Shirley Temple was ‘the greatest in the world’

She was the Hollywood child star who melted hearts in Depression-era America with her trademark blonde ringlets and dimpled smile.

Shirley Temple was ‘the greatest in the world’

Shirley Temple died of natural causes on Monday in her California home, surrounded by her family and caregivers. She was 85.

“We salute her for a life of remarkable achievements as an actor, as a diplomat, and most importantly as our beloved mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, and adored wife for 55 years of the late and much missed Charles Alden Black,” a statement said.

A talented and ultra- adorable entertainer, Shirley Temple was America’s top box-office draw from 1935 to 1938, a record no other child star has come near.

She appeared in scores of movies and kept children singing ‘On the Good Ship Lollipop’ for generations.

Temple was credited with helping save 20th Century Fox from bankruptcy with films such as Curly Top and The Littlest Rebel. She even had a drink named after her, an appropriately sweet and innocent cocktail of ginger ale and grenadine, topped off with a maraschino cherry.

Temple blossomed into a pretty young woman, but audiences lost interest, and she retired from films at 21.

She raised a family and later became active in politics and held several posts in Republican administrations, including ambassador to Czechoslovakia during the historic collapse of communism in 1989.

“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 honoured by the Screen Actors Guild.

Temple’s expert singing and tap dancing in the 1934 feature Stand Up and Cheer! first gained her wide notice. The number she performed with future Oscar winner James Dunn, ‘Baby Take a Bow’, became the title of one of her first starring features later that year.

Also in 1934, she starred in Little Miss Marker, a comedy-drama that showcased her acting talent. In Bright Eyes, Temple introduced ‘On the Good Ship Lollipop’ and did battle with a bratty Jane Withers, launching Withers as a major child star, too.

She was “just absolutely marvellous, greatest in the world”, director Allan Dwan said.” ‘With Shirley, you’d just tell her once and she’d remember the rest of her life,” said Dwan, who directed 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.”

Temple’s mother, Gertrude, worked to keep her daughter from being spoiled by fame and was a constant presence during filming. Temple said years later her mother was furious when a director once sent her off on an errand and then got the child to cry for a scene by frightening her. “She never again left me alone on a set,” she said.

Temple became a nationwide sensation. Mothers dressed their little girls like her, and a line of dolls was launched that are now highly sought-after collectables. Her popularity prompted US president Franklin D Roosevelt to say that “as long as our country has Shirley Temple, we will be all right”.

She won a special Academy Award in early 1935 for her “outstanding contribution to screen entertainment”.

In 1972, she underwent surgery for breast cancer. She urged other women to get checked and vowed: “I have much more to accomplish before I am through.”

More in this section

Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox