OFFBEAT: Shirley Temple's smile and spirit will be long remembered

Phil Potempa's daily entertainment news column
2014-02-12T00:00:00Z OFFBEAT: Shirley Temple's smile and spirit will be long rememberedBy Philip Potempa, (219) 852-4327

In the 1955 TV episode of "I Love Lucy" titled "The Tour," Lucy and Ethel are visiting Hollywood and eager to see "where the stars live."

They take a bus tour of movie star homes, and the guide points out the home of Shirley Temple Black, mentioning a guesthouse, behind the main house, designed as a replica of the dollhouse she had a child.

Lucy quickly says to Ethel: "Shirley Temple is married to Mr. Black now."

At the time this television episode was filmed, Temple had already retired from acting at age 21 five years earlier, but her superstar name remained Hollywood royalty, as it does today.

Temple, whose trademarks were her dimples, curly hair and always sunny outlook, died Monday night at 85 from natural causes at her Woodside, Calif., home near San Francisco. She was surrounded by family and caregivers, according to a statement from her publicist Cheryl Kagan.

Her Associated Press wire obit noted: "She was America's top box office star during Hollywood's golden age and such an enduring symbol of innocence that kids still know the drink named for her: a sweet, nonalcoholic cocktail of ginger ale and grenadine, topped with a maraschino cherry."

Born in Santa Monica, Calif., to an accountant and his wife, Temple was 3 when she made her film debut in 1932 in the film short "Baby Burlesks."

With her devoted mother Gertrude at her side on the movie set, her films "Bright Eyes" (1934) (when she sang the song "On the Good Ship Lollipop"), "Curly Top" (1935) (when she sang "Animal Crackers"), "Dimples" (1936) and "Heidi" (1937) were hailed as a tribute to the economic and inspirational power of movies, credited with helping to save 20th Century Fox from bankruptcy. She also was praised by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as a bright spirit during a gloomy time. Everything from dolls and toys to clothes and dishes were marketed using her likeness.

Her fans came from demographics around the world, including notable names throughout the decades, from FBI Head J. Edgar Hoover to Pop Star Michael Jackson.

"With Shirley, you'd just tell her once and she'd remember the rest of her life," said director Allan Dwan, who died in 1981 at age 96 and directed her in "Heidi" and "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm."

''Whatever it was she was supposed to do — she'd do it. ... And if one of the actors got stuck, she'd tell him what his line was — she knew it better than he did."

After trying a couple teenage roles, including opposite future President Ronald Reagan in "That Hagen Girl" (1947), she retired from the screen in 1949. At age 17 in 1945, she married for the first time to Army Air Corps Pvt.-turned-actor John Agar, who would appear with her in two movies just before she retired. Their five-year marriage produced daughter Susan in 1948. The actress filed for divorce the following year. She married Charles Black in 1950, and they had two more children, Lori and Charles. Their marriage lasted until his death in 2005 at age 86.

In later years, she held diplomatic posts in Republican administrations, including ambassador to Czechoslovakia during the sudden collapse of communism in 1989 during the administration of President George H.W. Bush. And before that, President Richard Nixon appointed her as a member of the U.S. delegation to the United Nations General Assembly. In the 1970s, she was U.S. ambassador to Ghana and later U.S. chief of protocol.

In her 1988 autobiography "Child Star," she was candid about her early career and "the Hollywood machine," which her parents worked to protect her from. She suggested that in some ways, she grew up too soon. For example, she said she stopped believing in Santa Claus at age 6, when "Mother took me to see him in a department store and he asked for my autograph."

"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 at one of her last public appearances. At age 6, she won a special Academy Award in 1935 and was presented with a miniature Oscar statuette for her "outstanding contribution to screen entertainment" in the previous year.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer. He can be reached at or (219) 852-4327.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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