Goodnight, Sweetheart: A Tribute to Shirley Temple

Goodnight, Sweetheart:  A Tribute to Shirley Temple

Shirley Temple Black’s first role was as Lulu Parsnips in the first of the Baby Burlesks shorts, “Runt Page,” a spoof the film “Front Page.”  The children were dressed in adult costumes on top and large diapers with big safety pins below.  Shirley was supposed to be an infant Louella Parsons (a gossip columnist of the day) opposite Georgie Smith playing Raymon Bunion (Damon Runyan).  Their lines were dubbed in by adults.

Shirley survived these child exploitation films, the worst of which, Polly Tix, cast the five year-old as a Washington strumpet on the payroll of the Nipple Trust and Anti-Castor Oil Lobby. Her task was to seduce a newly-arrived bumpkin senator.  Temple wore black lace tights, panties and a bra designed by her mother.

The movies were panned by critics and general audiences and the production company, the improbably-named Educational Pictures went bankrupt.  Shirley was signed with Fox Film Corporation in 1934.  During 1932 and 1933, she had bit parts in small pictures until her break-out hit, Stand Up and Cheer in 1934.

There followed a number of hit movies for Shirley (her contract called for four pictures a year) including:  Little Miss Marker, Baby Take a Bow, Bright Eyes, The Little Colonel, Curly Top, Dimples, Stowaway.

She grew older, her acting abilities matured.  Her two signature songs were “On the Good Ship Lollipop” from Bright Eyes and “Animal Crackers in My Soup” from Curly Top.   One other notable ballad, “Goodnight, My Love” sung with Alice Faye as the orphan’s adoptive mother.  Her best film was probably The Little Princess.

Shirley Temple Black would grow up to become a public servant, when adult audiences refused to allow her to grow up into a mature, adult actress.  Her last film was Stagecoach, with John Wayne.  She retired from acting at the age of 21 and became a full-time wife and mother to three children, one by her first marriage and two by her second to Charles Black, a naval intelligence officer from one of California’s wealthiest families.

In 1969, after her children had grown up and married, she went into public service.  She became active in the Republican Party in California, making an unsuccessful Congressional run in California’s 11th Congressional District.  She ran as a conservative and lost to Pete McCloskey, a liberal Republican who staunchly opposed the Viet Nam War.

Pres. Richard Nixon appointed her as a representative to the 24th U.N. General Assembly.  In 1974, Pres. Ford appointed her U.S. Ambassador to Ghana.  In 1976, she was appointed first female Chief of Protocol of the United States, making arrangements for Jimmy Carter’s inauguration and inaugural ball.  Finally, in 1989, Pres. George H.W. Bush appointed her U.S. Ambassador to Czechoslovakia.

Temple was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1972 and opted for a modified radical mastectomy.  She openly discussed the operation in McCall’s magazine, becoming one of the first prominent women to discuss breast cancer publicly.

Born into a world on the brink of the Great Depression, and growing up during some of America’s darkest years, Shirley Temple demonstrated to a despairing public the virtues of optimism, cheerfulness, courage, and determination.  She was an adorable child who outshone the adult female stars of the times with her bologna curls (styled by her mother after Mary Pickford’s), her winning smile, her dimples, her singing and her tap dancing.

In private, she was a typical, normal child, who sometimes made mischief, as when she slingshotted First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt in the derriere (even at 10 she must have known she was going to become a Republican).  She showed normal disappointment when she missed what she considered the role of a lifetime, Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz (Fox Pictures wouldn’t release her from her contract).  She riled legendary star Lionel Barrymore when she corrected him (sweetly) for missing a line.  Her mother had to take her aside for a lecture and an order to apologize to the famed actor.  She didn’t want to and didn’t understand why she should, since she thought she was right.  Still, she dutifully apologized.

Shirley Temple Black did a great service to her country both as a child actress (she received a Junior Oscar for her work) and as an adult public servant.  Whether you remember her as the dimpled darling singing and dancing her way into the hearts of Depression Era audiences, or as the two-time U.S. ambassador and breast cancer survivor who left Hollywood behind to serve her country, Shirley Temple Black’s star will always twinkle and shine for her many fans.

Goodnight, Shirley; God bless you and pleasant dreams, sweetheart.

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Published in: on February 12, 2014 at 1:51 pm  Leave a Comment  

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