Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Remembering Shirley Temple: Star, Diplomat, Citizen

She was a charmer, no doubt about that.

She was a cutie and a beauty - someone who seemed to be a natural-born star. And she was unquestionably one of Hollywood's most bankable assets. During the Great Depression she not only helped keep one of America's biggest Hollywood studios afloat but she warmed the hearts of millions.

A child sensation herself, she inspired children and reassured adults.

She sang. She danced. She acted. And she made it all seem effortless.

But make no mistake about it, Shirley Temple worked hard for every cent that she earned and every bit of success that she enjoyed. She came upon her good fortune the old-fashioned way - by the sweat of her brow, no matter that the sweat never showed up on the silver screen.

She was not only a film and television star but she was also an outstanding citizen and a great representative of our nation, not just by example but by the leadership she provided and the positions she held. As an adult she served as U.S. ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia. She also served as Chief of Protocol of the United States from 1976-1977.

The little girl that we knew as Shirley Temple (America's Sweetheart) became the accomplished wife, mother and diplomat known as Shirley Temple Black.

Yes, Shirley Temple Black was a child star. But as far as anyone knows she never did drugs, she did not engage in histrionic behavior, she underwent no highly publicized personal upheaval and she remained married to the same man for 54 years and was a devoted mother, grandmother and great-grandmother.

Of all the stars in Hollywood's glittering galaxy, Shirley Temple was the one most worthy of the term "beloved."

And the public had good reason to love her.

She delivered what she promised. As a child star, she gave us a joyous exuberance - an enviable spirit of decency, generosity and innocence. As an adult, her emphasis on the same enduring values showed us how to be global citizens while maintaining and strengthening our own national pride. 

Shirley Temple began her career as a curly-haired moppet, four years old. From 1935 to 1938, she was the top box-office attraction in the United States. Her films took in $20 million in just a few years and she saved her studio, 20th-Century Fox, from bankruptcy.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt commented that it was “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.”

Her movies became classics of pre-World War II cinema and they remained popular with children and adults for decades. Indeed, children still watch Shirley Temple movies, now colorized, digitalized and on high-definition, wide, flat-screen TVs. In 1999, the American Film Institute included Shirley Temple on its list of the 50 Greatest Screen Legends. She was a Kennedy Center honors recipient in 1998. In 2010 she received the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Life Achievement Award.

She stopped making movies in 1949, but later worked in television. “Shirley Temple's Storybook,” a monthly TV anthology series in which she narrated and sometimes appeared in adaptations of children's tales was one of her television outings.

She then became active in Republican politics and, as Shirley Temple Black she was appointed by President Richard Nixon to her first ambassadorial post. She later assumed the protocol position under President Gerald Ford. She also served as a delegate to the United Nations under President Nixon and as ambassador to Czechoslovakia under President George H. W. Bush.

In every sense of the term, throughout her distinguished life Shirley Temple was more than America's Sweetheart, she was America's Ambassador - an ambassador for the very best in all of us.

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