Shirley Temple Black (1928-2014), the most iconic child star of film history who was a box office sensation throughout the 1930s, has died at age 85. Known for her dimples and perfectly-ringleted head of curls (56 ringlets, to be exact), Temple broke into the movies at only three years old, and went on to star in a series of vehicles (many of which were the VHS staples of my childhood) like “Bright Eyes,” “Little Miss Marker,” “Stand Up and Cheer,” “The Little Colonel,” “Baby Take a Bow,” “Heidi,” “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm” and “The Little Princess,” to name only a few.
More than just a cute face, Temple had a remarkable ability for song and dance routines, as exemplified particularly in “The Codfish Ball” routine she does with Buddy Ebsen in “Captain January,” where she matches the limber-legged Ebsen step for step in a four minute sequence. (Watch it, below.)
“The Little Princess” in 1939 was her last hit as a child star, though she did have a fabulous supporting turn in 1947’s screwball classic “The Bachelor and the Bobbysoxer,” opposite Cary Grant and Myrna Loy, by which point she had grown into a comely 19-year-old and was playing a gaga-eyed teen, smitten with Grant.
After leaving Hollywood, Temple went on to work in politics, being appointed as the US ambassador to Ghana under Gerald Ford and ambassador to Czechoslovakia under George H.W. Bush.
Below, a roundup of what the web is saying, plus a selection of clips:
After winning an honorary Academy Award at the age of 6 and earning $3 million before puberty, Shirley Temple grew up to be a level-headed adult. When her cancerous left breast was removed in 1972, at a time when operations for cancer were shrouded in secrecy, she held a news conference in her hospital room to speak out about her mastectomy and to urge women discovering breast lumps not to “sit home and be afraid.” She is widely credited with helping to make it acceptable to talk about breast cancer.
The dimpled, blonde, curly-headed Temple was the nation’s top box office attraction from 1935-38 and one of the nation’s top wage earners. Reflecting the extent of her popularity, she received 135,000 birthday cards on her 11th birthday. By 1938, 20th Century Fox, the studio for which she earned some $30 million, had upped her salary to $10,000 a week.
As a child, her movies made her a heroine for adults as well as children. Simplistic plots often cast her as a motherless tyke who found happiness and shared it, cheerfully singing or dancing her way out of trouble and spreading cheer wherever she went. She first sang her signature song, “On the Good Ship Lollipop” in the movie “Bright Eyes,” one of nine films she made in 1934 alone.
Her first big hit was 1934’s Stand Up and Cheer, alongside popular song-and-dance man James Dunn. Whether singing about lollipops and peppermint bays in 1934’s Bright Eyes, or tap dancing up a flight of stairs with her favorite costar, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, in 1935’s Little Colonel, she was at once roly-poly cute and smoothly professional. “This child frightens me,” declared costar Adolphe Menjou, who played a gangster holding Temple’s wisecracking orphan character ransom in 1934’s Little Miss Marker. “She’s an Ethel Barrymore at 6!”
For four years straight, from 1934-37, audiences declared her their favorite movie star. After Baby Take a Bow premiered in New York in 1935, President Roosevelt summed up Temple’s soothing appeal: “When the spirit of the people is lower than at any other time during the Depression, it is a splendid thing that for just 15 cents, an American can go to a movie and look at the smiling face of a baby and forget his troubles.”
Meanwhile, celebrities are reacting on Facebook. James Franco posted a photo of Temple, writing “We love you, Shirley Temple. Love to all the child stars, grown before their times”; George Takei also posted a pic, writing “She brought so much joy to so many people during a time of great suffering. Dance, laugh and twinkle amongst the stars now, Shirley Temple”; Rose McGowan wrote that Temple was “a giant talent,” and that she owns her scrapbooks and has three Temple dolls.
On Sunday March 9, TCM will host its own tribute to the late actress with a night of her films beginning at 4:30pm. The films are: “Heidi” (1937), “Stowaway” (1936), “Bright Eyes” (1934), “The Little Princess” (1939), “I’ll Be Seeing You” (1944), “The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer” (1947), “A Kiss For Corliss” (1949) and “That Hagen Girl” (1947).
Movie clips, after the jump: