Although Temples Hollywood heyday was well before my time, I know that at a very young age, I was well aware of who she was. I am not sure when I first became a fan of the curly topped little cutie. It could have been when I sat mesmerized by her every movement in Heidi or whether it was the afternoons I spent in my grandmothers spare room looking through the original Shirley Temple Activity Book circa 1936. I just remember knowing even then that she was something special. Of course by the time I knew who she was, she had left Hollywood and the movies behind to marry and raise a family. Apparently she never looked back. For some this would have been the end of a career to be lost in the archives of Turner Classic Movies only to be remembered when some insomniac accidentally caught her in a 2 a.m. movie. This however was not the case for Temple.
Perhaps it was due to her young age at the time she began working or maybe it was her infectious dimples, or possibly her mane of 56 curls (I read the exact number somewhere)....whatever it was though, Temples body of work seems timeless. I can still watch The Blue Bird and be as enchanted today as I was watching it as a child. Even my kids know who she is and have seen the film excerpts of her dancing with Bill "Bojangles" Robinson and hearing her sing "Animal Crackers in My Soup."
Compared to today's young entertainers though, she was positively boring. She was never famous for misbehavior on set or off. She was never caught high or drunk and never was she photographed by paparazzi obviously not wearing panties. Thanks to her mother, Temple was as much the good girl next door in real life as she was on the big screen.
Temples rise to stardom came at a time when the United States was in the midst of the Great Depression. There was little to smile about or feel good about, but for $.15 (still a fortune to some) they could escape to the movies and watch Temple work her magic on the big screen and if only for an hour forget the state of the country and their world. President Franklin D. Roosevelt even used Temple as a means to uplift the country famously stating, "as long as our country has Shirley Temple, we will be all right." A heavy weight to be placed on such tiny shoulders and yet she bore it well.
Once Temple reached her teens she was no longer the cute little curly haired tyke. Instead she grew into a beautiful young woman. Sadly though, her age and maturity were not the sought after commodities that her "cuteness" had been. She went on to make a few more movies...all quite good in my opinion. My favorite was Since You Went Away....a wartime classic. After that though Hollywood no longer came knocking. Instead of letting Hollywood's rejection define her though, she closed that door and moved on to marriage and motherhood....the two things she felt were her real life time achievements.
Temple was married twice. Her first husband was John Agar, a fellow actor whom she was married to for five years and had one child with and then she married, Charles Alden Black whom she was married to from 1950 until his death in 2005. Temple took Blacks last name forever after being known as Shirley Temple Black and together they had two more children.
Temple Black dabbled in a bit of TV in the 60's and 70's and as a life long Republican also got involved in politics. Among her political titles she served as United States Ambassador to both Ghana and Czechoslovakia respectively. Presidents on both sides of the fence knew that Temple Black had something special and that people world wide were as drawn to the woman as they had been to the child.
As happens with all things, at some point everything old becomes new again. I remember in the late 1970's or early 80's Shirley Temple merchandising had a resurgence and for doll collectors the exact replica of a young Shirley Temple complete with 56 curls and a red polka dot dress were in high demand. My mother made sure I had one. Unfortunately my doll collection was my mother living vicariously through me as she loved dolls and me....not so much. So as I grew up and moved from home, I began to sell and or give away my dolls. Shirley was one of the giveaways. I nearly cried a few years ago when I realized that "my" doll now had a collectible price of nearly $1,000. Yep....Temple still lives on in merchandising popularity.
Today when I awoke, the first thing I saw was that Temple Black had died at the age of 85. My dads age. I couldn't help but feel a sad almost sickness in my heart. Yes, it made me realize my dads mortality but it also felt as if an era was gone forever. Even though her adorable dimples and amazing curls will live on in film hopefully for generations to come, still her passing leaves a dark spot in the movie industry and in the hearts of all the generations of fans who loved her. Shirley Temple Black.....a childhood icon, amazing actress and dedicated public servant......you will be missed!
RIP Curly Top