In the eyes of the American public, Shirley Temple will always remain the beloved, bright-eyed little girl of her earlier roles. Even during her final hour she slipped peacefully away into the realm of the immortals from natural causes. That’s not to say though that Miss Temple didn’t have to battle with lethal medical conditions at some point in her life. As early as the fall of 1972, Shirley was diagnosed with breast cancer and went through a modified radical mastectomy to remove the tumor. In true Shirley Temple fashion, she not only survived cancer, but in fact became the very first female personality to talk openly of breast cancer. There you have it; before Angelina Jolie there was Shirley Temple.
Undoubtedly, Shirley Temple was the embodiment of the phrase ‘a star is born.’ Even though she did attend Meglin’s Dance School in Los Angeles, there is no denying that her dancing, singing and acting abilities were a natural gift, which allowed her to start a professional career at the tender age of 3 in 1932. A mere three years later she started an undisputed reign as the top box-office draw that lasted until 1938. In 1935 she was the very first recipient –and one of only twelve honorees- of the miniature Juvenile Oscar. A month later, her hand and foot prints were added to the Grauman’s Chinese Theater forecourt on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
The fact that Temple was more than just a pretty face probably has no better justification than that she got to work with John Ford, the mythic director of film classics such as The Searchers and The Grapes of Wrath. The resulting movie was Wee Willie Winkie, a film that is probably more notorious for leading British novelist Graham Greene to spew vitriol against the handlers of child stars. But hey, if you get the attention of the author of The Third Man and The Quiet American, you must be doing something right. Greene may have had a point, though. He wrote that infancy was Temple’s disguise. Would she be able to keep her winning streak as she matured, or would puberty win as it is wont to do?
During the 1940’s and already in her teens, Shirley kept working, though her work during that decade wasn’t as prolific or well received as her earlier efforts. On December of 1950 Temple retired from films. She was only 22 years-old. However, she was far from done. In 1958 she started working on television, hosting and narrating Shirley Temple’s Storybook on NBC, and even acting on three of the sixteen episodes produced. Moreover, she was a guest star in several shows in the 60’s. More importantly, Temple’s films found a new life on TV, and the sales figures on merchandise based on her persona proved that she hadn’t lost any of her popularity.
Popularity that she attempted to parlay into a career in politics. She failed to win a vacant seat in California’s 11th congressional district in 1967, but was afterwards appointed to several important posts by the likes of Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, including Representative to the 24th United Nations General Assembly, United States Ambassador to Ghana, Chief of Protocol of the United States, and United States Ambassador to Czechoslovakia.
Today, the legacy of Shirley Temple lives on beyond the filmmaking industry. She inspired such dissimilar tributes as a non-alcoholic cocktail (ginger ale and a splash of grenadine, garnished with a maraschino cherry), and a painting by none other than surrealistic genius Salvador Dalí (Shirley Temple, The Youngest, Most Sacred Monster of the Cinema in Her Time; also known as the Barcelona Sphinx).
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