Shirley Temple Black, one of Hollywood’s first child stars and a precursor of the youth-preoccupied Hollywood of today, has died at her home in Woodside, Calif. She was 85.
Temple’s star burned brightly if briefly in the 1930s during the Great Depression. Her blond curls and lilting musical voice were among the salves for a nation in the throes of an economic crisis.
Beginning with the fantasy “Stand Up and Cheer,” she cranked out dozens of movies in which she tapped, sang and otherwise performed for an audience in need of distraction, often on behalf of studio 20th Century Fox, whose sagging fortunes she helped reverse.
Though Temple’s movies often thrust her into challenging situations -- the suicide-inflected tale “Little Miss Marker” or the marooned movie “Captain January” -- she was nearly always solving problems and saving the day with a dose of music and good cheer.
Most famously, she sang catchy numbers like “The Good Ship Lollipop” from the movie “Bright Eyes” and twinkle-toed with performers such as Bill Robinson in the 1935 hit “The Little Colonel.” She also performed with numerous other, more wizened stars of the era including Buddy Ebsen. She received an honorary Oscar in 1934.
Shirley Temple had made 40 movies by the time she was a teenager, though America’s interest in her was primarily as a child star, and she retired in her early 20s. She went on to become a prominent diplomat, political fundraiser and outspoken breast-cancer activist. (For the full Times obituary career please click here.)
But it was her presence on the screen for which she will be best remembered. Long before it was common to see child actors in mainstream movies, Temple anchored films with a sunny joie de vivre.
Temple also presaged the modern child character who is wiser than, and able to solve the problems of, the far older grownups around her, now a staple of everything from television sitcoms to indie-film dramas in the modern era. More on her film career and influence shortly.
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