect.

At eight, Shirley Temple was dispatching exquisitely some of the most demanding song-and-dance routines ever performed on a Hollywood soundstage. Prestigious literary adaptations, such as Wee Willie Winkie, directed by John Ford, and Heidi were released in 1937. Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm and Little Miss Broadway were released in 1938, and The Little Princess a year later. The Blue Bird in 1940 marked Shirley's 44th film and her last as a child actress. She was 12 and her career was nine years old.

She made a few more films as a teenager and young adult, including the classic WWII melodrama Since You Went Away for David 0. Selznick (Look Magazine welcomed her to adulthood in 1944 by proclaiming her the year's most promising newcomer), The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer opposite Cary Grant and Myma Loy, and John Ford's Fort Apache, with John Wayne, Henry Fonda, and her new husband, John Agar.

But at 21, already divorced and anxious to take the first real vacation of her life, she left Hollywood and went to Hawaii. There she met her second husband, Charles Black. Although she continued to act on radio and television throughout the 1950s, she never made another feature film. Instead, she dedicated her life to public service. As a child she was the world's best know ambassador of goodwill. This new chapter in Shirley Temple Black's career was a natural.

She has served our country under four presidents: Richard Nixon appointed her United States Representative to the United Nations in 1969, for Gerald Ford she was Ambassador to the Republic of Ghana and later the first woman White House Chief of Protocol, for Ronald Reagan she served as a foreign affairs officer with the State Department, and George Bush appointed her Ambassador to Czechoslovakia. In 1988 she published her best-selling autobiography.

For most of the 20th century, Shirley Temple has been this country's little princess, as she continues to captivate and conquer generation after generation whenever her films are shown on television or videotape. As a child, Shirley Temple has given us immeasurable joy and hope, embodying the American spirit through song and dance. As an adult, Shirley Temple Black continues to open her heart and make a difference in the lives of all who know her. The country, indeed the world, owes a great deal to Shirley Temple.
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