On Feb. 10 Shirley Temple Black, the former child movie star of the 1930s, died of natural causes in her home in California at the age of 85. Shirley Temple was often referred to as the “darling of the Depression” and won the hearts of millions through her dancing, acting, and singing in just under 50 films by the time she was ten years old. After leaving the screen when she was 21, Shirley became a US diplomat and also encouraged women to get operations for breast cancer.
Shirley was born on Apr. 23, 1928 in Santa Monica, CA. Her mother enrolled her in Mrs. Meglin’s dance classes in Los Angeles with the dream of turning her only daughter into a professional dancer. Her film career began when two producers from Educational Films Corporation saw her and hired her for ten dollars a day to be in a series of parodies of famous films with child casts called “Baby Burlesks.” Her first feature film was Stand Up and Cheer in 1933, where her small role and tap dancing amazed audiences.
Shirley’s popularity was at its height from 1935 to 1939, a period of time in which she was the most famous movie star. She won an Academy Award at the age of six in 1935 and earned over 3 million dollars before she even hit puberty. She mostly played an orphan who charmed all the other adults around her, and with her charisma, dancing, and singing solved all their problems and warmed their hearts. She may have been the first white actress ever showed in feature films holding hands affectionately with an African American actor; Bill Robinson, also known as Bojanges, was her most famous partner for tap dances in her films.
Though in her younger years Shirley Temple was photographed more often than President Franklin D. Roosevelt, when she hit her adolescent years her popularity decreased dramatically. She went to school in 7th grade and married Jack Agar at 17-years-old. She divorced him four years later, soon after the birth of their child, Linda Susan. She left the film industry when she was 22. Shortly after her divorce, Shirley married Charles Black and continued their 55-year relationship until he passed away in 2005. In her adult years, Shirley became a US representative in the United Nations, a US ambassador in Ghana (1974-76), and a US ambassador in Czechoslovakia (1989).
In 1972, Shirley Temple publicly broadcasted from her hospital bed in Stanford to tell women about her experience in getting a mastectomy and being a breast cancer survivor. At the time, breast cancer was not an accepted topic of conversation let alone did movie stars share their medical conditions publicly. She advised, “Don’t sit at home and be afraid. Go to the doctor and get it checked.” Her efforts to build awareness for breast cancer lead to fundraisers such as “Walk for a Cure”, helping women across the United States.
In her death, many remember the great ways Shirley Temple Black impacted the United States, from a child movie star during the Depression, a diplomat, and a strong advocate for breast cancer awareness.