Child star turned diplomat Shirley Temple Black ’45 died of natural causes Feb.10 at her Woodside home in northern California. She was 85.
Black appeared in almost four dozen films during the Great Depression and, from 1935 to 1939, she was photographed more often than then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt, according to the New York Times.
Black launched her film career at age 3 and two years later signed a contract with Fox Studios. Noted for her dancing and singing, she appeared in hits like “Curly Top,” “Heidi” and “Bright Eyes.” She was 6 when she won an honorary Academy Award in 1934 and she earned $3 million by the time she reached adolescence.
With audience interest waning as she matured, Black entered Westlake School for Girls in seventh grade. According to her 1988 autobiography “Child Star,” she initially had some difficulty adapting to a normal school environment, having spent most of her childhood among adults.
Her schoolmate June Lockhart ’43, who worked with Black on “Miss Annie Rooney” in 1942, remembers that Black initially had somedifficulty complying with the dress code. At the time, Lockhart was responsible for ensuring that girls’ skirts were at least knee-length and no makeup was worn. If students were found breaking these rules, they were given demerits.
“Well, for her, this was the first time in her life that she appeared outside without makeup on,” Lockhart said. “She took about a week and then she finally got the drift.”
Other that initial issue, Black integrated herself right away and was a “Westlake girl,” Lockhart said. She recalls Black as “smiley and friendly” and remembers her always greeting her when they passed each other in the halls.
“She seemed delighted to be there,” Lockhart said.
Lockhart said Black attended all school dances and joined extracurricular activities, like the drill team, which they participated on together.
“It was pretty much like rhythm and dance steps to a military tempo, so she had no problem with that at all,” Lockhart said.
Black excelled not only outside the classroom, but inside as well, despite the occasional interference from her film career, Lockhart said.
She said the school arranged for Black to take her chemistry final right after graduation, allowing her to graduate with her classmates.
Still, students did not treat her differently despite her successful film career.
“Everybody was really rather blasé about it,” Lockhart said.
As a chain-smoking teenager, as referenced in her autobiography, Black became the first in her Westlake class to become engaged, a few days before her 17th birthday. After a short marriage to Army Air Corps Sergeant John Agar, and the birtrh of a daughter, Linda Susan in 1948, she divorced Agar in 1949. On a trip to Hawaii, she met then-assistant to the president of the Hawaiian Pineapple Company Charles Alden Black. He proposed after a 12-day courtship, and the marriage lasted almost 55 years, until his death in 2005. They had a son, Charles, born in 1952 and a daughter, Lori, born in 1954.
Black left film permanently at 22, telling newspapers that she “had enough of pretend.” Instead, she focused on caring for her children, before becoming a Republican fundraiser and diplomat in the 1960s, eventually serving as ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia.
After being diagnosed with breast cancer in 1972, Black advocated for women to monitor their own breasts for lumps and abnormalities.
“The doctor can make the incision; I’ll make the decision,” Black said in the February edition of McCall’s Magazine.
In 1934, Black became the youngest person to be honored by the Academy Awards, and, at age 7, became the youngest person to have footprints and handprints embedded in the cement just in front of what was then known as Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. In 1960, Black was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. A third tribute to Temple’s success can be found in the 20th Century Fox Studios lot where a life-size bronze statue of the dimpled, curly-headed little girl has remained since 2002.