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« 19 Days Til Oscar (Feat. Julianne Moore) | Main | Reveille »
Tuesday
Feb112014

Shirley Temple Black, 1928-2014

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.

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Reader Comments (7)

Counting her Juvenile Oscar and Gabriel Axel's Best Foreign Film Oscar, that makes four Oscar winners passing away in the first 10 days of this month. This year's In-Memoriam sequence could become quite extended.

February 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMrW

So sad to hear of her passing but she had an amazing life. I remember watching Shirley Temple Theatre on Sunday mornings without fail when I was a kid and my sister and I singing along to her songs. When I got older I remember being amazed she was still a relatively young woman when I saw her since she had seemed to be around forever. It wasn't until I was older that I saw her work as a young woman in Since You Went Away, Fort Apache and the film I think is her best The Bachelor and the Bobbysoxer, the magic wasn't quite the same but she was still appealing.

If that was all she ever did it would be enough but she went on to live a life of service and purpose. I vaguely recall a picture of her on the front page of the paper after her mastectomy and how revolutionary it was at the time. She did a great deal towards making it acceptable to speak about cancer and who knows how many lives she saved. Of course they were the years of public service to the country, an admirable life. Her autobiography Child Star is fascinating.

February 11, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

If anyone ever needs to know what "IT" is, they need look no further than Shirley Temple. How many thousands of kiddie actors have come and gone and yet Shirley is the one that everyone remembers.

What you can see in most Shirley movies is that she is clearly a very smart kid. Churning out all the movies every year, remembering all the lines, dance steps, and songs, and keeping it all light and optimistic, plus that comedy timing which is maybe the most difficult thing to master. I wouldn't be surprised if she had a sky-high IQ.

February 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDave in Alamitos Beach

I remember reading about what a strong statement it made when Shirley Temple danced hand in hand with the great dancer Bill Robinson. This was in the days of racial segregation, you know, with things like separate drinking fountains so that whites wouldn't have to touch anything an African American had touched.

The visual of America's sweetheart dancing with one of America's greatest dancers (who happened to be African American) firmly put artistry and humanity first. From childhood into adulthood, Temple would not put up with racist garbage. That's why her first foreign appointment was as ambassador to Ghana, because she was someone people could respect.

February 11, 2014 | Unregistered Commenteradri

Very sad news.

February 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSad man

This year's In Memoriam sequence is going to be quite extended, Peter Jackson should direct it...

February 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDiego

She was Hollywood's dream child- her magic is timeless.

February 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

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