Shirley Temple Dead: Beloved Child Star Dies at 85

Shirley Temple

She was the greatest, most iconic child star of them all. Shirley Temple, a veritable movie superstar in the 1930s, died on Monday, Feb. 10 in her San Francisco-area home, her publicist confirmed to the Associated Press. Known privately as Shirley Temple Black, the Little Princess actress was 85, and was surrounded by family members and loved ones at the time of her death, the rep added.

Her family said in a statement: “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 for fifty-five years of the late and much missed Charles Alden Black.”

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Sporting a head of bouncy curls, adorable dimples and chops as an actress, singer and dancer, little Shirley first broke out in 1934’s Stand Up and Cheer, which she followed up that same year with Little Miss Marker and Bright Eyes — a film that introduced her trademark song “On the Good Ship Lollipop.” Temple’s star grew meteorically, and from 1935 to 1938, she was Hollywood’s number-one box office draw, beating out such grownups as Clark Gable, Bing Crosby Robert Taylor, Gary Cooper and Joan Crawford. Her commercial clout was so great, in fact, that she is often credited with saving her studio, 20th Century Fox, from bankruptcy.

shirley temple
US President Bill Clinton (R) greets former child movie star Shirley Temple Black during a reception 06 December at the White House prior to a gala ceremony of the 21st annual national Kennedy Center Honors.

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After public interest waned — later films included The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer with Cary Grant, That Hagen Girl with Ronald Reagan and Fort Apache, directed by John Ford — she retired from film in 1950 and, as she raised a family, eventually entered politics and held several diplomatic posts. She was the U.S. ambassador to Czechoslovakia in 1989. “My main job (initially) was human rights, trying to keep people like future President Vaclav Havel out of jail,” she said in an interview.

Unlike so many child stars before and after her, Temple avoided the pitfalls of early stardom, thanks in large part to her mother, Gertrude, who was a constant, calming presence on set.

Said President Franklin D. Roosevelt: “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.”

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She won a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006 from the Screen Actors’ Guild. “I have one piece of advice for those of you who want to receive the lifetime achievement award. Start early,” she quipped.

She is survived by three grown children and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. “There’s nothing like real love. Nothing.”

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