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Shirley Temple was not the only child actor/performer to become a national phenomenon; think of Michael Jackson, for instance; but her story is in many ways both unique, and inspiring.
We generally think of Shirley Temple as the archetypal “child star”. Of all the many other child “stars” since; Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney for instance, Shirley Temple mot only became a national phenomenon as a child actor but as an adult, left her curls and Hollywood behind for a larger stage as a public servant,
It’s hard for us today to understand her impact during the grim years of the Depression. This tiny, lovable, little girl looked so vulnerable. yet managed to keep her innocence, charm and personality while at the same time surviving against all odds. And that’s what an America deep in a depression wanted to see: optimism, style and “true grit”. She represented a nation and a people that wouldn’t give up. They saw themselves in that tiny, curly-haired optimist.
But unlike many child stars, her story and fame didn’t end when she grew up. She also transformed gracefully to “juvenile-lead” status, without the maturity problems many other child stars have when they stop being “adorable” and become an “adult”.
But her next “role”, as “Shirley Temple Black” was in the role of the U.S. representative to the UN, and later ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia. Her death at 85,peacefully ended a wonderful and inspiring American story. We can only wish for an encore.