Shirley Temple

R.I.P. Shirley Temple: America’s Greatest Child Star Has Passed Away at 85

Shirley Temple
Shirley Temple (1928 – 2014)

This certainly wasn’t what I was planning on writing about this morning.  I have no personal connection to Shirley Temple or her work.  It’s heyday had passed long before I was a child, but her legacy as one of the first movie stars and America’s first real child movie star is a part of Hollywood lore.  Temple’s career was essentially over by the time she was a teenager, but she went on to live a long and productive life that included diplomatic service as the United States Ambassador to Ghana, the Czech Republic and the United Nations under her married name: Shirley Temple-Black.  The former child star died at 85, surrounded by friends and family.  The ABC News obituary from their website is below

Shirley Temple Black — died Monday night at her home near San Francisco, surrounded by her family and caregivers, according to the statement.

Temple is best known for her doe-eyed turn in numerous 1930s films, including “Bright Eyes” and “Curly Top,” roles that allowed her to showcase a special brand of energy and optimism for a country enduring the Great Depression. She started dancing at age 2 and acting at 3.

By the time she was 5, she was stealing the show. In 1934, she was awarded a special miniature Oscar for her outstanding contribution to the silver screen.

She led the box office for three straight years. A drink was named after her. Children copied her curls. A doll in her likeness became a collector’s item.

Eventually, as she aged, her Hollywood popularity declined.

At 17, she married John Agar, but the marriage didn’t last.

Her second marriage, to San Francisco businessman Charles Black, endured — and allowed her to enter the world of politics. She served as a U.S. ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia.

Her survivors include three children, a granddaughter and two great-granddaughters.

8 thoughts on “R.I.P. Shirley Temple: America’s Greatest Child Star Has Passed Away at 85”

  1. Shirley was a gifted mimic, but certainly not America’s first child star. That would have been either Baby Peggy (Diana Cary) who few remember, or Jackie Coogan, both of whom had enormous fame in 1921, years before Shirley was born.


      1. Agreed. Her long marriage to Charles Black was a great achievement. She considered it more important, having completely left films at age 22, with a 16 episode TV career 8 yrs later.


      2. In an industry where children burn out, she had a distinguished career post-film as a diplomat and, by all accounts, a wonderful family. Sad, obviously to see her go, but it’s wonderful to celebrate her life rather than lament another early death.


  2. In 80 years we went from a culture where Shirley Temple was a superstar to… well… today. Modern audiences tend to roll their eyes at Temple’s movies, but I submit that the problem is with us, and not the movies. I knew nothing about Temple’s adult life until I read your post just now. It sounds as though there is nothing negative about her passing: her life was meaningful and happy, and it was her time. Heaven has gained another performer for its stock company. I swear they’re all up there, making movies.


    1. Oh, I love 30s movies. But honestly, most of Shirley’s films are quite sub par, compared with what was available to see then. However, timing is important. Having formulaic, upbeat, optimistic, escapist films was vital for those audiences. By the time the Depression was over, so was the audience’s need to see Shirley Temple. They also didn’t like the fact that she was growing up, and looked older. That’s always been a problem for child stars. Few ever succeed as adult performers.

      As a child she was in the right place at the right time, doing what people wanted. Once she grew up, she found real love (on her second try) and had a long life doing more important things than making movies. That’s why I admired her.


      1. Now that I know how Temple spent most of her life, I admire her, too. I wasn’t trying to imply that her films were all that good in my previous comment. I’m merely amazed at how cynical and ironic everything has become during just one person’s lifetime. Even if we were plunged into another Great Depression, I don’t think audiences would go for a modern Shirley Temple analogue.
        I can see how you might love 30’s movies, given your avatar. My favorite classic horror film is Bride of Frankenstein, but Invisible Man is up there. I wish the old monsters had stuck around.


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