Sadly, we live in an age and world where ‘children stars’ are the focus of public attention for their reckless and scandalous behavior. Going down in history for spitting on fans, twerking, DUI and drug abuse is the alarming indication of a spiraling trend among young celebrities: talent, if any at all, is easily overshadowed by the antics of a spoiled childhood.
It’s for this reason that the news of Shirley Temple Black’s death is particularly heartbreaking. Last Monday, the former child actress died from natural causes. The 85 year old superstar left us surrounded by her family and caregivers, at her home in Woodside, California. Her passing marks the end of an era.
“I stopped believing in Santa Claus when I was six. Mother took me to see him in a department store and he asked for my autograph”, the iconic star used to say. An incredibly talented actress, singer, and dancer, Curly Top’s childhood went by fast, very fast. She began acting at age three; at six she won her first Oscar (Juvenile Academy Award, 1935); at ten she was earning the unprecedented salary of $ 50,000 per movie, becoming the top box-office star for four years in a row. Incredibly, she managed to steal the thunder of adult stars such as Clark Gable and Bing Crosby.
With her corkscrew curls and cute dimples, she even beat out The Great Depression, something only Walt Disney had managed to do: the Bright Eyes star appeared in 43 movies, lifting the spirits of millions of Americans plagued by the recession. Her cheerful songs and tap-dancing literally saved 20th Century Fox from bankruptcy, boosting the coffers of the studios with memorable comedy-dramas (Bright Eyes, Curly Top, The Littlest Rebel, Dimples, Stowaway), signature tunes (On The Good Ship Lollipop, Animal Crackers In My Soup), and a lucrative merchandise strategy that put her face on toys, accessories, and cereals. At the peak of her success, Temple became the subject of a Salvador Dali’s painting, she was idolized by President Roosevelt for helping an entire nation forget its troubles, and received gifts from foreign dignitaries and millions of fans on a daily basis.
The most popular child star in Hollywood history saw her popularity languish in her teen-age years. Gone were the blond curls, but her after-Hollywood life propelled her in an interesting new direction: a Goodwill ambassador as a child actress, in her adulthood she pursued a political career running for Congress in the ranks of the Conservative party, without great success. Other achievements were in store for the former actress, grander in scope and meaning. In 1968 she was appointed by President Nixon as U.S. delegate to the United Nations. That platform opened the road to her future as U.S. Ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia and first female Chief of Protocol of the United States.
A Screen Actors Guild’s Life Achievements Award winner, Shirley Temple will always be remembered for being one of the first celebrities to publicly expose her health issues: in 1972 she openly spoke about her battle against breast cancer and her mastectomy. She was also a fervent supporter of the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation and a passionate environmental activist. The former child-prodigy served on several boards of directors of large organizations, including UNESCO, the United Nations Association, and National Wildlife Federation.
“Funeral arrangements are pending, and will be private”, her family announced earlier today. “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.”