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Shirley Temple Black Dies At 85


Some other news here this morning. Shirley Temple Black has died. She was 85. She spent her entire life in a way as a child star because of early films that made her so famous and a face of hope during the Great Depression. Alison Bryce reports.

ALISON BRYCE, BYLINE: A bigger star never came in a package so small. She sang and danced her way to super-stardom by the impossible age of six years old. In the year 1934, she acted in nine films, one called "Stand Up And Cheer."



SHIRLEY TEMPLE BLACK: I loved learning to dance and sing and scripts and acting. Children don't have a lot of memories and so you're like a blotter. Everything you learn very quickly, and for me, since I didn't have much in my head, I was able to learn everything relatively easily.

BRYCE: Shirley Temple Black talked to NPR in 1985 and says when she was a child, she didn't know she was extraordinary. But it wasn't just talent that made her a hit onscreen. She was born just as films with sound were invented. If she had been born a few years earlier, her singing and tapping talent would have gone unnoticed. Also Temple's innocence, maturity and merriment were qualities that brought hope to people during the Depression, among them Chicagoan Giggi Cortizi.

GIGGI CORTIZI: Do you know how I survived those days, was going to the show every Sunday to see Shirley Temple. I'm telling you, she was my inspiration to go on living. Honest to goodness.

BRYCE: Cortizi is one speaking for many. Professor John Kasson at the University of North Carolina is working on a book about Shirley Temple Black during the Depression.

JOHN KASSON: She seemed to embody a spirit of cheer, a spirit of confidence, a spirit of fearlessness, and also at the same time a spirit of trust.

BRYCE: During a seven-year contract with Fox, she brought them back from the brink of bankruptcy. She had become the top-grossing movie star in the world. But Temple's films weren't without controversy. She made a string of films with Bill Bojangles Robinson, a black actor and dancer. A middle-aged black man and a small white girl holding hands, tapping side by side caused a stir in the South.

Here they are dancing on a staircase in their first movie together, "The Little Colonel.


BLACK: I want to do that too.

BILL BOJANGLES ROBINSON: All right. Are you ready?


ROBINSON: Come on.

BRYCE: Temple says they stayed close friends till his death.


BLACK: Bill Robinson was probably my best dance teacher and best friend when I was a little girl, and I would learn dancing by looking in the mirror. He said never look at your feet, Shirley. Never do that, honey, because that's just not right.

BRYCE: By the time Temple hit 12, her career was essentially over. At 21 she gave up acting entirely. She went on to become a diplomat. In the 1960s, President Nixon appointed her a delegate to the United Nations and later she became the U.S. ambassador to the Republic of Ghana and Czechoslovakia. Temple told NPR's Scott Simon that everywhere she went around the world, people couldn't resist serving her a concoction of 7-Up, grenadine syrup, orange juice with a maraschino cherry.


BLACK: The Shirley Temple, those saccharine, icky drinks?

SCOTT SIMON: Those are the ones.

BLACK: Yes. Well, those were created in the probably middle 1930s in Hollywood and I had nothing to do with it.

BRYCE: In her later years, Temple Black said she never regretted leaving the movie business. She took on the roles of actress, wife, mother, diplomat with passion and dedication, the same qualities that made her a star in the first place. Alison Bryce, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Alison Bryce