Shirley Temple Black, the child actress who entertained Americans though the great depression has passed away at the age of 85. Shirley Temple single handedly saved the studio that would become known as 20th Century Fox Studios from bankruptcy by making more than 40 films before the age of 12.
Black died late Monday at her home in Woodside, Calif., according to publicist Cheryl J. Kagan. No cause was given.
Shirley starred in her first film at the age of 3 in 1932, but came to national attention in Bright Eyes, a feature film designed specifically for her talents. She received a special Juvenile Academy Award in February 1935 for her outstanding contribution as a juvenile performer to motion pictures during 1934, and film hits such as Curly Top and Heidi followed year after year during the mid-to-late 1930s.
Her most memorable performances included four films she made with Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, a black dancer 50 years her senior and a favorite co-star, she later said.
They were first paired as foils for cantankerous Lionel Barrymore in 1935’s “The Little Colonel,” in which 7-year-old Shirley tap dances up and down the staircase, remarkably matching the veteran Robinson step for step.
“I would learn by listening to the taps,” Temple told the Washington Post in 1998. “I would primarily listen to what he was doing and I would do it.”
Their dance routines in such films as the Civil War saga “The Littlest Rebel” (1935) and “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm” (1938) reflected their off-screen rapport. They were the first mixed-race musical numbers to be seen in many parts of the country, according to “Who’s Who in Musicals.”
Two of her films released in 1937 were among Temple’s favorites – the John Ford-directed “Wee Willie Winkie,” in which she wins over a British outpost in India, and “Heidi,” a hit film that became a classic.
In her first film aimed squarely at children, Shirley sang “Animal Crackers in My Soup” to fellow orphans in 1935’s “Curly Top.” She danced with Jack Haley in “Poor Little Rich Girl” (1936), one of her best films and “a top musical on any terms,” according to movie critic Leonard Maltin.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt marveled how splendid it was “that for just 15 cents, an American can go to a movie and look at the smiling face of a baby and forget his troubles,” according to an American Film Institute history.
By 1935, lookalike Shirley Temple dolls, complete with her trademark curls, were selling at the rate of 1.5 million a year, part of a merchandising onslaught that included Temple-endorsed dresses and dishes.
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.
“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 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.