By Emma Crisci
Asst. Arts & Entertainment Editor
America lost one of its favorite childhood stars on Monday night when Shirley Temple Black, known famously in Hollywood for her acting and to the world as a U.S. diplomat, passed away at 85 years old from natural causes.
Temple Black was born in 1928 in Santa Monica California. She started acting at the age of three, and before she turned 10 was making an average of $50,000 per movie. Her first notice in Hollywood was in a series of short films called “War Babies.”
For the next 18 years, Temple Black would become famous for her singing, dancing and acting. Her corkscrew curls and acting talent would beat out major movie stars of that time such as Bing Crosby, Clark Gable and Joan Crawford in the box office for years. The peak of her career included classic movies like “Little Miss Marker” (1934), “Curly Top” (1935) where the famous song “Animal Crackers in my Soup” originated and “The Littlest Rebel” (1935).
Part of Temple Black’s popularity was due to the Depression in the 1920s, where she had the ability to uplift the hearts of struggling families through her movies. She became so successful that various dolls, mugs, hats and dresses were produced with a picture of her on it, and sold by the millions.
By the late 1930s though, as Temple Black grew older, her fame started to decline, and by 1940, 20th Century Fox terminated her contract.
In 1958, Temple Black was able to make some sort of a comeback in television for her one hour-long show, “Shirley Temple’s Storybook.” Later in life, she would receive two lifetime achievement awards for her acting career.
While some might remember Temple Black solely for her childhood acting career, her real contribution towards the world in her life occurred when she became a United States diplomat.
She earned the job at a party, when Secretary of State Henry Kissinger overheard her talking about Namibia. He was surprised she even knew the word. She served in the U.S. delegation to the United Nations from 1969 to 1974. From 1974 to 1976, she was a U.S. ambassador to Ghana and from 1989-1992, she served as an ambassador to Czechoslovakia.
As an ambassador, Temple Black was able to prove that she had matured from her child star status, and that she could succeed and be respected as a woman working in such a prestigious position. As an ambassador to Ghana, she knew their economy in great detail and made the effort to wear a Ghanaian outfit—–a printed cotton headscarf and gown—–in her office. Temple Black also made it a point to immerse herself in the culture of the countries she was in, learning to say, “you’re welcome” and “thank you” in their native languages. When she was appointed to the ambassadorship in Czechoslovakia, she arrived in the country just months after the communist rule was overthrown. She focused mainly on human rights in the first months she arrived, but that quickly shifted to the economy of Czechoslovakia following the overthrow of a major government.
Although we may always remember Temple Black as little Shirley Temple dancing the stair dance with Bill “Bojangles” Robinson in “The Little Colonel,” her second, unlikely career as a United States diplomat proved to be the most significant time in her life, and one she always wanted to be remembered for.