It’s hard to believe that someone who was famous at age 6, and was never so renowned as when she was a child, could actually die.
Various news organizations report that Shirley Temple Black died yesterday from natural causes. Truly, I didn’t know she was still alive, but the fact that she was a child star makes her longevity seems exaggerated. (Her career began at age 3!). And I doubt, for instance, that if I asked many of my undergrads about her, few would know who she was.
I watched many of her films when I was young: they were often cloying, but there was no denying that the kid was immensely talented. As Wikipedia notes:
Most films Temple starred in were cheaply made at $200,000 or $300,000 per picture and were comedy-dramas with songs and dances added, sentimental and melodramatic situations aplenty, and little in the way of production values. Her film titles are a clue to the way she was marketed—Curly Top and Dimples, and her “little” pictures such as The Little Colonel and The Littlest Rebel. Temple often played a fixer-upper, a precocious Cupid, or the good fairy in these films, reuniting her estranged parents or smoothing out the wrinkles in the romances of young couples. She was very often motherless, sometimes fatherless, and sometimes an orphan confined to a dreary asylum. Elements of the traditional fairy tale were woven into her films: wholesome goodness triumphing over meanness and evil, for example, or wealth over poverty, marriage over divorce, or a booming economy over a depressed one. As Temple matured into a pre-adolescent, the formula was altered slightly to encourage her naturalness, naïveté, and tomboyishness to come forth and shine while her infant innocence, which had served her well at six but was inappropriate for her tweens (or later childhood years), was toned down.
She had a life after child stardom, but few of us knew about it, except that she was somehow involved in politics and diplomacy, and had a highly publicized bout of breast cancer in 1972: she was one of the first afflicted with this disease to speak about it openly.
And here’s how most of us will remember her. The first clip is from “Curly Top” (1935), and includes one of her most famous songs:
And her duet with Bill “Bojangles” Robinson from “The Little Colonel”, also from 1935: