Shirley Temple, iconic child star, dies at 85

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WOODSIDE, Calif. (AP) -- Shirley Temple, the dimpled, curly-haired child star who sang, danced, sobbed and grinned her way into the hearts of Depression-era moviegoers, has died, according to publicist Cheryl Kagan. She was 85.

Temple, known in private life as Shirley Temple Black, died at her home near San Francisco.

A talented and ultra-adorable entertainer, Shirley Temple was America's top box-office draw from 1935-38, a record no other child star has come near. She beat out such grown-ups as Clark Gable, Bing Crosby, Robert Taylor, Gary Cooper and Joan Crawford.

In 1999, the American Film Institute ranking of the top 50 screen legends ranked Temple at No. 18 among the 25 actresses. She appeared in scores of movies and kept children singing "On the Good Ship Lollipop" for generations.

Temple was credited with helping save 20th Century Fox from bankruptcy with films such as "Curly Top" and "The Littlest Rebel." She even had a drink named after her, an appropriately sweet and innocent cocktail of ginger ale and grenadine, topped with a maraschino cherry.

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.

They lived for many years in the San Francisco suburb of Woodside.

Temple's expert singing and tap dancing in the 1934 feature "Stand Up and Cheer!" first gained her wide notice. The number she performed with future Oscar winner James Dunn, "Baby Take a Bow," became the title of one of her first starring features later that year.

Also in 1934, she 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.

Born in Santa Monica to an accountant and his wife, Temple was little more than 3 years old when she made her film debut in 1932 in the Baby Burlesks, a series of short films in which tiny performers parodied grown-up movies, sometimes with risque results.

Her young life was free of the scandals that plagued so many other child stars -- parental feuds, drug and alcohol addiction -- but Temple at times hinted at a childhood she may have missed out on.

She stopped believing in Santa Claus at age 6, she once said, when "Mother took me to see him in a department store and he asked for my autograph."

After her years at the top, maintaining that level of stardom proved difficult for her and her producers. The proposal to have her play Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz" didn't pan out. (20th Century Fox chief Darryl Zanuck refused to lend out his greatest asset.) And "The Little Princess" in 1939 and "The Blue Bird" in 1940 didn't draw big crowds, prompting Fox to let Temple go.

Among her later films were "The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer," with Cary Grant, and "That Hagen Girl," with Ronald Reagan. Several, including the wartime drama "Since You Went Away," were produced by David O. Selznick. One, "Fort Apache," was directed by John Ford, who had also directed her "Wee Willie Winkie" years earlier.

Her 1942 film, "Miss Annie Rooney," included her first on-screen kiss, bestowed by another maturing child star, Dickie Moore.

After her film career effectively ended, she concentrated on raising her family and turned to television to host and act in 16 specials called "Shirley Temple's Storybook" on ABC.

In 1960, she joined NBC and aired "The Shirley Temple Show."

Her 1988 autobiography, "Child Star," became a best-seller.

Temple had married Army Air Corps private John Agar, the brother of a classmate at Westlake, her exclusive L.A. girls' school, in 1945. He took up acting and the pair appeared together in two films, "Fort Apache" and "Adventure in Baltimore." She and Agar had a daughter, Susan, in 1948, but she filed for divorce the following year.

She married Black in 1950, and they had two more children, Lori and Charles. That marriage lasted until his death in 2005 at age 86.

In 1972, she underwent successful surgery for breast cancer. She issued a statement urging other women to get checked by their doctors and vowed, "I have much more to accomplish before I am through."

During a 1996 interview, she said she loved both politics and show business.

"It's certainly two different career tracks," she said, "both completely different but both very rewarding, personally."

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Associated Press writer Martha Mendoza contributed to this report.

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