Shirley Temple, the most recognizable child actress in Hollywood history, died at her home in Woodside, Ca. late yesterday, her family said. She was 85.
From 1935 through 1938, Temple was the leading box office draw, her films providing an escape for Depression-weary audiences. Her films are also credited as single-handedly saving the film studio that would become known as 20th Century Fox from bankruptcy.
Born April 23, 1928, in Santa Monica, Temple’s first film roles were in a series of comedic one-reelers called Baby Burlesks, produced by Educational Pictures, in which she parodied adult actresses such as Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich. After Educational dissolved, Temple signed with Fox Film Corperation in 1934. At first the studio had her in a number of small, supporting roles. But her first lead performance in April of that year Stand Up And Cheer! became the actress’s first hit. Her success was further cemented throughout the rest of the year with Little Miss Marker, which she made on loan to Paramount, and Bright Eyes, the film which introduced her signature song “On The Good Ship Lollipop.”
Eager to capitalize on her success, Fox set up a separate department specifically devoted to the child star’s output. A team of nineteen writers turned out 11 films that followed a loose formula that combined melodrama and comedy with a dose of sentimentality and song and dance numbers. Although her first films were made on budgets between $200,000 and $300,000, the studio would slowly lavish more money and talent and the productions. Temple would first be paired with tapdancer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson for 1935’s The Little Colonel. The pairing proved popular enough that the studio teamed them up for another four pictures.
Fox was also very protective of Temple’s little girl image, and went as far as shaving a year off of her birth certificate, which Temple wouldn’t discover until she turned 13. Ultimately, she would make 40 films before the age of 12.
As Temple grew through her teens, the public’s fascination with her began to wane, despite some moderate success with films such as 1947’s The Bachelor And The Bobby-Soxer with Cary Grant and Myrna Loy and 1948’s Fort Apache, directed by her Wee Willie Winkie helmer John Ford, Temple retired from film after 1949’s Mr. Belvedere Goes To College.
Temple later dedicated her life to politics, serving as representative to the United Nations General Assembly for Richard Nixon and Ambassador to Ghana for Gerald Ford. In 1976, she was appointed first female Chief of Protocol of the United States and was in charge of arrangements for President Jimmy Carter’s inauguration and inaugural ball. George H. W. Bush appointed her ambassador to Czechoslovakia, which she served as from 1989 to 1992.