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Dead at 85: Republican Ambassador, Child Star Shirley Temple (Black)

Shirley Temple deathShirley Temple dead at 85: Was one of the biggest domestic box office draws of the ’30s (photo: Shirley Temple in the late ’40s)

Shirley Temple, one of the biggest box office draws of the 1930s in the United States, died Monday night, February 10, 2014, at her home in Woodside, near San Francisco. The cause of death wasn’t made public. Shirley Temple (born in Santa Monica on April 23, 1928) was 85.

Shirley Temple became a star in 1934, following the release of Paramount’s Alexander Hall-directed comedy-tearjerker Little Miss Marker, in which Temple had the title role as a little girl who, left in the care of bookies, almost loses her childlike ways before coming around to regenerate Adolphe Menjou and his gang.

That same year, Temple became a Fox contract player, and is credited with saving the studio — 20th Century Fox from 1935 on — from bankruptcy. Whether or not that’s true is a different story, as Depression-hit studios were purportedly being "saved" by some star or other throughout the ’30s — e.g., Deanna Durbin "saving" Universal, Mae West "saving" Paramount, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers "saving" RKO, and so on.

Nevertheless, Shirley Temple’s star vehicles were certainly immensely popular — and, frequently, cheaply made as well. Those who complain that modern-day Hollywood lacks imagination should take a close look at the Shirley Temple movies being cranked by Fox in the mid-to-late 1930s.

The key plot elements were basically the same: little girl brightens the lives of adults, little girl reunites squabbling adults acting like idiotic children, little girl suffers at the hands of Jane Withers. Not infrequently, the key supporting players were also the same, though the films’ adult stars varied somewhat: James Dunn and Claire Trevor in Baby Take a Bow (1934), Lionel Barrymore in The Little Colonel (1935), John Boles and Rochelle Hudson in Curly Top (1935), Alice Faye and Robert Young in Stowaway (1936), Richard Greene and Anita Louise in The Little Princess (1939).

But however formulaic nearly all of her vehicles, Temple did work with a handful of solid filmmakers, among them John Ford in the pro-imperialism Wee Willie Winkie (1937) and Walter Lang in the underrated — and quite unusual — fantasy The Blue Bird (1940), in a number of ways more dramatically effective than the much more famous The Wizard of Oz, released the previous year. (Temple had been in the running for the role of Dorothy, which eventually went to Judy Garland.)

Shirley Temple: End of stardom

By the early ’40s, Shirley Temple was no longer a child, but a teenager. Although she kept on working throughout the decade, she was no longer a major box office draw — or even a moderate one. Her most prestigious movie during that time was the 1944 David O. Selznick production Since You Went Away, an homage to the "home front," with Temple and Jennifer Jones as Claudette Colbert’s daughters. Notably, Colbert, Jones, and Monty Woolley were all nominated for Academy Awards, but Temple was bypassed by the Academy.

In fact, Shirley Temple would never receive a nomination for a competitive Oscar, though she did get a miniature statuette at the 1935 Academy Awards ceremony "in grateful recognition of her outstanding contribution to screen entertainment during the year 1934."

Shirley Temple’s last major box office hit was Irving Reis’ The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer, but this silly comedy actually belonged to Cary Grant and Myrna Loy. That same year, Temple was featured opposite Ronald Reagan in Peter Godfrey’s disaster That Hagen Girl, an anti-gossip melodrama that has been listed as among the worst — and most mind-boggling — movies ever made: Is Reagan’s character truly Temple’s father? If so, isn’t it a little odd that he’s in love with her? And wouldn’t that get people talking?

Shirley Temple’s movie career came to an abrupt halt in 1949, following four releases, all of which minor efforts: the Clifton Webb comedy Mr. Belvedere Goes to College; Richard Wallace’s comedy-drama Adventure in Baltimore, opposite Robert Young; David Butler’s horse-racing drama The Story of Seabiscuit, with Barry Fitzgerald and Lon McCallister; and Richard Wallace’s comedy A Kiss for Corliss, in which Temple finds herself — sort of — involved with the much older David Niven.

Shirley Temple’s later show business forays included hosting the late ’50s television series The Shirley Temple Show, and helping to organize the San Francisco International Film Festival. In 1966, she resigned from the festival’s executive committee in protest against a the screening of Mai Zetterling’s Swedish drama Night Games, starring Ingrid Thulin, which Temple felt was tantamount to “pornography for profit.”

Shirley Temple Black

A "conservative" Republican who had backed the Vietnam War, in 1969 Shirley Temple — as Shirley Temple Black — was appointed by Richard Nixon to act as a U.S. delegate at the United Nations General Assembly. Temple later became ambassador to Czechoslovakia and Ghana.

In 1945, Shirley Temple began a stormy — and at times violent — marriage to actor John Agar, with whom she co-starred alongside Henry Fonda in one of John Ford’s weakest movies, Fort Apache (1947). The couple were divorced in late 1949. From 1950 to his death in 2005, Shirley Temple was married to Charles Alden Black, at the time an assistant to the president of the Hawaiian Pineapple Company.

Shirley Temple received a SAG Life Achievement Award in 2006.

Shirley Temple death

Shirley Temple is one of several Academy Award recipients to have died in the past week or so, following Best Actor winners Maximilian Schell (Judgment at Nuremberg) and Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote), and Danish director Gabriel Axel, whose Babette’s Feast was the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar winner of 1987.

In late 2013, a whole array of film celebrities died within the space of five weeks. Among them were actor Paul Walker (Fast & Furious 7), eight-time Oscar-nominated actor Peter O’Toole (Lawrence of Arabia, The Ruling Class), Oscar-nominated filmmaker Edouard Molinaro (La Cage aux Folles), Oscar-winning actress Joan Fontaine (Suspicion), three-time Oscar-nominated actress Eleanor Parker (Caged, Detective Story, and Interrupted Melody), Oscar-nominated actress Juanita Moore (Imitation of Life), actor-director-screenwriter-producer Tom Laughlin, and actresses Rossana Podestà (Helen of Troy), Jean Kent (The Browning Version), Marta Eggerth (For Me and My Gal), Alicia Rhett (Gone with the Wind), and Audrey Totter (Lady in the Lake).

Shirley Temple, Marta Eggerth, and Joan Fontaine had been listed in a May 2013 article as three of the few surviving movie stars of the 1930s.

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"Dead at 85: Republican Ambassador, Child Star Shirley Temple (Black)" © 2004-2013 Alt Film Guide and/or author(s). "Dead at 85: Republican Ambassador, Child Star Shirley Temple (Black)" text NOT to be reproduced without prior written consent.


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