Here's the last kind of news you want to hear, first thing in the morning. Shirley Temple Black, the quintessential child star, has passed away at 85 years old.
Temple's career exploded at the sage old age of 5, when she appeared in a string of massively successful hits for 20th Century Fox in 1934, including Little Miss Marker, Baby Take a Bow, and Bright Eyes. So fast and so complete was her success, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences created a brand new award that year just so that she could receive it, the non-competitive Special Oscar for best juvenile performance. She appeared in a shocking number of films throughout the 1930s, dominating the box office and generally making everybody much less depressed that there was a Depression on. Her career continued strongly until 1949, with the actress still appearing in classics like The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer and John Ford's Fort Apache even as an adult. In later years, she was the U.S. ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia, in addition to sitting on the boards of a number of corporations.
To most of us, though, her name was and will remain fixed to a very particular idea of childish exuberance, the round cheeks and curly hair of pre-adolescent innocence at its most bubbly and aggressively charming. Temple, in the 1930s, was one of the all-time iconic movie stars, an instantly-familiar face with an immediately-recognizable personality even to people who'd never think to watch one of her movies.
It's easy to assume that her stardom was based on being abnormally cute and able to carry a tune, but even in her earliest starring roles, she had a gift for comic timing and a distinctly clever streak that keeps her roles from getting too sacharine. She was, by any standards that have ever fairly applied to a pre-teen, a genuinely good actress and commanding screen presence, on top of being a darling moppet.
We've lost a lot of terrific actors in the last couple of months, but with Temple we've lost more than that. This morning marks the passing of one of the few genuine Hollywood legends left to us, and everyone who loves movies is a bit poorer for it.