Hollywood pays tribute to Shirley Temple

Shirley Temple accepts the Screen Actors Guild life achievement award in 2006. Picture: AP
Shirley Temple accepts the Screen Actors Guild life achievement award in 2006. Picture: AP
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Shirley Temple, the most-famous child star in Hollywood history, has died peacefully at her home at the age of 85.

Her family said she passed away from natural causes on Monday night in Woodside, California, with her loved ones around her.

Temple became known as “America’s Little Darling” and was more popular in her time than the likes of adult stars Clark Gable and Joan Crawford.

Her career began at three and ended at 12, having given America respite from the Great Depression of the 1930s with her uplifting performances.

She retired from showbusiness at 21 and made the transition into adulthood more comfortably than many of the child stars who followed.

Her later years were spent as a diplomat and she served as US ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia. She married twice and had three children.

Among those paying tribute to her death was Rosemary’s Baby star Mia Farrow who tweeted that she “raised the spirits of a nation during the Great Depression. RIP”.

Fellow actor James Franco wrote: “We love you, Shirley Temple. Love to all the child stars, grown before their times.”

Shirley Jane Temple was born in Santa Monica, California on April 23, 1928 and at three her mother sent her to dance school. With her precociousness, blonde curly hair and appealing personality, she soon caught the attention of studio executives.

The 1934 film Bright Eyes made her famous thanks to her tapdancing performance of On the Good Ship Lollipop. After that came classics such as Wee Willie Winkie, Little Miss Broadway and The Little Princess.

Temple was credited with saving 20th Century Fox from bankruptcy with films such as Curly Top and The Littlest Rebel. Her face appeared on cereal packets, dolls, playing cards, soap and other memorabilia which earned her $3 million before she reached puberty. Her fee for each film was $50,000, a sum unheard of at the time.

Temple once said, sadly: “I stopped believing in Santa Claus when I was six … he asked me for my autograph.” When she became a teenager, her appeal waned, yet she did not descend into drug abuse as many child stars have done since.

Temple wed John Agar at 17 but he was uncomfortable with her fame and they split after five years and one child. In 1950, she married Charles Black and stayed with him until his death in 2005. They had two children and to friends she was known as Shirley Temple Black.

Temple became a prominent fundraiser for the Republican party and in 1969 was appointed a delegate to the United Nations by President Richard Nixon.

Between 1974 and 1976, she was US ambassador to Ghana. She was President George HW Bush’s ambassador to Czechoslovakia in 1989 during the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe.

Reflecting on her second career, Temple said: “My only problems have been with Americans who, in the beginning, refused to believe I had grown up since my movies.”

Temple was a breast cancer survivor and a pioneer in addressing the condition publicly after holding a news conference from her hospital bed to talk about her mastectomy.

In her lifetime, she made 14 short films and 43 movies, the last of which was in 1949.

In 2006, she was given a Lifetime achievement award from the Screen Actors Guild.