Former Hollywood Starlet, Shirley Temple, Dies at 85

FILE: Jan. 29, 2006: Shirley Temple Black holds Screen Actors Guild Awards 42nd annual life achievement award, Los Angeles, California.
FILE: Jan. 29, 2006: Shirley Temple Black holds Screen Actors Guild Awards 42nd annual life achievement award, Los Angeles, California. (Credit: FoxNews.com)

Shirley Temple, the child actress who became one of the most popular movie stars of the 1930s, has died at the age of 85.

Publicist Cheryl Kagan told the Associated Press than Temple, known in her private life as Shirley Temple Black, died surrounded by family at her home in Woodside, Calif., near San Francisco.

Born in 1928 in Santa Monica, Calif., Temple got her start in show business by performing in a series of one-reel feature film spoofs called “Baby Burlesks” for $10 per day.

In 1934, 20th Century Fox signed Temple to a seven-year contract that paid her $150 per week. She went on to star in films like “Stand Up and Cheer!” “Baby Take A Bow,” and “Bright Eyes.” By the end of the year, Temple’s pay had been upped to more than $1,250 per week.

Between 1935 and 1938, Temple was America’s top box-office draw, and was credited with saving 20th Century Fox from bankruptcy.

Temple blossomed into a pretty young woman, but audiences lost interest, and she retired from films at 21. She raised a family and later became active in politics and held several diplomatic posts in Republican administrations, including ambassador to Czechoslovakia during the historic collapse of communism in 1989.

“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 just a few months earlier.

Also in that busy year of 1934, Temple starred in “Little Miss Marker,” a comedy-drama based on a story by Damon Runyon that showcased her acting talent. In “Bright Eyes,” Temple introduced “On the Good Ship Lollipop” and did battle with a charmingly bratty Jane Withers, launching Withers as a major child star, too.

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 “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.”

FILE: June 1, 1936: Shirley Temple is shown in a file headshot photo. The curly-haired child star who put smiles on the faces of Depression-era moviegoers, has died at 85. (Credit: FoxNews.com)
FILE: June 1, 1936: Shirley Temple is shown in a file headshot photo. The curly-haired child star who put smiles on the faces of Depression-era moviegoers, has died at 85. (Credit: FoxNews.com)

Temple’s mother, Gertrude, worked to keep her daughter from being spoiled by fame and was a constant presence during filming. Her daughter said years later that her mother had been furious when a director once sent her off on an errand and then got the child to cry for a scene by frightening her. “She never again left me alone on a set,” she said.

Temple became a nationwide sensation. Mothers dressed their little girls like her, and a line of dolls was launched that are now highly sought-after collectables. Her immense popularity prompted President Franklin D. Roosevelt to say that “as long as our country has Shirley Temple, we will be all right.”

“When the spirit of the people is lower than at any other time during this 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,” Roosevelt said.

She followed up in the next few years with a string of hit films, most with sentimental themes and musical subplots. She often played an orphan, as in “Curly Top,” where she introduced the hit “Animal Crackers in My Soup,” and “Stowaway,” in which she was befriended by Robert Young, later of “Father Knows Best” fame.

She teamed with the great black dancer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson in two 1935 films with Civil War themes, “The Little Colonel” and “The Littlest Rebel.” Their tap dance up the steps in “The Little Colonel” (at a time when interracial teamings were unheard-of in Hollywood) became a landmark in the history of film dance.

Some of her pictures were remakes of silent films, such as “Captain January,” in which she recreated the role originally played by the silent star Baby Peggy Montgomery in 1924. “Poor Little Rich Girl” and “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm,” done a generation earlier by Mary Pickford, were heavily rewritten for Temple, with show biz added to the plots to give her opportunities to sing.

In its review of “Rebecca,” the show business publication Variety complained that a “more fitting title would be `Rebecca of Radio City.”‘

She won a special Academy Award in early 1935 for her “outstanding contribution to screen entertainment” in the previous year.

“She is a legacy of a different time in motion pictures. She caught the imagination of the entire country in a way that no one had before,” actor Martin Landau said when the two were honored at the Academy Awards in 1998.

Temple’s fans agreed. Her fans seemed interested in every last golden curl on her head: It was once guessed that she had more than 50. Her mother was said to have done her hair in pin curls for each movie, with every hairstyle having exactly 56 curls.

On her eighth birthday — she actually was turning 9, but the studio wanted her to be younger — Temple received more than 135,000 presents from around the world, according to “The Films of Shirley Temple,” a 1978 book by Robert Windeler. The gifts included a baby kangaroo from Australia and a prize Jersey calf from schoolchildren in Oregon.

“She’s indelible in the history of America because she appeared at a time of great social need, and people took her to their hearts,” the late Roddy McDowall, a fellow child star and friend, once said.

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SOURCE: Fox News / AP

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