While child stars may be a dime a dozen these days, few can come close to having the impact that Shirley Temple Black did. Armed with dimples, gumption and no shortage of sparkle, the wee starlet sang and tap-danced her way into the hearts of a nation grown weary by the Great Depression.
Most of us knew the basics of the curly-haired screen darling’s life; adored child star quits film, gets married, has children, takes on some roles in politics. But upon her death on Feb. 10 at the age of 85 – and the ensuing flood of detailed obituaries – a more complete picture of her fascinating life has been revealed. Consider the following.
1. Born in 1928, the first significant step in her career came in 1934, when she was signed to a two-week contract with Fox for $150 a week. She had to provide her own tap shoes.
2. She won an honorary Academy Award at the age of 6.
3. That famous head of hair contained 56 perfectly springy ringlets.
4. Hollywood’s Brown Derby restaurant created the Shirley Temple drink in her honor; ironically, the mix of lemon-lime soda, grenadine and a maraschino cherry didn’t appeal to her.
5. By the age of 11, she was the most popular star in America; she received more fan mail than Greta Garbo and was photographed more frequently than President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
6. Her on-screen chemistry with African-American entertainer Bill (Bojangles) Robinson led to what is thought to be the first time a white actress was allowed to hold hands affectionately with a black man in film.
7. She earned $3 million before hitting puberty.
8. At 21, she became engaged to Charles Alden Black, 30, who worked for the Hawaiian Pineapple Company. He claimed to have never seen a Shirley Temple movie.
9. She and Black were betrothed after a 12-day courtship; their marriage lasted for nearly 55 years.
10. With a brother who had suffered from multiple sclerosis, she championed fundraising and awareness for the disease. By the early 1960s, she had become the president of the Multiple Sclerosis Society and co-founder of the International Federation of Multiple Sclerosis Societies.
11. In 1969, President Richard Nixon appointed her to the United States delegation to the 24th session of the United Nations General Assembly. She was praised for her work in which she took on issues of the aged, the plight of refugees and, in particular, environmental problems.
12. In 1972, she had a mastectomy and bravely spoke out about it, at a time when such public revelations were rare. She held a news conference following her surgery encouraging women who had discovered breast lumps to get help and to be brave. She is widely credited with opening up the public dialog about breast cancer.
13. From 1974 to 1976, she earned respect for her effective role as the U.S. ambassador to Ghana.
14. She was President Gerald Ford’s chief of protocol in 1976 and 1977.
15. In 1989, she was appointed by President George H.W. Bush’s as the ambassador to Czechoslovakia. Of her three years in Prague, Henry Kissinger said she was “very intelligent, very tough-minded, very disciplined.”
Watch her sing and dance (while skipping rope, no less) in the 1935 clip (below) from "Curly Top."
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