Shirley Temple, the child star phenomenon of the 1930s who went on to a career in international diplomacy, died Tuesday in California at age 85.
A statement from her family provided to news organizations said she died at home in Woodside, Calif., of natural causes. "She was surrounded by her family and caregivers," the BBC quoted the statement as saying. "We salute her for a life of remarkable achievements as an actor, as a diplomat, and... our beloved mother, grandmother [and] great-grandmother."
20th Century Fox solvent.
The dimpled, blonde, curly-headed Temple was the nation's top box office attraction from 1935-38 and one of the nation's top wage earners. Reflecting the extent of her popularity, she received 135,000 birthday cards on her 11th birthday. By 1938, 20th Century Fox, the studio for which she earned some $30 million, had upped her salary to $10,000 a week.
Temple did not survive the transition to adult performer as other stars such as Elizabeth Taylor, Mickey Rooney and Natalie Wood did. Though she continued appearing in films until the late 1940s, she was never able to live up to her years as a child star -- or live them down, for that matter.
After surviving a serious illness due to complications from childbirth and, later, a mastectomy, Temple evolved into a diplomat. She ran unsuccessfully for Congress from San Mateo County, Calif. She was U.S. representative at the United Nations, ambassador to Ghana, U.S. chief of protocol under President Gerald Ford and President George H.W. Bush's ambassador to Czechoslovakia.
But in her heyday, Temple was a national treasure and an American icon, as big a star around the world as Greta Garbo or Charlie Chaplin. And though, except for a brief TV stint in the late '50s, Temple was never onscreen after the 1940s, subsequent generations grew up with her films on television and video.
She was born in Santa Monica, the third child and only girl of George and Gertrude Temple. Her mother enrolled her at age 3 in Meglin Dancing School, where in 1932, she was spotted by movie talent scout Charles Lamont. She was soon appearing in a series of shorts called "Baby Burlesks," in which child actors spoofed current adult stars such as Marlene Dietrich.
In 1933, she was chosen by songwriter Jay Gorney to do the musical number "Baby Take a Bow" in the musical "Stand Up and Cheer." She stopped the show cold in her one appearance and became an instant star by stealing "Little Miss Marker" from an openly resentful Adolphe Menjou. Under contract at Fox, she was earning $150 a week (as well as a separate salary for her mother) when she made her studio debut in "Baby Take a Bow" in 1934, a year in which she made eight films including "Now and Forever" and "Bright Eyes." She ended up in eighth place in the box office polls.
The next year she skyrocketed to the top, ahead of Clark Gable, Mae West and Joan Crawford, with such films as "Curly Top," "The Little Colonel" (in which she danced with Bill "Bojangles" Robinson) and "The Littlest Rebel." Her rendition of "Good Ship Lollipop" was a national sensation, and the tune essentially became her theme song.
She received a special Academy Award in 1935 and remained America's sweetheart over the next four years in more than 20 films including "Heidi," "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm," "The Little Princess," "Dimples," "Little Miss Broadway" and "Stowaway."
Temple was earning $1,500 a week (and her mother an additional $500) by the end of 1935 and more than twice that a year later. Fox had her insured with Lloyd's of London. In 1938, her last year on top, she is reported to have earned more than $300,000, a staggering sum for those times, particularly for a worker only 10 years old.
Licensing of Temple's likeness also brought in substantial sums during the peak of her popularity in the late 1930s. Temple paraphernalia was packaged in boxes of Wheaties, and Shirley Temple dolls generated sales of $45 million before 1941, according to Temple's autobiography.
When she was 12, Temple had her first box office flop, "The Bluebird," followed by another disappointment, "Young People."
Her parents exercised their option to buy out Temple's contract from Fox for $300,000. They enrolled her in the Westlake School for Girls for a formal education.
In 1941, MGM's Louis B. Mayer, who had wanted to use her as Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz" but couldn't get her, signed Temple with the goal of adding her to the Judy Garland-Mickey Rooney film team but ended up paying her $2,500 per week to be in "Kathleen," which didn't succeed; 1942's "Miss Annie Rooney," at United Artists, also performed poorly.
Temple continued her studies for the next two years until David O. Selznick signed her for "Since You Went Away," a big-budget war romance with Claudette Colbert and Jennifer Jones. It was followed by "I'll Be Seeing You," which starred Ginger Rogers.
In 1945, at age 17, Temple married 22-year-old John Agar, the son of a wealthy Chicago Meat packer who had acting aspirations of his own. They starred with John Wayne in John Ford's 1948 Western "Fort Apache" (the couple also starred together in "RKO's "Adventure in Baltimore" in 1949.) The marriage produced a daughter, Linda Susan.
By then, Temple's career had come to a grinding halt. Despite the occasional success such as "The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer" and "That Hagen Girl" (which was Temple's favorite), she sputtered out with such films as "The Story of Seabiscuit" and her last pic, "A Kiss for Corliss."