(Originally published April 2008.)
On April 23, 2008, the child prodigy who helped displace cares and concerns during the Great Depression celebrated her 80th birthday. She shares that birth date with William Shakespeare (1564-1616). Most people may not be able to name many of the bard’s plays, but fans galore recall she broke one movie race barrier by performing remarkable dances in four films with Bill “Bojangles” Robinson.
She acquired her own miniature Oscar at age six in 1934 for her “outstanding contribution to screen entertainment.” In 1937 she presented Walt Disney his Oscar for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Twice, Shirley Temple served as Grand Marshall of the Pasadena Rose Parade.
Before age 12, the youngster had made more than 40 feature films. Shirley Temple proved outstanding in the way she aged and adapted gracefully from tiny-tot-wonder to accomplished youngster and mature adolescent. She married at 17, gave birth to a daughter, and was divorced within four years. By 21 she left movie making for good. Shortly after, in Hawaii and enjoying the first real vacation in her life, she met Charles Black, who became her husband for 55 years and the father of her two youngest children.
Radio and television found her acting throughout the 1950s.The public still remembered the child who reputedly saved 20th Century Fox studio from bankruptcy; she was all-time box office champion for three years in a row, surpassing such greats as Gable, Crosby, Crawford and many others.
In the 1970s with the advent of video recorders and TV stations that began showing vintage movies, another spurt of enthusiasm resulted for the child star. Viewers discovered this tiny scene-stealer had appeared with many of Hollywood’s most revered names.
And then the little lady began yet another career in public life in the 1960s: After the disease ravaged her brother George, Jr., she co-founded the International Federation of Multiple Sclerosis Societies. In 1967, at 39, she ran – unsuccessfully – for Congress. She remained active in Republican politics when Richard Nixon named her U.S. Representative to the United Nations. She became ambassador to Ghana. President Ford made her the first Chief of Protocol for the White House. Under Ronald Reagan she served as State Department Foreign Affairs Officer. In 1989 George H.W. Bush appointed her ambassador to Czechoslovakia In all these positions her charm and training in Hollywood – traits that endeared her to President Roosevelt – served her well.
Not all a bed of roses for this woman! In 1972, Shirley, diagnosed with breast cancer was the first film celebrity to go public in order to encourage other women to be checked without fear, knowing early detection could be successful. An outpouring of support and gratitude resulted, along with claims of saved lives, including her own.
Her effect on little girls the world over has proven immense. Today, great grandmothers in their eighties tell of having their first “Shirley Temple permanent” because their mothers wanted them to have beautiful hair just like their idol, reputed to have 50-56 lovingly made curls adorning her amazingly expressive face. Their 60-year old daughters often brag about the memorabilia passed down to them and their daughters. These treasures include dresses, buttons, bows purses, tea sets, paper cutouts, cobalt glasses and creamers and much more – especially books and dolls.
Many, of course, bemoan not saving those dolls created in the little star’s likeness. The composition ones made 1934-1939 came in nine different sizes and outfits. Today, depending on their condition, they command anywhere from $200-$1,000. Thanks to the “Storybook Series,” between 1957 and 1963 resurgent interest in Shirley saw vinyl dolls produced in five sizes. Though not quite as desirable, they still can command good prices from collectors.
Honors bestowed on Mrs. Black include her being a recipient in 1998 of Kennedy Center Honors, a 1992 Career Achievement Award, and in 2006 the Actors Guild Life Achievement Award, March, 2006.
In January, 2006, Shirley suffered a fall in her Woodside, Calif., home, resultng in a fractured right wrist and arm. The injury hampered the star’s work on the second volume of her autobiography, the first of which, titled Child Star, appeared to good reviews in 1988. Libraries offer several books about this exceptional woman. One of the most recent by Rita Duba, is entitled A Pictorial History of the World’s Greatest Child Star, (Applause Theatre & Cinema Books, N.Y., 2006) Its coffee-table-sized 250-pages describe Temple’s childhood and films up to age 12.
Libraries and the Internet offer a plethora of information about Shirley Temple Black.
Editor’s note: All postcards for this article are courtesy of www.OldPostcards.com, a great web site for any postcard collector. With more than 30,000 cards in stock and new cards being added every day, you’ll find a vast variety of topics including Artist Signed, Sports, Holidays, Transportation, Movie Stars and many other categories. The site is designed to be easy for anyone to use. You will find yourself, as I do, repeatedly revisiting www.OldPostcards.com.