• Curls and dimples: Shirley Temple dies at 85
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     | February 12,2014
     
    ap file photo

    In this June 24, 1938, photo, young actress Shirley Temple plugs her ears as her father shoots a federal agent’s gun, while Federal Bureau of Investigation Director J. Edgar Hoover gives her a tour of FBI headquarters in Washington.

    Any kid who ever tap-danced at a talent show or put on a curly wig and auditioned for “Annie” can only dream of being as beloved — or as important — as Shirley Temple.

    Temple, who died Monday night at 85, sang, danced, sobbed and grinned her way into the hearts of Depression-era moviegoers and remains the ultimate child star decades later. Other pre-teens, from Macaulay Culkin to Miley Cyrus, have been as famous in their time. But none of them helped shape their time the way she did.

    Dimpled, precocious and adorable, she was America’s top box office star during Hollywood’s golden age and such an enduring symbol of innocence that kids still know the drink named for her: a sweet, nonalcoholic cocktail of ginger ale and grenadine, topped with a maraschino cherry.

    Her hits — which included “Bright Eyes” (1934), “Curly Top” (1935), “Dimples” (1936) and “Heidi” (1937) — featured sentimental themes and musical subplots, with stories of resilience that a struggling American public strongly identified with.

    Her early life was free of the scandals that have plagued Cyrus, Lindsay Lohan and so many other child stars — parental feuds, drug and alcohol addiction — but Temple suggested that in some ways she grew up too soon.

    She stopped believing in Santa Claus at age 6, she once said, when “Mother took me to see him in a department store and he asked for my autograph.”

    For millions, she was much more than an entertainer; she was a tribute to the economic and inspirational power of movies. She was credited with helping to save 20th Century Fox from bankruptcy and was praised by everyone from President Franklin D. Roosevelt to ordinary fans as a bright spirit during a gloomy time.

    She was “just absolutely marvelous, greatest in the world,” director Allan Dwan told filmmaker-author Peter Bogdanovich in his book “Who the Devil Made It: Conversations With Legendary Film Directors.”

    “With Shirley, you’d just tell her once and she’d remember the rest of her life,” said Dwan, who directed her in “Heidi” and “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.” “Whatever it was she was supposed to do — she’d do it. ... And if one of the actors got stuck, she’d tell him what his line was — she knew it better than he did.”

    In 1999, the American Film Institute ranking of the greatest screen legends put Temple at No. 18 among the 25 actresses.

    Her achievements did not end with movies. Retired from acting at 21, she went on to hold several diplomatic posts in Republican administrations, including ambassador to Czechoslovakia during the sudden collapse of communism in 1989.

    Temple, known in private life as Shirley Temple Black, died at her home near San Francisco, surrounded by family members and caregivers, publicist Cheryl Kagan said. The cause of death was not disclosed.

    She appeared in scores of movies and kept children singing “On the Good Ship Lollipop” for generations. From 1935 to 1938, she was the most popular screen actress in the country and was a bigger draw than Clark Gable, Joan Crawford or Gary Cooper.

    “I have one piece of advice for those of you who want to receive the lifetime achievement award: Start early,” she quipped in 2006 as she was honored by the Screen Actors Guild.

    But she also said that evening that her greatest roles were as wife, mother and grandmother: “There’s nothing like real love. Nothing.” Her husband of more than 50 years, Charles Black, had died a few months earlier.

    In “Bright Eyes,” Temple introduced the song “On the Good Ship Lollipop” and did battle with a charmingly bratty Jane Withers, launching Withers as another major child star.

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