Shirley Temple Black, who as a young child captivated moviegoers around the world, died yesterday at her Woodside, California home from natural causes. She was 85.
Born on April 23, 1928, Black was placed on the road to stardom by her mother, who enrolled her in dance classes at the age of three. In 1932 a talent scout visited the school and she was signed by a small film studio, Education Pictures, where she appeared in a series of one and two-reel comedies. The studio went bankrupt and in 1934 she signed a contract with Fox Films. As she turned six years old she made her Fox debut in the musical/comedy “Stand Up and Cheer!” In December of that year she became the youngest actor ever to have their name above the title when “Bright Eyes” was released. Including what would become one of her most well-known songs, “On the Good Ship Lollipop.” So popular was her rendition that in a few months of release over a half-million copies of the song’s sheet music had been sold. In February 1935 she was awarded a smaller sized, Juvenile Academy Award for her contributions to the film industry. In March of that year she immortalized her hand prints and signature in cement outside of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.
After Fox Films merged with the 20th Century Studio, producer Darryl F. Zanuck concentrated his attention on Temple and her career. With a contract calling for four pictures a year, the studio had a team of nineteen writers whose sole job was to find and create projects for the young actress. In 1935 the studio released such classic Shirley Temple films as “The Little Colonel,” “Our Little Girl,””Curly Top,” (which included another of her signature songs, “Animal Crackers in My Soup”) and “The Littlest Rebel.” In 1936 the studio released “Captain January,” “Poor Little Rich Girl,” “Stowaway” and “Dimples.” All of these films, most of them made for under $300,000, were huge successes, even more so when you learn that Temple’s annual salary was $50,000.
Convinced that Temple’s talents and popularity would continue to grow as she got older, Zanuck turned down a huge financial offer to lend her to MGM Studios to star as Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz.” Unfortunately for Zanuck, several Temple films flopped and, at age twelve, her parents bought out her contract and sent her to boarding school. During breaks from school she continued to work in films but, at the age of 22, she decided to retire. 1950 also saw the end of her five year marriage to actor John Agar. It was Agar’s misfortune to have a fan of Temple’s as the presiding judge. When he began to address the court he was immediately interrupted by the judge who declared, “Don’t you DARE blame your troubles on Shirley Temple!”
Temple was also one of the first movie stars to have a merchandizing contract. By 1941, over $40 million worth of Shirley Temple dolls had been sold. In fact, with all of her marketing and endorsement contracts, she easily doubled her annual film salary each year, earning $200,000 in 1936 alone. Less than two weeks after her divorce from Agar was finalized, Temple married Charles Alden Black, a Naval Intelligence officer, who upon their meeting informed Temple he had never seen any of her films. That must have been the magic potion because the two remained married for 54 years until his death in 2005.
Despite intermittent television appearances, Temple wanted to devote her time to worthy causes. After an unsuccessful try at local politics, she was appointed Representative to the 24th United Nations General Assembly by President Richard M. Nixon in 1969. Five years later President Gerald R. Ford appointed her United States Ambassador to Ghana. She was later named the first female Chief of Protocol of the United States and was in charge of arrangements for President Jimmy Carter’s inauguration and inaugural ball. In 1989 she served as the United States Ambassador to Czechoslovakia after being appointed by President George H. W. Bush. Eight decades after her career started she would gladly answer fan mail and sign autographs. Some of today’s young stars should take note on how, with the love and support of family and friends, you can achieve your dreams without hurting yourself or others!