x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Shirley Temple, iconic child star, dies at 85

Shirley Temple has died at the age of 85.

Hollywood Actress Shirley Temple has died at the age of 85. Hulton Archive / Getty Images
Hollywood Actress Shirley Temple has died at the age of 85. Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Shirley Temple, who died at her San Francisco home late Monday at age 85, was the original and – many would argue – greatest Hollywood child star.

Temple was Hollywood’s biggest draw for four consecutive years from 1935 to 1938 in an annual poll of US cinema owners, beating off contemporary grown-up competition including Bing Crosby, Clark Gable and Gary Cooper. She was credited with lifting American spirits in the depths of the great depression with her mop of curly hair, angelic smile and all-singing, all-dancing performances in films such as Heidi and Bright Eyes, which featured her iconic performance of The Good Ship Lollipop. She was also instrumental in helping to save the depression-hit 20th Century Fox Studios from bankruptcy with the returns.

Temple was born in Santa Monica, California, in 1928 to George Temple, a bank clerk, and his wife Gertrude. Gertrude spotted an early talent in her young daughter and enrolled her in a Los Angeles dance school in 1931, where she was quickly spotted by a Hollywood studio agent. She was signed by Educational Pictures, making her film debut at just three years of age in a series of shorts called Baby Burlesks, which featured children performing in pastiche versions of popular films of the era. Her star continued to rise, and after a few further bit parts in features she was offered a contract by 20th Century Fox at just five years of age.

She made her feature debut in Stand Up and Cheer!, one of seven movies she appeared in in 1934, and the following year she was awarded a special child Oscar for her efforts – at six she remains the youngest ever recipient of an Academy Award. This was followed by a period of “Templemania”, with Shirley Temple dolls, toys and even a clothing line hitting shelves. She later recalled: “I stopped believing in Santa Claus when I was six. Mother took me to see him in a department store and he asked me for my autograph.”

Temple’s success continued with films like Rebecca of SunnyBrooke Farm (1938) and The Little Princess (1939). It was also in 1939 that her box office fortunes began to change, however. Louis B Mayer attempted to cast her as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz that year, but Fox refused to release their star property from her contract for the MGM film. In 1940, she starred in The Blue Bird, Fox’s answer to the successful Wizard of Oz, but the film was an expensive flop and Temple’s parents bought her out of her contract.

Temple continued to appear in films as a teenager, including alongside Ginger Rogers in 1944’s I’ll Be Seeing You and opposite Cary Grant in The Bachelor Knight (1947). Like so many child stars since, however, audiences began to lose interest as the child prodigy aged, and she announced her retirement from the movie business in 1949. She had appeared in a total of 43 feature films.

Temple did not permanently disappear from the public stage, however. She reinvented herself as a Republican politician and unsuccessfully ran for the House of Representatives on a pro-Vietnam ticket in 1967. She then went on to serve as US ambassador to Ghana (1974-76) and White House chief of protocol (1976-77), during Gerald Ford’s presidency; foreign affairs officer with the state department under Reagan; and was ambassador to Czechoslovakia when communism collapsed in 1989.

She also made the headlines in 1972, when she was one of the first high-profile women to speak openly about breast cancer following her own diagnosis and mastectomy.

Temple was married twice, first to her Fort Apache co-star John Agar in 1945, then in 1950 to the businessman Charles Black, who famously admitted to never having seen one of her films. She is survived by two children from her second marriage, son Charles and daughter Lori, and another daughter, Susan, from her first marriage.

cnewbould@thenational.ae